It is now over seven months since we complained to the BBC about Laura Kuennsberg’s appalling coverage of Keir Starmer’s decision to deny the parliamentary whip to Jeremy Corbyn (News at Ten, 17/11/2020).
The BBC’s initial reply referred to a different article to the one we’d complained about (!!) and flatly denied Laura Kuennsberg had stated “When the (EHRC) report came out, Mr Corbyn said it had been exaggerated.”
We replied with a link to the correct article, attributed to Laura Kuennsberg, which unequivocally states “When the report came out, Mr Corbyn suggested it had all been exaggerated.” (underline shows that what Laura K said was even worse than what the BBC denied she’d said!)
We then heard nothing from the BBC for…3 months. When we chased them we were told they “hadn’t received” our response and were sent two further letters blaming a subsequent delay in responding on Covid.
We thought we’d update you on what has happened since and our escalation of the complaint. Full transparency and social media support for the complaint can only help so we’d appreciate any shares of this article – especially on social media with @BBCNEWS tagged in!
BBC DeLAY. Then Dismiss.
You can read our initial complaint here.
As highlighted above, we have had to pursue the complaint with patience and determination. Our reward for seven months of perseverance, amidst misdirection from the BBC, was the following derisory response (received 28/7/21):
“We don’t accept that the line in question (“When the report came out, Mr Corbyn suggested it had all been exaggerated”) misrepresents Jeremy Corbyn and have nothing further to add on this point”
The Free Press have something further to add!
We have escalated our complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU), who upheld our previous complaint on a BBC environmental article.
You can read our escalated complaint below. It cites the main elements of the BBC editorial code Ms Kuenssberg violated and substantiates them with evidence we believe to be irrefutable. Let us know if you think we have a case!
ECU Letter to Escalate Complaint
We write in reference to complaint CAS-6457699-Q8W4K9
For clarity, the complaint refers to this article (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54996354) published on the BBC news website and the associated piece on News at 10 delivered by Laura Kuennsberg on 17/11/20.
BBC editorial standards state “we seek to establish the truth and use the highest reporting standards to provide coverage that is fair and accurate”
The article in question breaches these standards multiple times.
1) “When the (EHRC) report came out, Mr Corbyn suggested it had all been exaggerated”
So said Ms Kuennsberg in reference to Jeremy Corbyn’s statement of 29/10/2020 (the day the EHRC report was published)
This is a shocking misrepresentation of Mr Corbyn’s statement, which we request that you read in full.
The majority of the statement is dedicated to acknowledging the evil of anti-Semitism and the processes by which he tried to clamp down on it as party leader.
This includes two direct phrases which show, beyond doubt, that Mr Corbyn accepts there was a problem within the Labour Party and that he considered it a problem: “anyone claiming there is no antisemitism in the Labour Party is wrong” and “one antisemite is one too many”.
In his only reference to exaggeration Corbyn highlights that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”
Ms Kuennsberg completely removes this statement from its context and ignores direct comments acknowledging the seriousness of anti-Semitism and Mr Corbyn’s attempts to deal with it.
In doing so she presents the viewer/reader with an inaccurate and unfair picture of Mr Corbyn’s statement and his attitude to cases of anti-Semitism within Labour.
2) Ms Kuennsberg concludes her report by asking a rhetorical question – “if he wanted to keep the promise he made solemnly to the Jewish community, did (Keir Starmer) really have any choice?” – implying that Keir Starmer had “no choice” but to deny Jeremy Corbyn the whip
This is an astonishingly inaccurate assertion.
We note that main recommendation of the EHRC report is that Labour leaders should not interfere in disciplinary matters. Given that Ms Kuennsberg was reporting on these very recommendations she could hardly be unaware of them – yet she suggests Mr Starmer had “no choice” but to immediately violate the EHRC report.
The defence that Starmer “wanted to keep the promise he made solemnly to the Jewish community” can hardly be said to apply – Jewish Voice for Labour, a significant Jewish group within the party, pointed out in the aftermath of Corbyn’s suspension that it was “precisely the political interference condemned by the EHRC”
The EHRC report also includes a proviso that comments about “the scale of antisemitism within the [Labour] Party” are protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Corbyn was, in effect, suspended then denied the party whip for making a statement protected by both the EHRC report AND the European Convention on Human Rights.
Again, Ms Kuennsberg should be familiar with this report, relevant surrounding legislation and as a public service broadcaster has a duty to report on them accurately. Does she genuinely feel that Starmer had “no choice” but to violate the EHRC report and Jeremy Corbyn’s human rights? If so, why did she not inform BBC viewers of this?
Finally, we note the immediate outcry that greeted denial of the whip to Corbyn. High-profile figures such as Diane Abbott, Len McCluskey and John McDonnell criticised the decision severely. The decision sparked furious debates on social media and led to a third of Labour branches passing motions condemning the decision, despite the party leadership attempting to ban them from doing so.
As we’ve already mentioned, the outcry included criticism from Jewish Voice for Labour and prominent Jewish activists such as Andrew Feinstein, a former South African MP and colleague of Nelson Mandela.
On what basis did Ms Kuenssberg decide to ignore the views of a large proportion of the Labour Party, prominent Jewish groups/activists and former shadow cabinet ministers who evidently thought, not only that Starmer had a choice, but that his choice was highly controversial?
It was certainly neither “fair” nor “accurate” to do so
We could raise further issues regarding this report by Ms Kuennsberg. However, we have chosen to focus only on clear, indisputable factual errors.
We note, in support of our complaint, that Ms Kuennsberg has been censured in the past for her coverage of Mr Corbyn. This suggests she may well have a bias (possibly an unconscious one) and struggles to report on him impartially.
In addition, we would like to note the BBC’s appalling response to our complaint. Their reply to our initial complaint addressed a different article to the one we complained about and claimed that “Laura Kuenssberg did not say “When the (EHRC) report came out, Mr Corbyn said it had been exaggerated.”
We replied with evidence that Ms Kuennsberg did say this and had to wait the best part of SIX MONTHS (with two letters blaming the delay on Covid) for a reply that simply stated “We don’t accept that the line in question (“When the report came out, Mr Corbyn suggested it had all been exaggerated”) misrepresents Jeremy Corbyn and have nothing further to add on this point”
We look forward to a more satisfactory response from the ECU,
Steven McCracken and Sean Rankin
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