The BBC’s formerly flagship political discussion show, Question Time, has not had a good press of late, and that should come as no surprise. The all too frequent appearances of former UKIP Oberscheissenführer Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, a whole slew of talking heads representing organisations with no support and little credibility - the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance had a recent success there - and minor Slebs all contribute to the impression that the best days of this format are long in the past, and never to return.
But thus far there had been no invitations to the recently and thoroughly disgraced, no giving of a platform to those who had been demonstrated to be beyond the pale. That has changed this week, as Question Time will today feature among its panellists mercenary hack Isabel Oakeshott, whose behaviour last March on The Andy Marr Show™, when she shouted down the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, generated such adverse comment.
On top of that was the recent revelation that while Ms Oakeshott had sneered at the idea of there being improper behaviour within the various Leave campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum, she knew very well that there had been just that, as she was sitting on tens of thousands of emails from Leave EU’s Arron Banks which proved it.
This deceit, together with Ms Oakeshott’s less than empathetic response to those less fortunate than her - telling that the poor should live on porridge, or being dismissive about the Grenfell Tower disaster - has not helped her cause. So it should have been no surprise when the announcement from Question Time caused such a blowback.
For Ms Cadwalladr, there was initial bewilderment: “I don't know what to make of this. Anyone?” Nick Cohen - one of Ms Oakeshott’s fellow pundits, remember - was unimpressed: “Journalist betrays her sources … Publishes straight lies about a sitting prime minister … Covers up collusion between Brexit campaign and Russia … ‘You’re welcome,’ says the BBC”. And there was more.
“She deliberately sat on evidence of Russian tampering in the EU Referendum. She has a lot more in common with Farage than I first thought - both consistently lie on national TV but still manage to secure a Question Time seat … The only question time @IsabelOakeshott should be facing is from a couple of detectives with a tape recorder … Lies repeatedly and gets a place on Question Time? Suppose it explains why Farage is always there … Will you also have @carolecadwalla on Question Time for a fair impartial balanced view?” Whistleblower Chris Wylie also had a question.
“Hey @bbcquestiontime, why are you not inviting @carolecadwalla to balance this? It's ridiculous that you invite someone on who withheld critical information on Russian involvement in Brexit and not the journalist who actually forced the issue to go public”. And Nic Wistreich made the point for many others when he asked “That now the BBC know the truth about her lie on Marr - why reward her with a platform on Question Time?”
It got worse. Byline Media, which has threatened legal action over claims made by Ms Oakeshott and others - notably Leave EU’s Arron Banks - that they got the Banks email trove through less than reputable means, had to point out “Please bear in mind @bbcquestiontime and @IsabelOakeshott - the Directors of @Byline_Media have already issued a pre action protocol letter regarding any false allegations Byline or its directors were involved in 'hacking' emails. Thank you for you consideration”.
Moreover, the impression that Ms Oakeshott was being selective and evasive in her acceptance of media appearances was only reinforced when Rob Burley, the Beeb’s editor of Live Political Programmes, told “One more thing on @IsabelOakeshott being on Question Time. While I am not involved in that show, we HAVE invited her on to my programmes since the weekend because she has some explaining to do about the Banks emails and why she kept them to herself. That offer is there still”.
Question Time gives every appearance of being not about any kind of balance, but about mere spectacle. And that’s not good enough.