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...

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Kather­ine Rush­ton, John Stevens and Sam Green­hill

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

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