Some media habits are hard to break, and for the BBC, one habit in particular: the deliberate downplaying of Vote Leave’s lawbreaking activities, and to the extent of flagrant dishonesty. When the organisation, like Leave EU, was adjudged to have broken electoral law and handed a maximum fine, we were told by the Beeb’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg that VL had merely “broken the rules”. Not “broken the law”.
No further action was taken against Leave EU, but as Zelo Street regulars will know, a file on VL’s activities has just been passed to the CPS. That’s the campaign worked on by alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, his chief polecat Dominic Cummings, and the appallingly slippery Michael “Oiky” Gove.
So how does the BBC report that one? At first, all is well, as we read the headline “Brexit: Police hand Vote Leave file to Crown Prosecution Service”. Then comes the first mis-step: “Police investigating alleged breaches of election law by the Vote Leave campaign have passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service”. See, it’s only an allegation! They might not have done it! Except they got fined for it, and paid up.
That means it is not an allegation. The passing of the file to the CPS is because there is the possibility of criminal charges being brought. Still, on ploughs the Beeb. “The commission found Vote Leave exceeded a £7 million spending limit … Vote Leave has previously said the commission's findings were ‘wholly inaccurate’ and politically motivated”. Just in case anyone forgot that Ms Kuenssberg was caught bang to rights effectively taking dictation from Matthew Elliott, VL’s dishonest spokesman.
And in case anyone didn’t get the clearly deliberate “It was only an allegation line”, it appears again. “Vote Leave and the official Remain campaign Britain Stronger in Europe were allowed to spend £7m each on campaigning in the run up to the referendum … The commission's report, in July 2018, said Vote Leave spent almost £500,000 more than it should have done during the campaign … Vote Leave was fined £61,000 for the alleged breach and referred to the police”. Yes, it’s only an allegation. Again.
To illustrate this, a video of Elliott spinning his way through a series of dishonest claims is included in the report, along with his claim that “The commission has failed to follow due process, and in doing so has based its conclusions on unfounded claims and conspiracy theories”. This is given equal prominence to the news on CPS referral.
Moreover, there is seemingly no room for comment from anyone pointing out that this is not a mere allegation, and so it will be included here. Labour MP Ian Lucas has done that, pointing out: “Breaches are not ‘alleged’. They are fact and Vote Leave has already paid a fine for them”. Meanwhile, the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr had something to say.
“Remember this?? This was Johnson’s tweet on night we published [Shahmir Sanni]’s evidence of Vote Leave fraud. He knew this wasn’t true. Worse - he tried to cover it up”. But Ms Cadwalladr isn’t listened to by the Beeb, although Isabel Oakeshott got invited on to Question Time to shout down suggestions of Leave campaign illegality.
There is something seriously wrong with the BBC’s coverage of this story. And the Corporation seems unable, or unwilling, to put it right. I’ll just leave that one there.
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