The BBC and Jeremy Corbyn

Yesterday I tweeted this:

And I went on to explain why I would not give any further information. But I think there are further matters I can add that would add context and meaning to my tweet.

  1. What can I say about X? My “conversation” – which was conducted entirely in writing – took place with X. X is an individual at the BBC whose seniority and sphere of work is such that it could not sensibly be suggested that X is not properly qualified to speak on such matters.
  2. How did the conversation arise? The conversation took place subsequent to Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader and in the context of a broader conversation about his treatment by the press.
  3. Was the conversation in private? It was not explicitly in private. But I understood it to be part of a private conversation. At the time I asked X whether I could make public an anonymised version. X indicated a preference for me not doing so as to do so might cause a witch hunt.
  4. Why did I tweet what I tweeted? I think it is important I respect X’s wish that nothing be said that could conceivably enable X to be identified – including the particular language used by X. But I also think it is important to put this in the public domain – in particular in light of the BBC’s response to claims that it is coding into its imagery anti-Corbyn messaging. The tweet represents my attempt to balance those two matters. [Transparency note (i) I am a vigorous critic of Corbyn, especially on the subject of his stance on the EU (ii) I have said I agree with criticisms of the BBC’s use of images of Corbyn in front of St Basil’s cathedral].
  5. Can I say anything more about the substance of the conversation? X talked explicitly and unambiguously about how criticisms of Corbyn that the BBC could not voice were deliberately coded into imagery. X did not say that this was a general policy of the BBC or that there was some institutional directive to ‘smear’ Jeremy Corbyn. X clearly understood that X’s comments were sensitive for the BBC (see 3. above). [Note: my understanding of the BBC’s news/current affairs/politics output is that it is relatively heterodox.]
  6. Given that I will not release images of the written exchanges how can they be verified? I have said that I would swear a statement that my tweet above is true. I am also prepared to consider asking a lawyer, who would be bound by a professional duty of confidentiality, to swear a witness statement saying that s/he has reviewed the written exchange between me and X and that my tweet and this blog post is accurate.

29 thoughts on “The BBC and Jeremy Corbyn

  1. Could you provide an explanation for the less technically literate on how one codes negative messages into images?

  2. Pingback: The BBC and Jeremy Corbyn | Waiting for Godot – leftwingnobody

  3. This evidence has substantiated my own suspicions. The next question is; a. is Corbyn the only target. b. do the BBC use the same techniques in reverse for preferred ‘guests’ ?

  4. I’m trying to reconcile your paragraph 5, which backs away from making allegations about the organisation as a whole, with the original tweet, which said “the BBC does code…”

    Do you mean that your contact had come to the realisation that some individual presenters / producers / editors have done this in the course of their work?

  5. As to your first para I don’t accept your characterisation (and have addressed your point here

    As to your second para that’s probably a fair reading save that you can’t assume X was only talking about X’s impression of others’ work.

  6. Thanks – that’s not me but the same point made by someone else (which possibly, with respect, highlights the slight ambiguity in the original tweet, although I take the point that the BBC is responsible for the actions of its people).

    Your second paragraph is more disturbing. I had hoped by asking my first question that the issue might have been one that had been spotted and dealt with, through disciplinary action or editorial control. I had hoped that we might be able to use the past tense. In short, I was hoping that the true answer was not “the BBC does code” but “people at the BBC have coded”.

    I am now wondering why X might have made a private confession, to a third party, in a durable medium. Are you QC by day, campaigner by evening, Catholic priest by night? 😉

  7. I agree with Jon Baldwin, “the BBC does code negative messages about Corbyn into its imagery.” refers to the BBC as a corporate body rather than certain individuals working within the BBC. Paragraph 5 is a cop out. It’s simply not good enough to clarify with a further tweet that the substance of the original tweet was not just misleading but objectively, unambiguously, sensationalist. Look at how Michael R Watts understood your message. That’s what it means. The BBC has a policy of being negative about Corbyn.

    The Corbyn image was obviously photoshopped and inappropriate. Corbyn is sufficiently condemned by his own words (given a strong enough interviewer – which Marr is not) The BBC should ‘fess up and apologise.

    It’s also obvious that this is not a policy decision of the BBC. So no, the BBC does not code negative messages about Corbyn” in the way that you might truthfully say that RT codes negative messages about Western democracies.

    It would be just as true to say that Devereux Law codes negative messages about the BBC in its tweets.

    I note that according to the bar council handbook, “those regulated by the Bar Standards Board maintain standards of honesty, integrity and Independence,and are seen as so doing”, which might lead you to conclude that you should rephrase your headline and first tweet into a way which is not, at best, ambiguous (and that you accept it is ambiguous seems incontrovertible given your need to clarify in subsequent tweets and paragraph 5). The detailed guidance goes on: –

    “you must not knowingly or recklessly mislead or attempt to mislead anyone”;

    “you must not draft any statement of case, witness statement, affidavit or other document containing:… any allegation of fraud, unless you have clear instructions to allege fraud and you have reasonably credible material which establishes an arguable case of fraud;”

  8. The output of the BBC is the output of a corporate body. When that output codes negatives messages about Corbyn it is the BBC that is doing it.

  9. Disingenuous. “the BBC does code negative messages about Corbyn into its imagery” speaks to malign *intentions* and editorial inputs, rather than errors in outputs, as products of the BBC as a corporate body.

  10. They are not errors in outputs. They are outputs of a corporate body which are the consequence of the deliberate intentions of those working for that body. But look, I have limited time/interest in debating with an aggressive, threatening, anonymous troll.

  11. The BBC is accountable for its output. Either this is the work of one rogue (or more) within the BBC, in which case the BBC should investigate, ‘name and shame’, take appropriate disciplinary action, disown and apologise – if we have any confidence that it can be trusted to do so…OR…it’s policy!

    Whether it’s official or unofficial policy hardly seems to matter. It cries out to be investigated – by Parliament?? – but of course to do so puts your source at grave risk. Hmmm.

  12. Presentation is everything in mass-media. Nothing, not one, single thing, is done without a reason. The front pages of ‘newspapers’ are designed specifically to illicit a response from those who subscribe, or merely nudge, subliminally, those who casually encounter. They are private companies, with known agendas, who know that the ‘drip, drip, drip, Chinese-water-torture’ method of influence works. That, allied with the tactical omission of inconvenient facts, has been hitherto the modus operandi of the few promulgators of daily print. The BBC, whether by accident or design, [design, in my opinion] increasingly adopts this approach. Its unfortunate reliance on opinion, is driven by I’d suggest, a combination of the lack of truly fearless, competent journalists, plucked from anywhere else other than the standard, neo-liberal conveyor-belt and the strategic placement of politically-sympathetic executives and editors, many of whom are former employees of those predominantly, partisan, right-wing rags. It wouldn’t be a great leap to suspect that when an ‘incorruptible’ and principled individual threatens the cosy status-quo, there may be a [perhaps sotto voce, but real] desire to hinder their progress. If so, this is nothing short of subversion. The BBC’s existence is based on a poll-tax; rich/poor, you pay on pain of prison. ‘Luxuriate’ in a home-counties idyll and fear not the inconvenience of miserable life elsewhere. It’s mission is nothing less than to represent every, single one of those individuals and this deliberate undermining has far-reaching consequences.

  13. Pingback: POLL: Does the BBC use anti-Corbyn imagery and language? | Vox Political

  14. Michael R Watts: re is Corbyn the only target? Nope, not by a long stretch.

    This has been happening for years in Scotland, in relation to SNP in particular and London based political parties in general.

    Please see any amount of stuff related to the Scottish Independence Referendum – eg ‘London Calling’ DVD, now available on youtube I think (GA Ponsonby’s twitter account will direct you there, I believe), and the work of Professor John Robertson who has published academic research on bias in news reports about Independence on all news media.

    My own opinion is that it was all to be expected from the ‘British’ broadcaster in relation to keeping current status quo – remember they take more than 5 (I think that’s right, it was even more previously) times the amount of cash from Scots licence fee payers than they spend in Scotland (don’t even get me started on football rights – Gary Lineker gets paid more to present MotD than they pay for highlights of Scottish Football in total, and regardless again of your opinion of the game in Scotland that’s just wrong on so many levels when we pay in so much cash to supplement payments to the ‘richest league in the world’).

    This isn’t supposed to be a IndyRef rant, and if you can put aside your opinions about whether not Scotland should be independent, you’ll see there is a lot of proper research done by a lot of aggrieved (in my opinion often quite rightly aggrieved) people in relation to the BBC and news media in general in Scotland.

    Remember that there you always have to wade through some opinions of folk you have a legitimate grievance to raise, and see everything through that prism – often stuff that isn’t biased appears to be, because of your point of view.

    My opinion of the JC pic – didn’t expect anything else, of course they photoshop this sort of nonsense – if they did it to everyone as a laugh, vis. John Oliver type portrayal, then it’s fair enough, but it’s obviously not – how many left wing commentators, for example, get to finish their points without interruption, but right wing commentators are given free reign or offered recorded, soundbite replies?

    Once you start to see it, it can’t be unseen – but try to remain objective as possible as not everything is actually bias, just good old fashioned incompetence.

  15. May I ask why is this so important to you? The BBC is often biased. It always amazes me when I watch Marr how biased he is when questioning his guests, depending on whether they agree with his views (he gives them an easy time) or not (he gives them a hard time).

  16. Pingback: The BBC and Jeremy Corbyn – Waiting for Godot | Britain Isn't Eating

  17. Reblogged this on Declaration Of Opinion.

  18. Pingback: Factcheck: Did BBC photoshop a picture of Jemery Corbyn to have him look like a Russian stooge? – Feit of fake

  19. Was the word ‘negative’ used by X in relation to the images or is that an interpretation of the image Corbyn himself presents? For example is it negative imagery to show Corbyn in his Lenin cap or is it now the BBCs role to package him up positively by glossing over his Wolfy Smith aspects?

  20. Can you explain why the BBC does codes negative messages about Corbyn into its imagery. The objective?

  21. BBC Scotland do this so often it is not considered shocking any more. That’s shocking, isn’t it?

  22. I suppose it’s worth pointing out that the ‘BBC’ would be incredibly stupid and reckless to have an ‘overt policy’, and to put anything in writing, aimed at undermining Jeremy Cobyn. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a kind of ‘instituational culture of bias’ against someone like him, based on the perceived… ‘otherness’ of their political views. This is ‘normal’ and doesn’t just apply to Corbyn, but anyone who is seen as a political radical, who might challenge or threaten the Esablishment.

  23. I am very grateful that we have an unbiased and scrupulous person who can bring this to the attention of us, the public. We are in the midst of very manipulative, clever but quite ruthless campaigns of misinformation.
    I am fully aware of the power of negative imagery and the choice of words to describe people and actions. It is all the more powerful because it works on the subconscious brain so is often never challenged.
    Why should we believe that producing propaganda has stopped? It hasn’t – it has just now much more insidious. Like you I am a critic of Corbyn but this is a step too far.

  24. I am not sure I understand what coding negative messages into images means. Is it any different than the phrase negative slant?
    Does it mean cameramen, producers, presenters and others are ordered to present a negative aspect to a stated person whatever he or she does, and if they refuse they are punished in some way?
    Is the order explicit (Always show X in a negative light) or implicit (We’re not too keen on X)?
    Is it for just certain parts of the organisation or does it apply to the whole organisation?
    We are adults of the 21st century, we know one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. We do know that bias inherent in the human condition. Organisations may refer to themselves as newspapers or news organisations, but we know they are opinion makers.
    You may say our taxes are used to pay for the BBC so it should be impartial.
    They are only human. Even if two sets of producers, cameramen and presenters with opposing views each made a program somebody has to make the decision what time they air, which would affect how many people see them and their influence on the viewing public.
    We can be critical, but not unreasonably critical.

  25. Jesus Christ. Here’s a thought – picture desk was awfully proud of sourcing a Corbyn pic, getting the light source to match the Moscow background and working in the right filters. The geekiness of the department cannot be overstated. They might have laughed at the result but the didn’t think “here’s a coded Stalinist message”.
    Truth is far less exciting, and also diverts attention from Corbyn’s very real problems with the Russia story right now.
    And btw the SNP “academic” worked for the ridiculously pro-SNP University of West Scotland, and even they wouldn’t publish his research because it was so unscientific. He ended up self-publishing. I’ll say no more because the poor man retired with mental health issues

  26. Pingback: Top British QC has letter from Senior BBC figure confirming BBC does "code negative messages about Corbyn" into programmes - Reconsider News

  27. What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. It’s really that simple; pictures or it didn’t happen.

  28. Anyone refusing to believe BBC is deliberately denigrating Corbyn – and Labour generally – must be brain-dead. It is so obvious it’s almost embarrassing.

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