BIASED BRAZEN CONTEMPTIBLE
The BBC’s disgraceful PM ‘debate’ featured an anti-Israel imam who blames women for rape, a Labour apparatchik and other nakedly anti-Tory guests – and still it won’t apologise. No wonder it stands accused of being...
FURIOUS MPs last night called for watchdogs to probe the BBC’s handling of its televised Tory leadership debate.
They accused the broadcaster of flagrantly breaching its own impartiality rules with a series of appalling blunders.
Its staff failed to properly vet members of the public who put questions to the candidates. Incredibly, two of the questioners were suspended from their jobs yesterday over hugely offensive social media messages that the BBC apparently failed to spot.
The corporation also chose not to reveal that one of the pair had worked for the Labour Party. And emily Maitlis, who presented Tuesday’s show, is accused of singling out Boris Johnson for 23 follow-up questions – ten more than any other candidate faced.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said there was ‘clear bias’ against the Conservatives and regulator Ofcom should be called in. he added: ‘The BBC must apologise and someone must be brought to book. It is appalling.’
As corporation chiefs refused to launch an investigation, it emerged that:
One of the questioners, an imam, was suspended for vile posts which seemingly blamed women for rape and accused
Zionists of hiding behind the Holocaust;
Another questioner, a lawyer who was rumbled as a Labour apparatchik, was suspended by his employers over a tweet about Hitler;
The teenage activist who took the candidates to task over the environment supports a Jeremy Corbyn-backed climate change group;
None of the eight guests identified themselves as a Conservative voter;
The Tory leadership candidates are thought to be threatening to boycott any future debates on the BBC.
A source in Michael Gove’s leadership campaign said it was deeply concerning that the BBC failed to properly vet those asking questions and provided a platform for someone who has spread anti-Semitic messages. The insider added: ‘The BBC should apologise. We are sure Ofcom will take an interest.’
Damian Collins, Tory chairman of the Commons culture committee, said: ‘It is a breach of the editorial guidelines if someone is known to be a Labour Party member and activist, and is being presented as just an ordinary member of the public – I think that is misleading.
‘The BBC should conduct its own review and demonstrate why this was the case, and then Ofcom as the ultimate regulator of the BBC has got the right to question them about that.’
The BBC’s editorial guidelines state that it should ‘make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint’.
The broadcaster admitted last night that it knew about the Labour ties of the lawyer – Aman Thakar – before the programme aired. But it insisted that it was within its rights to feature him on the programme without mentioning this.
A spokesman said: ‘A background in politics doesn’t disqualify anyone from taking part in a debate show. Last night’s questioners held a range of political views and we did not specify these views nor their backgrounds although some chose to do so themselves.
‘The last questioner on the debate is a solicitor who was seconded by his law firm to the Labour Party in the past, rather than being a Labour staffer. He is a Labour supporter and once stood as a councillor.’ Sources denied that the failure to disclose his ties breached the BBC’s rules.
The corporation also declined to comment on how its researchers had missed Mr Thakar’s incendiary tweet.
After the programme went out, it emerged he had trivialised the Holocaust by suggesting on Twitter that the ‘most harmful part’ of Hitler’s legacy was the abuse of the term ‘nationalism’. He later said the tweet was a ‘sarcastic joke’.
His law firm, Leigh Day, confirmed that he had been suspended ‘with immediate effect’ for an internal investigation. The imam, Abdullah Patel, was also suspended over his shocking comments on social media – both from the mosque he preaches at and the school where he is a deputy head. In one potentially antiSemitic tweet, he said: ‘ Every political figure on the Zionists’ payroll is scaring the world about Corbyn’.
In another he suggested that Israel should be relocated to America.
Yesterday, BBC Radio 5 Live host Nicky Campbell apologised for inviting Mr Patel on to his breakfast show after the debate. But the BBC refused to say sorry, and senior sources went to great lengths to point out that Mr Campbell had made the statement on his own behalf.
The BBC said its staff could not have seen the tweets because Mr Patel’s Twitter account had been temporarily deactivated. A spokesman added: ‘Had we been aware of the views he expressed there he would not have been selected.’
The BBC team used Twitter, the BBC website and the BBC’s own broadcasts to invite members of the public to put their questions to the Tory leadership candidates on the show.
Nearly 30,000 people responded in a fortnight and the production team sifted them to identify the most popular topics. They then whittled those down – firstly based on which were the strongest questions, and secondly based on the geographic spread of those who put them.
They also ensured that the questioners were balanced in terms of age, gender, social background and ethnicity. Background checks then followed.
Bernard Jenkin, Tory MP and a former deputy party chairman, added: ‘ This is clear evidence that the BBC needs to do far better due diligence on the people to whom they give a platform.
‘The BBC cannot command public confidence if it is consistently open to accusations of institutional blindness to Left-wing sentiment.’
AS our national, publicly- funded broadcaster, the BBC has a unique duty to maintain the highest standards of fairness and integrity.
Indeed, its own mission statement reads: ‘Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.’
But the more we learn about the farrago of deceit and naked bias that was the Tory leadership candidates’ debate, the more we realise these fine and pious words are nothing more than a sham.
For the viewing public, this debate was a chance to get a close, forensic look at the five men vying to be our next prime minister – their policies, their vision, and a little of their personality.
Instead it was an ambush. Masquerading as a cross-section of the British public, a series of invited guests fired loaded questions at the panel, egged on by a hostile moderator, Emily Maitlis.
Most were designed to embarrass the favourite, Boris Johnson, rather than elicit any useful or pertinent information.
One questioner was an imam (‘Abdullah from Bristol’), who took Mr Johnson to task over his use of Islamophobic language.
However, it later emerged that this holy man’s Twitter account propagates racist language of its own.
Abdullah accuses politicians on ‘the Zionist’s [sic] payroll’ of being behind attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, says Israel should be relocated to the US, and suggests female victims of sex attacks may be responsible for their own misfortune.
Why on earth was he invited on? How did researchers not know beforehand about his obnoxious views? Were they so desperate to smear Mr Johnson they simply didn’t care?
Then there was ‘Aman from London’, who railed about democratic legitimacy and demanded that whoever won must instantly call a general election. What wasn’t mentioned is that Aman was a Labour council candidate and even worked in the party’s HQ. A hashtag on his Twitter feed read #Toriesout. Is this the BBC’s idea of independence and impartiality?
There were two Brexit Party voters, a 15-year- old climate change ‘striker’ with Scottish Nationalist sympathies, and an embittered Remainer who found it hard to hide her contempt for the whole panel.
By contrast, there were no current Tory voters and, even more curiously, no one from anywhere in the Midlands or North of England – the crucible of Brexit support. Don’t their opinions count? And where were the Tory Party members – the people who will make the final choice of who wins? Don’t we need to know what they are thinking?
This is, of course, all part of a wider malaise within BBC news and current affairs. Its programme- makers are overwhelmingly left of centre and overwhelmingly anti-Brexit.
It’s nine years since the then directorgeneral Mark Thompson admitted the Corporation had a deep liberal bias. As this fiasco shows, its anti-Tory agenda has become even more pronounced.
This was not just shoddy journalism. It has a direct effect on our democracy.
The BBC is easily Britain’s most important opinion former. Based largely on past glories, it is revered and trusted. But by abandoning any semblance of evenhandedness, it has betrayed that trust.
If any other public organisation had behaved in this deceitful, underhand way, the BBC would be the first to demand an inquiry. That’s exactly what is needed here.
We need to know who invited the guests, how they were selected, and whether they were fed their questions. Someone must be held to account.
This appalling stitch-up was an affront to the BBC’s charter, and simply can’t go unpunished. If it does, why should any politician take part in such a debate again?
Unfair? Emily Maitlis is accused of targeting Boris Johnson in the BBC Tory leadership debate