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.