shuffling the reshuffle

This is the BBC response to the large number of complaints made about the stage-managed on-air resignation of Stephen Doughty MP on Daily Politics just before PMQs last week. I'm not a Labour voter as you know, but I'm sick of the UK corporate media's point-scoring, interference in the democratic process and tweaking the truth. When I say tweaking, I mean it in the sense of grabbing someone's ear and twisting it.

Before you read the email, and just to set the record straight, near the beginning of the segment Andrew Neil asked the shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy MP if there were going to be any other resignations from the Labour party. Sounds like he has no idea if any are in the offing, doesn't it? Pretty reasonable conclusion. No idea. 


However, in the deleted blog, we discover that on the morning of Wednesday 6 January, Andrew Neil learned that Stephen Doughty MP was considering resigning that day. Neil asked Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor, to see if Doughty could be persuaded to do resign live on-air. Mr Doughty said yes, he could.

Wait.

That means that Andrew Neil misled the viewers by giving the impression that he knew nothing about Doughty's impending live on-air resignation.

Doughty slid on at about 11.55 a.m., just before PMQs, said he would be resigning, and within minutes of PMQs starting, Cameron attempted to deploy the resignation missile against Corbyn.

Here's the BBC email in all its greasy toadishness:

"Thank you for contacting us about the resignation of Stephen Doughty MP from the front bench of the Labour Party on BBC Two’s ‘Daily Politics’, and a subsequent blog written about the matter on the BBC Academy website.

As you may be aware, the BBC’s editor of Live Political Programmes, Robbie Gibb, has responded to the Labour Party about this matter. We believe Mr Gibb’s response below addresses the number of issues being raised. That said, we have received a wide range of feedback about this subject and are sorry in advance if this reply doesn’t address your specific concerns. Robbie Gibb’s email response to Seumas Milne, Director of Strategy and Communications at the Labour Party, was as follows:

“Dear Mr Milne

Many thanks for your email of the 8th January following the Daily Politics on the 6th January.
I would like to reassure you that we are committed to producing impartial journalism and programme content that treats all political parties fairly. I would like to respond to the specific concerns raised in your email.

Firstly, I reject your suggestion that we orchestrated and stage-managed the resignation of Stephen Doughty. As he himself confirmed on Friday, Mr Doughty had decided to resign his front-bench position on Wednesday morning, before speaking to any journalists. He subsequently spoke to Laura Kuenssberg who asked if he would explain his reasons in an interview on the Daily Politics later that morning. Neither the programme production team, nor Laura, played any part in his decision to resign.

As you know it is a long standing tradition that political programmes on the BBC, along with all other news outlets, seek to break stories. It is true that we seek to make maximum impact with our journalism which is entirely consistent with the BBC's Editorial Guidelines and values.

Your letter suggests that our decision to interview Mr Doughty in the run up to Prime Minister's Questions was designed to "promote a particular political narrative". This is simply not the case. The Daily Politics does not come on air until 11:30am on Wednesdays and the BBC's Political Editor always appears live on the programme in the build up to the start of PMQs. As the confirmation of Mr Doughty’s resignation was Laura Kuenssberg's story, we felt it appropriate for her to introduce the item. Again I do not accept, in anyway, the programme has breached its duty of impartiality and independence.

The programme this week provided a balanced account of the shadow cabinet reshuffle. Lisa Nandy was interviewed at length on Wednesday while Cat Smith discussed the issue in detail the day before.

You also made reference in your email to the deleted blog. It might be helpful for me to explain the background to this. Following the media reaction to Mr Doughty's resignation and appearance on the programme the BBC's training department, the BBC Academy, contacted me asking for an article explaining what goes on behind the scenes when a politician resigns live on air. I had assumed (wrongly) that the article was for internal purposes only. When it became apparent that it had been published more widely, we decided to delete it as the piece was written in a tone that was only suitable for an internal audience. No other inference should be drawn from our decision to delete the blog.

I would just like to finish by underlining our commitment to ensuring our coverage of the Labour Party is fair, accurate and impartial.

I hope we can look forward to working constructively together over the coming months.

We hope this addresses your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Thank you for contacting us.

BBC Complaints"


I reject your suggestion that we orchestrated and stage-managed the resignation of Stephen Doughty."


If they mean that they didn't persuade Doughty to resign because he had already made up his mind, then the blog account was misleading. If he hadn't yet made up his mind, as the blog suggests, then Laura Kuenssberg persuaded him to resign. Whatever the truth of the matter, Neil's team orchestrated and stage managed the resignation. Neil hoped to persuade Doughty to resign on live TV, five minutes before PMQs, knowing that the sudden revelation would explode in Jeremy Corbyn's face once Cameron got hold of the news.

" ... it is a long standing tradition that political programmes ... seek to break stories." 

They didn't "break" a story. They manufactured one by setting it up beforehand, with Neil pretending that this resignation was a complete surprise, and then presenting it as up to the minute news.

" ... was designed to "promote a particular political narrative". This is simply not the case. The Daily Politics does not come on air until 11:30am on Wednesdays and the BBC's Political Editor always appears live on the programme in the build up to the start of PMQs. As the confirmation of Mr Doughty’s resignation was Laura Kuenssberg's story, we felt it appropriate for her to introduce the item."

That doesn't even address the charge of promoting a political narrative. It's fluff.

" I do not accept, in anyway [sic], the programme has breached its duty of impartiality and independence."

How so? It was a gift to Cameron and Neil wrapped it and stuck a bow on it. It was something for Cameron to fire off at Corbyn during the televised PMQs.

"Following the media reaction to Mr Doughty's resignation and appearance on the programme the BBC's training department, the BBC Academy, contacted me asking for an article explaining what goes on behind the scenes when a politician resigns live on air. I had assumed (wrongly) that the article was for internal purposes only. When it became apparent that it had been published more widely, we decided to delete it as the piece was written in a tone that was only suitable for an internal audience. No other inference should be drawn from our decision to delete the blog."
You have to wonder what the tone would have been had it been intended for a wider audience. How much of the truth would people have been told? Would the sequence of events have been set out so candidly? Would we have been told, for instance, that Andrew Neil had asked Laura Kuenssberg to ask Doughty if he would be prepared to resign live on air, blowing apart the artifice of asking, seemingly so innocently earlier in the programme, if there were to be further resignations?

People aren't stupid. They can smell a rat from a thousand yards and they don't like being manipulated by a broadcaster who is supposed to present the news and its analysis in an impartial and unbiased way. The BBC has been caught bang to rights.

How can you trust a broadcaster that alters the appearance of a broadcast event? Isn't that the same as a photojournalist doctoring a photograph to give it a different meaning or a changed perspective? Such dishonesty would quite rightly result in the photographer being dangled over an abyss of professional doom and his jacket on a shoogly peg.

The complainants questioned the BBC's bias and lack of principle. The BBC, rather than hold their hands up, are trying to weasel out of it.

So no, BBC, it does not address our concerns. Haven't you realised yet? We expect better from a broadcaster funded by the public.

"how do you feel ..."

Well frankly, Ms Kate Burley, I'm feeling sickened by your heartless journalistic approach. I'm sickened that you couldn't stop the filming for two minutes to give those people the space to have a moment of reflection. I'm sickened that you followed your revelation of the latest news with "would you like to say anything" in the very next heartbeat without giving them the respect of privacy to gather their thoughts. For even two minutes. That's how I feel, Ms Kate Burley.

cameron avoiding tax avoidance

Cameron commenting on tax avoidance in his inimitable way. Odd, given his moral outrage about Jimmy Carr. Odd, then, that he avoids commenting on Gary Barlow or anyone else.

Firstly, he has no right to comment on the private arrangements of any person who - going by HMRC's guidelines - is acting within the law. Secondly, he's known about these tax loopholes for aeons. Now that he's seen fit to throw boiling oil on Jimmy from the great heights of the crenellations, perhaps he can now extend his opprobrium to the people who do exactly the same thing but are in his favour. Like ... good old Phil Green. Why should one person be thrown to the lions and not the whole pack of them. And let's discuss his invitation to French tax exiles to squirrel their money over here rather than pay French tax, never mind, as Richard Murphy points out, that this is diametrically opposed to what the voters of France want.

Much as I loathe the Murdoch press I do feel a grudging pleasure in The Times having brought this out into the open. It's just a shame that by picking on Jimmy, they've unleashed a predictable wave of fury against an easy target, which seems to me to be a very cheap and cynical way of harnessing public prejudice. Perhaps Murdoch doesn't like Jimmy Carr. Or maybe Rebekah has begged Murdoch to take him down. Can't say Carr's humour appeals to me either.

But there again, he did rather put himself in the firing line by calling tax avoidance a scam.

when art mirrors leveson


This pic is so apposite, in so many ways, I can hardly stand it.

500 words for $2 and a smack in the teeth

I know I keep going on and on about it but I'm sick of these "write 500 words for $2 and we will reward you with regular visceral flayings and hang you upside down by your ankles over a vat of boiling vomit until you reduce your fees even further, to like, $0.35 per 1,000 and we can't say fairer than that."

I know. It's a global thing. People can write cheap if their costs of living are cheap. In comparison to ours, that is.

And yes. I know. Avoid the cheapskates. Don't even go there. And I don't, unless it's to marvel at the scintillating people skills some of these buyers have. "You must have expertise! We want expert copy! No grammer [sic] errers! [sic]. NO PLAGRISM! [sic] It must pass Copyscape or we will come round to ur house and rip ur ears off and eat them and then roast ur children alive and eat them too!"

You just know that these vermin are going to bitch about your copy, question every invoice, refuse to pay you for your work (while keeping your articles for uploading elsewhere) and turn your life into a pit of snakes.

Every time I see one these loathsome things on somewhere like PPH or Elance I'm amazed by the number of people in the UK, the States, and Europe bidding for the damn jobs. They're paying the buyers, really they are. Factor in the costs of writing - even if you're doing it to make a few squiddlies here and there - electricity, heating, wear and tear on your computer ... Even if you live somewhere cheaper, you're intending to work for people who think you're one genetic leap down from a bucket of giblets.

I blame Al Gore, since he claimed once to have invented the internet. The modes of supply, demand and delivery have forever changed the way writers find markets and buyers find commercial copy. Now we're all in the same wrestling ring and the only winning strategies are to either stick to print magazines and journals who haven't yet reduced their own rates to bowls of gruel every Friday, or find online buyers who appreciate a fine turn of phrase and rain cash down upon you in return for your glittering creative skills. Anything else is just a dentist's appointment waiting to happen.