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'Trench War': Campaigner Scores Major Victory, Forcing BBC to Admit Factual Inaccuracy

© AP Photo / Alastair GrantA general view of the BBC headquarters in London, Sunday, Nov, 11, 2012
A general view of the BBC headquarters in London, Sunday, Nov, 11, 2012 - Sputnik International
Simon Maginn is many things - author, activist, piano teacher, and also one of the BBC’s most determined agitators. He submits complaints to the state broadcaster on a borderline daily basis, lodging grievances about what he feels are fundamental misrepresentations of opinions and facts by the corporation’s journalists and interviewees.

Often, Simon files complaints related to the alleged “anti-Semitism crisis” in the Labour party, which he believes to be a mythical smear perpetuated by the party's detractors for political reasons.

“They’re usually near the top of my phone’s most recent calls list. I don’t always go the written route - it’s wearying, and by design. They deliberately try to grind you down with a maddeningly slow bureaucratic process, and most people get put off quite quickly, but I’m a bit bloody-minded. They don’t stop, it’s been unrelenting for three years or more. I’m dug in, it’s trench war - I’ll never accept the BBC is entitled to serve as a propaganda platform, both as a license fee-payer and a citizen. It’s not what we pay them to do, and it needs to end," Simon says.

By this point, he knows well complainants "never get anywhere" if they submit objections to the BBC about ‘bias’ - such protests typically elicit a "stock response" that the state broadcaster takes “very seriously” its Charter obligations to “ensure controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartiality”  .

Issues of clear and demonstrable factual accuracy are a different matter though - and on 26th February Nick Robinson, the BBC's former political editor and currently presenter of BBC Radio 4’s flagship ‘Today Programme’, committed a significant breach of his obligations in this regard. 

‘Insufficiently Accurate’

In a public Twitter post directed at Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North and currently suspended from Labour due to flagrantly bogus allegations of anti-Semitism, Robinson sneeringly asked why the parliamentarian claimed to have “never seen” anti-Semitism in the party, given he himself had “agreed to screen a film in Parliament by a woman suspended from Labour for saying the Jews controlled the slave trade”.

Robinson was referring to Jackie Walker, a veteran Labour member and former vice chair of Momentum’s steering committee expelled from the party for “prejudicial and grossly detrimental behaviour” on 27th March this year.

Her ejection resulted from a manufactured controversy, in which comments she made in a private Facebook conversation with a friend in 2016 were publicised and taken out of context by the Israel Advocacy Movement, which aims to “counter British hostility to Israel”.

When Walker’s friend raised the question of “the debt” owed to Jews as a result of the Holocaust, Walker said she hoped they “feel the same towards the African holocaust”.

“My ancestors were involved in both – on all sides as I'm sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn't for Jews...Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice. And having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator,” she explained.

Simon felt the BBC “had nowhere to hide”, and indeed believed he'd a better than average chance of his umbrage being taken seriously, so wrote to the corporation outlining his concerns.

“Robinson said an arrogant, stupid thing I - and indeed anyone who’d spent more than five minutes looking into the matter - knew to be completely untrue. Walker - herself Jewish - had merely stated the historical record in a nuanced and thoughtful way - Jews, Christians, Muslims, all sorts of people financed the slave trade, that’s not in dispute. However, her comments were then compacted, filleted and distorted in order to present them as suggesting Jews alone created and controlled the slave trade. Robinson evidently hadn’t done even basic fact-checking - but then again it’s the BBC, so that’s pretty standard,” he says.

The BBC’s initial response was merely that Robinson “might’ve phrased it differently”, effectively admitting his statement was in no way accurate but dismissing the seriousness of the faux pas. Refusing to accept their equivocating excuse, Simon continued to pursue the issue - four months later, the Beeb has finally confirmed Robinson gave “an insufficiently accurate impression of her actual words”, and upheld his complaint. The reason for the significant delay is anyone’s guess - people have suggested to Simon the BBC may have sought legal advice, given Robinson’s comments were clearly libelous and a blatant Charter breach.

​Quite what will come of the finding also isn’t clear, although Simon believes it should have significant implications not merely for Robinson but several other BBC personalities who’ve framed Walker, her comments and those who’ve supported her as anti-Semitic - for instance, Radio 5 Live presenter Emma Barnett has likewise levelled a number of "damaging" allegations against Williamson, all of which relate to his defence of Walker.

Censorship and Sensibility

While happy to have finally gotten the BBC bang to rights, Simon isn’t optimistic the concession will produce actual change, believing the broadcaster will continue to use its “uniquely privileged place” in the information sphere to “pump out absolute garbage every day” - after all he notes, for as difficult as it is to nail the BBC for factual inaccuracy, political smears inserted into 'non-factual' entertainment are effectively protected by broadcast rules.

For example, in May 2018 comic David Baddiel appeared on Frankie Boyle’s popular ‘New World Order’ show, commenting among other things on a survey of Labour voters that found 28 percent agreed with the notion there was a “secretive elite” controlling the world. As Simon notes, respondents were referring to things such as “Integrity Initiative, HSBC and the like, proven conspiracies against the left, and truth” - Baddiel conversely suggested the secret conspiracy they spoke of was “the Jews”. The comedian subsequently made clear the 'gag' was in fact an accurate reflection of his views on the subject, attacking those who took issue with his damaging mischaracterisation - although the BBC didn't take the comment quite so seriously.

“I complained, but was told as it was a comedy show and not a news program standards of accuracy didn’t matter, just ‘due accuracy’. So Baddiel can get away with totally misrepresenting a survey and in the process smearing hundreds of thousands of British left-wingers in an extremely damaging way on a prime-time show potentially watched by millions as long as he gets a big laugh apparently,” he despairs.

​The BBC also frequently lies by omission Simon feels, not reporting, misreporting or actively suppressing significant stories. In May this year for instance, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) submitted over 20 pages of evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the wake of the government’s refusal to adopt a proposed definition on Islamophobia, and called for an investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative party - it went entirely unmentioned by the state broadcaster.

“I asked the BBC why they’d been completely silent on the MCB’s public demand, and they justified their failure on the basis the story ‘hadn’t been picked up by the media in the way the anti-Semitism issue has’. They also said they hadn’t received a press release from the MCB - I’m not a global news-gathering brand, and yet I heard about the story and they didn’t?! While the temptation is to respond with a curt ‘f*** off’, I refuse to be put off by their insultingly childish excuses,” Simon rages.

“The BBC is sick to its core and in dire need of reform - we can’t go into another General Election with the broadcaster in this mode. It’s terribly dangerous, many people take all their news from the corporation and no other sources. I supported the Beeb all my life, grew up with it, my generation has a massive cultural affiliation…it’s been terribly disturbing for me to realise since Corbyn’s election it’s actually a ruthless purveyor of propaganda that will do anything to stop a left-wing government getting into power. The broadcaster is supposed to be all kinds of things, which it isn’t. This is very serious - we need a full and thorough investigation into what’s gone wrong, and how to put it right.”

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