Among media outlets, those most trusted by the public are the broadcasters. And the most trusted of this group is, and has been for many years, the BBC. That trust brings with it significant responsibility, something of which the overwhelming majority of the Corporation’s staff will not need reminding. So when the impression is given that the Beeb’s impartiality is slipping, it is a cause for concern - whatever one’s political stripe.
Oi! Sunday Politics people! I want a word with you
As Zelo Street regulars will be aware, the flagship Daily Politics has been there before, when then junior shadow minister Stephen Doughty resigned live on the show, this occurring at 1155 hours on a Wednesday, five minutes before PMQs and with Jeremy Corbyn, his party leader, being put at a disadvantage as gleeful Tories made sure David Cameron had the information before he got to his feet in the Commons.
The attempts by the BBC to brush this off were sunk by the inadvertent release of an internal blog post titled “Resignation! Making the news on the Daily Politics”. So one might have thought that, despite the departure of Robin Gibb from the Corporation, lessons would be learnt. But maybe they have not, after the Sunday Politics took a stance on shadow chancellor John McDonnell which has rung alarm bells in Labour circles.
Sarah Smith, new Sunday Politics host
After the Tories declared that they were taking a more respectful tone, and challenged Labour to do likewise - an easy stunt to pull when you have the boot boys of the Fourth Estate to do the smearing for you - shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner was questioned by new host Sarah Smith over comments made by McDonnell in a video some time ago, regarding Work and Pensions minister Esther McVey.
McDonnell, as is now well known, was not expressing his own opinions in the recording played back to Gardiner, but recounting his experiences in a visit to Liverpool, and particularly the unexpectedly strong adverse feeling expressed to him about Ms McVey. He made it clear that the comment “Why aren’t we lynching the bastard?” had come not from him, but by a group who “kicked off” over the “Sack Esther McVey” campaign.
This did not stop Ms Smith confronting Gardiner with the assertion that McDonnell had repeated the comments “with approval”, as if the Sunday Politics team retrospectively knew the state of mind of the shadow chancellor. It also caused disquiet among some Labour supporters that the audio released on Twitter was faded out immediately after McDonnell quoted the comments. Sarah Smith had to issue a clarification later.
It was not the only part of yesterday’s Sunday Politics to cause adverse reaction: the so-called “Commentators who count” included right-wing Talk Radio host Julia Hartley Dooda, who was not challenged when she blatantly and dishonestly claimed that Keir Starmer was responsible for the decision not to bring more charges against “Black Cab Rapist” John Worboys. The program’s host has changed; the tired old pundit parade endures.
We need trusted media sources. So it is imperative that those sources show no undue favour - or hostility - to any political party or grouping. And while the clarification is welcome, it’s a little too late when it comes after the event The BBC needs to do better.