26September2017

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Bowing Down Before The BBC: Polly Toynbee and The Role Of A Liberal Propagandist

A standard technique deployed by corporate journalists to fend off challenges from the public is to point to selected examples of 'abuse' and then tar all reasoned criticism with the same mucky brush. Or, if that doesn't work, to sneer at claims of 'conspiracy' or 'plots', thus permitting instant dismissal of the arguments made. Polly Toynbee managed to combine the two techniques in a recent Guardian column. It is a near-masterclass in liberal propaganda.

Toynbee began her article by claiming that the BBC, described in hagiographic terms as 'the nation's crucible', is 'often bad at defending itself'. With BBC journalism supposedly 'under ferocious and unjustified attack', in particular from both 'pro- and anti-Brexiteers', she was pleased to hear BBC chairman David Clementi 'standing up for its journalists' in his speech at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge last week.

Clementi said it was unacceptable for politicians, whom he did not name, to 'stand by and watch' heckling at press conferences. He added:

'I have become increasingly aware of the abuse that some of them – particularly female journalists – are subject to on an almost daily basis.'

He continued:

'These days, there is much more abuse. It is increasingly explicit and aggressive. And much of it occurs online.

'I welcome the work the Government is doing to tackle this, and I'm following closely the efforts of Twitter and Facebook, amongst others, to clamp down on the perpetrators. I hope the social media platforms do even more.'

It is obviously true that sexist and misogynist abuse exists on social media and that threats against women should be taken seriously. But as website Skwawkbox rightly pointed out, the speech by Clementi, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, was actually 'a barely-veiled attack on new media'. He:

'ignore[d] the fact that anger toward journalists is, overwhelmingly, precisely because they do not "do their job" and ask the awkward, unwelcome question – and most of the rest of the time, it's because they ask ridiculous questions.'

Skwawkbox added:

'The BBC angers the aware amongst its viewers and readers precisely by failing to question government policy, instead giving government ministers and spokespeople not just a "free ride" but an untrammelled opportunity to propagandise unchallenged.'

This is not territory that Toynbee wished to explore.

Next, she referred to the reported claim that Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor, has been appointed a bodyguard. In the following sentence, Toynbee then mentioned Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was murdered in June 2016. This was an insidious link to make, implying that criticism of Kuenssberg's journalism would increase the risk of any death threats against her. Toynbee made no reference to a petition by website 38 Degrees being taken down last year after claims of 'sexist abuse' against Kuenssberg. The petition, signed by 35,000 people, had protested her blatantly biased anti-Jeremy Corbyn reporting.

The former UK ambassador Craig Murray said that he had read through every single one of the comments on the 38 Degrees website when around 26,000 people had signed the petition. He noted:

'Of the many scores, possibly hundreds (there is no counter) of comments I read through, only one was sexist. That one was very unpleasant, but totally unrepresentative. I can see no reason why they could not just delete any such stupid comments. Everywhere on the internet gets them, including this blog.'

Murray added:

'It seems to me astonishing that a tiny and unrepresentative number of people can get a petition scrapped which had been signed by many thousands of genuine people.'

He was later told by 38 Degrees that the alleged abuse was not on the petition website itself; it 'was on connected social media'. But when Murray asked them for the evidence of abuse, 'they absolutely refuse[d] to show it.'

Murray continued:

'We have had five people searching all day. So far we have one single tweet, which was nasty – it called Laura K by a expletive reserved for women. And it did refer to the petition. But it was sent by a young man, 90% of whose comments referred to football and 100% of whose tweets used similar expletives. [...] But even if there are more nasty examples of abuse, that is not the fault of the 35,000 good people who signed the petition. [...] I utterly condemn any such abuse, but it does not negate the genuine concerns of the petitioners. Regular readers know I myself receive constant abuse, sometimes death threats.'

As for the BBC's political editor, Murray described her as:

'the most openly biased journalist I have ever seen on the BBC, particularly in her very obvious vindictive hatred of Jeremy Corbyn and of Scottish Independence.'

Inevitably, the corporate media's focus on a tiny number of abusive comments helped to block any discussion about deep-rooted BBC bias.

Read more: Bowing Down Before The BBC: Polly Toynbee and The Role Of A Liberal Propagandist

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