Those who look in regularly on Zelo Street will recall the occasion when the BBC’s Daily Politics was involved in the live on-air resignation of a junior member of the Labour front bench team. That this had been a pre-planned event was given away by a blog published by one of those involved: worse, the resignation had been timed in a way that would give the Tory leadership an advantage over Labour at the following PMQs.
The programme’s editor Robbie Gibb robustly defended Daily Politics, but his defence, as I subsequently pointed out, had been undermined by that blog, which had been taken away from public view, although not before a cached copy had been made available. Moreover, the whole exercise called into question the impartiality of the Corporation’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg. It was not the first time her standards fell short.
Coverage of local elections in May last year brought further adverse comment on Ms Kuenssberg’s coverage, and then, only last month, came her singularly ill-judged comments on the Sun’s speculative “QUEEN BACKS BREXIT” story, giving the Murdoch goons an ideal get-out clause for one of their most notorious interventions of the referendum campaign. And now has come yet worse news.
The BBC Trust has also passed adverse comment on Ms Kuenssberg’s output - the problem for the presenter being that they have upheld a complaint over Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Paris shootings in November 2015. Although no deliberate intention to mislead audiences was found, the conclusion was that the complaint be “Upheld as breaches of accuracy and therefore as a breach of impartiality”.
So how has BBC management responded to this finding? Have they acknowledged the mistakes made, and suggested to their political editor that she consider her coverage of the current Labour leadership more carefully? Not a bit of it: “James Harding, the director of BBC news, rejected the Trust’s ruling … ‘While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding,’ he said … The process is now concluded and BBC News formally notes the Trust’s finding” reported the Guardian.
The similarity between the response of Harding, a former Murdoch editor, and that of current Murdoch editor Tony Gallagher to admonishment by IPSO, will not be lost on many observers. Nor will the upcoming change of regulator from the BBC Trust to Ofcom. Harding may find shrugging his shoulders and suggesting they shove off less easy.
This blog is not an uncritical backer of the Labour leadership. There are times Jeremy Corbyn and his team get it wrong and Zelo Street does not shy away from saying so. Likewise there is no free pass for the BBC, the Guardian, or any other trusted media organisation. The impression that Laura Kuenssberg is not upholding the standards of her predecessors is inescapable. The Corporation has thus far failed to address this.
James Harding might have got away with his arrogant dismissiveness at the Murdoch Times. He may find the BBC’s audience less forgiving. It’s not good enough.