Last autumn we wrote to the BBC to complain about Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis using the term “hard left” three times in one programme to refer to a sector of the Labour Party. On one occasion she explicitly identified Jeremy Corbyn as a member of the “hard left”.
Thousands of you supported our complaint on social media with shares and comments.
We have now received a response from the BBC and warn you in advance that it is likely to raise your blood pressure! According to the BBC, “‘hard left’ was used to simply indicate where it is generally perceived those opposed to the proposals (from Keir Starmer) are on the political spectrum”. This was, according to the BBC, “a fair reflection on the tensions within the Labour Party”.
The BBC insist that “your concerns have been seen by senior Newsnight editors”. Does this imply that Newsnight’s top editors believe that it is fair and accurate to describe Jeremy Corbyn as “hard left”!?
We disagree and decided to escalate our complaint to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit…
We write to escalate our complaint (reference number: CAS-6929802-S8Q0J4) on Emily Maitlis’s use of the term “hard-left” to describe sectors of the Labour Party.
In our initial complaint we highlighted that this is a non-impartial use of language and supported this assertion with evidence. We repeat the evidence here – “Condemnation by label is a favourite tactic of political antagonism … Descriptions like ‘hard left’, ‘far left’, ‘extreme left’ and ‘extreme right’ all have extra connotations, political under-meanings to damage the people they describe” (Wilson, John (1996). Understanding Journalism: A Guide to Issues. Psychology Press. p. 203)
We also repeat our assertion that non-neutral commentators like Nigel Farage regularly use the term. Farage, for example, has branded the SNP “an extreme hard left party”. The term’s utility to commentators like Farage is clear – describing someone’s politics as “hard” makes them appear frightening, unreasonable, set in their ways. Use of such a loaded term by the BBC cannot, therefore, be seen as impartial.
Following the response to our initial complaint, we also need to complain about accuracy. The response from the BBC’s Complaint Unit, following consultation with “senior Newsnight editors”, was that “‘hard left’ was used to simply indicate where it is generally perceived those opposed to the proposals are on the political spectrum.”
Since Emily Maitlis directly linked one of the “hard left” descriptions to Jeremy Corbyn, it follows that the BBC consider it accurate to describe Corbyn’s political position as “hard left”.
Is this, in fact, accurate? Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party, generally considered a party of the “centre-left”, for a period of five years, and won two internal leadership elections (through democratic vote from party members) to obtain this position. Corbyn is one of the longest-serving British parliamentarians, having been MP for Islington North since 1983. Is Islington North a radical area that elects candidates (nine times in a row!) that occupy “hard” or “extreme” positions on the political spectrum? Do the BBC consider it so?
Moreover, as well as being one of the longest-serving parliamentarians, Jeremy Corbyn continually expresses his belief in parliamentary democracy – e.g. “We live in a democracy and the government has to be accountable to parliament”. This distances Corbyn from actual “hard left” positions such as anarchism (no leaders) and Marxist Communism (one party control).
The BBC must, as a priority, admit to an error in the use of “hard left” to describe Mr Corbyn and other democratic socialists in the Labour Party or clarify on what basis this judgement is considered “accurate” and “impartial”.
How will the BBC respond this time?
We suspect they are uncomfortable with this complaint. Indeed, they have already violated their own procedures when dealing with it. As you can see, the response we received did not offer us a right of reply or indicate how we could escalate our complaint, if dissatisfied. Were the BBC hoping we’d just go away!?
If you’d like to help us pile the pressure on the BBC please share this article on social media and copy in @bbcnews and Newsnight handles. Avowedly “neutral” journalists and outlets must be held to account when they attempt to tarnish the left!
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