Recent months have been testing times for those who trust the BBC to give us the Gold Standard of journalism, and indeed a brand that can be trusted, as the Corporation’s news and comment output has consistently leaned to the anti-EU side of the post-referendum argument. From the initial downplaying of the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandals to the Electoral Commission findings, they have been consistent.
And on one point the Beeb has been wilfully consistent - in its implicit refusal to call the EC findings for what they were. The EC judged that Vote Leave broke the law. Full stop, end of story, no ifs, no buts, no conditional statement. But on what appear to have been two separate occasions, political editor Laura Kuenssberg was briefed by VL’s Matthew Elliott - someone with form for lying - and span the story differently.
VL would be found to have broken the law? Ms Kuenssberg span that as “broken the rules”. They had definitely broken the law? That was spun as a mere “allegation”. The serially dishonest Suzanne Evans was allowed to imply dishonesty on the part of the EC during a Daily Politics broadcast, and this was allowed to stand as showing that an EC finding was merely some kind of dispute, which it was not.
And now has come another nailed-on example to follow all the others, this time from Newsnight, which last night featured whistleblower Chris Wylie. He pointed out that VL had cheated, and almost immediately the programme’s host Kirsty Wark cut in to claim that this was “just an allegation”. Here is yet another example of the BBC’s wilfulness.
“Facebook facilitated cheating in the referendum” told Wylie. This is correct
Ms Wark was unable to take this on board. “Let’s just say that’s an allegation you’re also making. I want to make the broader point …”. Wylie, clearly exasperated, hit back.
“These aren’t allegations. Every time I come on the BBC, I always get stopped by saying ‘these are allegations, we’ve got to wait for a report’. When the report comes out … the Electoral Commission found that Vote Leave broke the law. That’s a fact. Vote Leave broke the law. That’s a fact. That’s not an allegation. Facebook facilitated that because they allowed these ads to go on to their platform using money that was unlawful”.
Observing this, the Tweeter known as Brexitshambles concluded “There comes a point @BBCNewsnight where attempting to provide balance strays into attempting to facilitate deception. Chris Wylie on Newsnight emphasising that charges against those who have broken our electoral laws aren't ALLEGATIONS they're FACTS...well done @chrisinsilico”.
And former MEP Ed Macmillan Scott provided a link for Ms Wark to assist her further understanding: “Here’s the Electoral Commission report, which @KirstyWark hasn’t read”.
The longer it goes on, and the more the BBC both refuses to call facts for what they are, and enables Brexit supporters to present their spin as reality, the worse it looks.
There is a straightforward remedy for this. It’s called proper investigative journalism.