Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Intent of interview not captured

Unnamed complainant 1 BBC News 0.

That's the emphatic scoreline from the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee today, despite a last-ditch hearing on Thursday 12 January involving the BBC's Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg. It was all about this section of the BBC Six O'Clock News back in November 2015.

POLITICAL EDITOR Earlier today I asked the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn if he were the resident here at Number 10 whether or not he would be happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris style attack. 

JEREMY CORBYN I’m not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive. I think you have to have security that prevents people firing off weapons where you can. There are various degrees of doing things, as we know. But the idea you end up with a war on the streets is not a good thing.

The Trust's final verdict came after a leak of a draft decision earlier this month. It still reads: Finding: Upheld as breaches of accuracy and therefore as a breach of impartiality.

The Trust decided the problem was that Laura's question as phrased in the broadcast version was not the same as the question actually put in the full interview which read "But if you were Prime Minister, would you be happy to order people - police or military - to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?".

News wouldn't lie down, saying they'd published the whole transcript online and that News at Six report had “captured both the intent of the interview and the political obfuscations that emerged”. The Trustees said they accepted this was the BBC’s genuinely held view but did not agree. "The Committee believed that the formulation in the report did not reflect a conflation of two questions and two answers but rather presented Mr Corbyn’s answer to a specific question about "shoot to kill" as an answer to a different question which he had not in fact been asked."

The News side added all sorts of info to back their case that Laura had it right; that the head of political newsgathering had sat in on the interview, and "recalled that Labour’s Director of Communications, Seamus Milne, who was also there, realised Mr Corbyn’s answers would cause him political trouble".

The Trustees were having none of it, and, in a mirror of Laura's persistent question, repeat their view of inaccuracy several times in the 11 page finding. Try this....

"Trustees noted that Mr Corbyn was not, as the programme item suggested, asked whether he would support “British officers” (which, Trustees judged, the audience would probably understand to mean "police officers") “pulling the trigger”, in the event of a “Paris-style” attack (which, Trustees judged, the audience would probably understand to mean terrorists in the act of killing or threatening to kill civilians)."

1530 update: BBC News has said it "notes" the Trust's decision. This from Head cheeky boy James Harding....

“While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding.

“Laura is an outstanding journalist and political editor with the utmost integrity and professionalism. BBC News reported on the leader of the opposition in the same way it would any other politician.” 

“It is striking that the trust itself said there was ‘no evidence of bias’. Indeed, it also said the news report was ‘compiled in good faith’.

 “The process is now concluded and BBC News formally notes the Trust’s finding.”

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