After Channel 4 News lifted the lid on what will go down in broadcasting history as the Robbie Gibb can of worms, letting the world know that the BBC dropped a Panorama investigation after the deeply unpleasant Arron Banks had bombarded the Corporation with complaints and threatened legal action, has come the official rebuttal. And for those who look in regularly on Zelo Street, there will also be a sense of déjà vu.
Channel 4 asserted “Arron Banks repeatedly lied to cover-up his Brexit campaign’s effort to attract far-right extremists … Leave EU paid for Facebook adverts targeted at supporters of the National Front, the BNP, Britain First and the EDL … But when the BBC asked for a response to a story they planned to run, Mr Banks sent a barrage of emails in an attempt to get the story dropped”. But did Banks’ complaint have any effect?
The claim was that “Mr Banks told the BBC: ‘It’s wholly wrong to say we have targeted extreme right parties… your report needs to reflect this or it will be biased and if we have to we will take whatever legal action we need’ … Andy Wigmore, Leave EU’s Head of Communications, even appealed to the head of BBC Westminster, Robbie Gibb, in a further attempt to prevent the story from being run”. Gibb was lobbied personally.
Well, the Corporation’s response, coming from the BBC News Press Team, is now available, and at first there is a routine deployment of the straight bat. “We reject utterly the implication that our journalists and editors behaved improperly or succumbed to political pressure. This is untrue”. But no-one mentioned “political pressure”, so why bring it up? This is another of those dead giveaway moments.
That is important, as an even bigger dead giveaway is on its way. First the confirmation that Panorama was indeed investigating. “In 2016 the BBC was investigating allegations about Leave EU and the deliberate targeting of far-right organisations on Facebook”. That should perhaps read “supporters of far-right organisations”, but hey ho. There is more.
“Due to [the] lack of evidence, the reporter involved did not run this story. This was a routine editorial decision made by him and his news desk. He would not allow a story to be spiked for any other reason”. But there are lots of legitimate reasons for spiking a story - overtaken by events, editorial priorities, lack of perceived news value for three.
So the apologia is already looking shaky when we arrive at the main event, which is this snippet. “Mr Gibb was not the editor involved with this story. He had no say in the decision to investigate the issue nor the editorial decision not to run it”. Well, well.
One, of course Gibb was not the editor involved. He was management. Two, of course he had no say in the decision to investigate. And Three, it’s quite plausible that he had no say in the editorial decision not to run it. He didn’t need to have any. He just had to give the word. That’s entirely plausible. It’s what gives him plausible deniability.
There was no need for the BBC News Press Team to even mention Robbie Gibb. That they did, and then worded their excusing him the way they did, is the big giveaway.
The disquiet over the BBC’s approach to Brexit will not go away. It has hardly begun.
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