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Monday, 7 February 2011

Please never bully the BBC

It turns out that the No To AV campaign website made a big thing of this post below, linking to it from their site. I stand by my comments below, although the word "bully" was perhaps a little strong. I think that Yes to AV is running an excellent campaign, even if I disagree with them about this storm in a BBC teacup. The Yes Campaign Team can make their own decisions about to run their fine campaign, without the need for noises off from the likes of me. So if anyone is reading this because they've been transferred across from the No website, then I'd urge them against thinking that this is any kind of a big deal. It's nothing more than a process story about the semantics of BBC language. It's got little to do with the debate about the merits of AV, a system that I strongly favour. Here is my original post:

The BBC, while wonderful in many ways, cannot always be perfect. I sometimes ring and leave a complaint if I think that they have got something wrong; if I spot what I consider to be a factual inaccuracy in a BBC News story online, then I fill in the box to report it. I do this as an individual, usually anonymously, as is my right as someone who pays the licence fee. One reason that I bother to make these complaints and comments is that I used to have a job that involved reading Channel 4's Viewer Inquiry Report, so I know that viewers' remarks really are logged and passed on as appropriate. If you've got something to say and you say it constructively and crisply, it really will be read by the relevant person and so it is worth doing. So I do sometimes complain, as an individual, and usually an anonymous individual, to the BBC. However, it is one thing for me to complain as an individual; it is another thing for corporate bodies to run campaigns trying to get the BBC to alter an editorial decision on a news issue. The independence of the BBC is sacrosanct, meaning that it must be allowed to make editiorial decisions without fear or favour. So as a supporter of the campaign for a Yes vote in the upcoming referendum on AV, I was not pleased to receive the email below from Yes to Fairer Votes. They are complaining about the BBC's apparent decision not to refer to "electoral reform" in news coverage of the referendum campaign. If the BBC has made such a decision, then that is the BBC's decision, and the BBC's decision alone - there is never an excuse for a political group to campaign for the BBC to alter an editorial decision. This petition is not the best way to win support for the Yes campaign; it just sounds like sour grapes about how the BBC has decided to report the news. It is a bit rich that the Yes campaign's email (in which they seek to influence BBC editorial policy) complains that supporters of the No campaign have been seeking to influence BBC editorial policy...Here is the email in question:


If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck - it's a duck.

I can't believe that I actually have to send you this email - but we've been sent an internal document from the BBC's top brass that demands that their staff stop describing "electoral reform" as "electoral reform".

Essentially - they're saying that a duck is a cabbage.

The BBC was bullied into this position by the old guard rallying behind the old politics - a deliberate attempt by a cynical elite to confuse the voters with misleading and inappropriate language.

We've written a letter to the BBC demanding that they reverse this ridiculous decision - and as you are the heart of our campaign, Matthew, I want your name to be one of the first on that letter.

Sign now - and join the campaign for a fair fight on 5 May.
All we're asking for is a fair debate - the status quo vs reform. That doesn't seem like too much to ask does it?

But we're not surprised - this is exactly the sort of thing we expected from the No Campaign. They know they don't have a serious argument for opposing change - so all they're left with is the same old dirty tricks and the Westminster games that got us into this mess.

But right now, we need to make sure that we can have a fair fight. This is a people powered campaign and we need you to come to our aid. Over the next few months, the BBC will have untold influence on the millions of swing voters who will decide if we win or lose. We need to make sure that they hear fair, understandable and appropriate language.

And we need your support to make that happen. Sign our letter and stand up for Yes:

Thank you. I never said that this would be easy, but change never is.

Jonathan Bartley
Yes to Fairer Votes Council


  1. How does it feel to have your blog as the lead piece on the No campaigns website?

  2. I believe the document in question rules out general usage of the word "reform". This applies to what Michael Gove is doing to education, what Iain Duncan Smith is doing to welfare, what Andrew Lansley is doing to the NHS, etc etc. The word "reform" means a change that is also an improvement - it was indoctrinated into the BBC vocabulary by Blair's spin machine - pity they have only just cottoned onto it...

  3. The view of the BBC as a sacrosanct and
    independent body is naive and extremely dangerous as it places it beyond criticism or question. One critical viewing of its news output will show you how much comment it contains and how little factual news. Granted, it isn't Fox, but then it is hardly Al Jazeera!

    Are we really to believe that 'reform' has been independently and fairly judged by the BBC editorial team to not be suitably balanced for use with AV but is fine for almost any other use (including most previous govt policies by both Lab and Con)? If AV is not reform, what is?

    I don't know about duck, but I certainly smell fish!

  4. You'll see that I have added a new opening paragraph. Thanks for the tip-off about my blog being featured on the website of the Abominable No Men.

    As for the Comment about the BBC hardly being Al Jazeera - is that meant ironically? I can guess what you might mean, but it would be far more interesting to hear it from the horse's mouth - please tell us more about what you meant by that? Thanks.