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HomeBBC WatchThe BBC doesn’t fight fake news – it commissions it

The BBC doesn’t fight fake news – it commissions it


BBC director general Lord Hall of Birkenhead has declared that the Corporation is on a mission to counter fake news. 

He announced this in June at the Prospect annual conference – the day before the white-collar trades union announced it would be campaigning for a Brexit ‘people’s vote’. Others who addressed the conference included arch-Remainers Hilary Benn and Rain Newton-Smith, the chief economist of the CBI.

It might be a little unfair to judge Lord Hall purely on the company he keeps, but latest research by News-watch shows that under his stewardship the Corporation has morphed into a major purveyor of the commodity he allegedly so despises – and especially that which will thwart Brexit.

Strong documentary evidence in this vein came to light recently when Guido Fawkes unearthed an internal circular from BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed, who is shortly to assume the elevated role of Corporation Editorial Director (whatever that means). From his lofty perch, he told BBC journalists that whatever Brexiteers might think, predictions from economists proved that leaving the EU is ‘rubbish’.

How systemic within the BBC is the approach decreed and endorsed by Ahmed? How much has the fake news virus entered into the Corporation’s DNA?

News-watch is currently analysing the BBC’s coverage during the autumn of the steps towards Theresa May’s reviled so-called EU ‘deal’ and, as always, the devil is in the detail.

On September 17, as the Salzburg EU ‘summit’ unfolded, the BBC’s ubiquitous ‘reality check’ correspondent Chris Morris was in action on the Radio 4 Today programme. His mission? To tell listeners of the dangers of ‘no deal’ and to ram home to the maximum extent the chaos and misery which would ensue if Mrs May did not accept the terms on offer from her EU masters.

In this vein, a Morris voice-piece was prominent in that morning’s bulletins. He declared that a report from ‘a political research group’ warned that nine out of ten areas of economic and legislative activity would not be able to avoid ‘major negative impacts’ because time was running out to avoid ‘no deal’, and that another major problem was that a 21-month transition period was not enough to be able to secure any free-trade deals.

The source of all this doom and gloom and Brexit impossibility? Morris said the ‘political research group’ involved was a body called the Institute for Government. Sounds authoritative, even-handed and ‘expert’, doesn’t it?

That was clearly what Morris wished to convey, because he did not include any further details about the Institute. But dig about on its website and instantly several red-letter points central to the Brexit debate leap out.

First, it is chaired by the Labour peer and ex-minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville who, according to the Daily Telegraph, spent £8million trying to avert Brexit. The report claims he created four aliases so he could spend so lavishly. 

Second, on the board of the Institute are two other former Labour ministers, Baroness Amos and Liam Byrne MP; Sir Andrew Cahn, the UK’s former permanent representative to the EU, who (surprise, surprise) is another fervent supporter of the EU; and Sir Richard Lambert, formerly editor of the Financial Times. It is hard to imagine a more arch-Remain grouping.

There is more: the Institute’s director (chief executive) is Bronwen Maddox, a former Times foreign editor who became editor of the Prospect current affairs magazine before taking up her current role. Her views on Brexit are also pretty clear – she is a declared full-scale fan of George Osborne’s Project Fear.

For most people, details such as these would have sent a clear signal that the Institute would not exactly be sympathetic or even-handed in its attitudes towards the Brexit cause, and that any report by it must be handled with caution. A few minutes’ perusal of the report confirms that it is shot through with hyperbolic ‘no deal’ misery in the Project Fear mould. 

But to the BBC and Morris this was of no concern regarding impartiality, despite editorial guidelines which stipulate that sources with potential bias must be identified.

Not only that. Sharp-eared listeners would have heard in the 7am bulletin a brief mention that the Institute’s report was not merely being reported by the BBC – it had actually been commissioned by BBC News!

And that’s a smoking gun. On the one hand, Editorial Director Ahmed is circulating notes to BBC journalists telling them that they must believe in and shout from the rafters the predictions of the doomsters of the IMF and the Treasury; on the other the BBC’s self-declared ‘reality check’ unit is commissioning and slyly integrating into its news agenda authoritative-sounding reports commissioned by the Corporation to exaggerate to the maximum extent the dangers of ‘no deal’.

Question to Lord Hall: Is this not the very definition of fake news?

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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