Most of the time, the BBC gets it right, and so for most of the time, no-one criticises the Corporation. The problem comes when the Beeb, or a company producing programmes on its behalf, gets it wrong. All too often, the response to criticism - defensive and dismissive in turns - only serves to make matters worse. So it has been with last week’s edition of Question Time, and the treatment by host and audience of Labour’s Diane Abbott.
Fiona Bruce - got her facts wrong more than once
As I pointed out yesterday, not only did host Fiona Bruce peddle falsehood and misinformation in endorsing the claims of mercenary hack Isabel Oakeshott that Labour was “way behind in the polls”, she also made the false claim that there were questions about “both sides” in the referendum campaign. There aren’t.
Worse, there was a failure to tell the audience that Ms Oakeshott was a paid lobbyist, a water carrier for offshore billionaire Michael Ashcroft for whom a No Deal Brexit would be most helpful. She duly endorsed it. On top of that are a series of allegations about the treatment of Ms Abbott before and during the show.
The BBC’s response on treatment of panellists was abrupt, and yes, defensive: “We firmly reject claims that any of the Question Time team treated any of the panel unfairly before and during the recording last night”. But some who were in the audience claim otherwise. And now Ms Abbott’s team has waded into the controversy.
Diane Abbott - not happy at her treatment
As the Guardian has now reported, “Diane Abbott has accused BBC Question Time of legitimising racist abuse after claims that the shadow home secretary was singled out before and during Thursday night’s episode of the political discussion programme. The Labour politician claimed she had been unfairly mocked in the warm-up and had been interrupted more often than other panellists by Fiona Bruce, the programme’s new chair”.
The Beeb has not exactly been reassuring in its response: “We are sorry to hear Diane Abbott’s concerns over last night’s edition of Question Time and we have contacted her team today to reassure them that reports circulating on social media are inaccurate and misleading”. Reassure them as to what? To claim that what actually happened before and during the broadcast has been reinvented in the retelling?
Time for Lord Hall-Hall to intervene?
Even the Daily Mail has weighed in, correctly observing “In one combative exchange during the programme the shadow home secretary hit back at incorrect claims that Labour was struggling in the polls … Isabel Oakeshott said Labour was 'miles behind' the Conservatives in the polls, saying it was a 'damning indictment' of party leader Jeremy Corbyn … The two parties have been neck-and-neck in recent polls”.
Added to that, Ms Abbott’s team has noted “Analysis of the programme shows that the only black woman on the panel was jeered at and interrupted more times than any other panellist, including by the chair herself”. The proven falsehood and misinformation is not being addressed. The mistreatment of one panellist is not being addressed. The host’s lack of knowledge is not being addressed. And the critics aren’t for quitting just yet.
The BBC cannot get away with playing the combination of rabbit in the headlights and snooty dismissiveness this time. Question Time is only two shows into a new run and it is already in big trouble. Doing nothing is not an option.
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