NEW DELHI: At the entrance to the BBC’s London headquarters, there is an interesting Latin inscription that refers to broadcasting in the original Biblical sense of scattering seed. It reads: “And they pray that good seed sown may bring forth good harvest, and that all things foul or hostile to peace may be banished thence…”
In the years since those words were inscribed, “things foul or hostile” have proved frustratingly hard to erase as the BBC has been rocked by a number of scandals. Allegations that the corporation lacks impartial and objective journalism are regularly made by observers on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Since at least the mid-1980s, the corporation has often been criticised for a perceived bias against those on the centre-right of politics. The BBC’s latest documentary demonising Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not its first blunder.
Brian Hutton inquiry
On September 24, 2002, when the UK published a dossier on the threat posed by Iraq, the BBC claimed it was doctored by 10 Downing Street to justify the invasion of Iraq. Despite the Government’s vehement denial, the BBC brass stood by its claim. A subsequent inquiry by Brian Hutton, former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, showed that the allegation was “unfounded” and the editorial system that allowed such claims was “defective”.
Within 24 hours, BBC’s Chairman Gavyn Davies and the Director General resigned and caretaker Chairman, Richard Ryder, apologised “unreservedly” for the BBC’s failures. There are several other cases of BBC’s questionable journalist practices. Another classic example is the 2012 row over TV star Jimmy Savile’s sex abuse scandal. Faced with the charge of a cover-up, BBC insisted that the testimony of Savile’s victims was not in itself sufficient for the BBC to proceed. A later investigation by High Court Judge Dame Janet Smith published in 2016 revealed that a catalogue of sexual assaults had indeed taken place. She identified more than 70 allegations of inappropriate conduct or sexual assault.
In yet another case, a Panorama documentary shown on BBC One on June 23, 2008, included undercover footage of three boys in a Bengaluru workshop “testing” Primark brown vest tops to make sure that sequins would not fall off. After three years of Primark’s effort, the BBC was forced to concede that its award-winning investigative journalism report of Indian child labour use by the retailing giant was a fake.
English journalist and author Christopher Booker had criticised the BBC for its coverage of India-related matters. “The BBC’s effort to reinforce stereotypes of South Asians has been directly responsible for damaging the image of India,” he had said. .
As a case in point, he cited BBC’s documentary ‘India’s Daughter’. Those who saw its preview considered it as a “balanced documentary,” because it ended with worldwide statistics highlighting violence against women, from Australia to the US. “But when the final version emerged, all this had been cut-out. India was shown standing alone as a country where rape is an exceptional problem.” Booker pointed out.
Anti-India bias charge
Writing for the 2008 edition of the peer-reviewed Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Alasdair Pinkerton analysed the BBC coverage of India from its independence from the British rule in 1947 to 2008.
Pinkerton observed that a tumultuous history involving allegations of anti-India bias in the BBC’s reportage, particularly during the Cold War, and concluded that the BBC’s coverage of South Asian geopolitics and economics showed a pervasive and hostile anti-India bias because its alleged colonialist stance. Again in 2008, the BBC was criticised for referring to the men who carried out the November 2008 Mumbai attacks as “gunmen”, rather than “terrorists,” used to describe the attacks in UK. British parliamentarian Stephen Pound criticised the BBC, referring to its whitewashing of the terror attacks as “the worst sort of mealy mouthed posturing”
In 2021, a BBC interview with political scientist Christine Fair was interrupted and Fair dismissed by news presenter Philippa Thomas when he began to elaborate on links between Pakistan and the Taliban. This invited further accusations of proPakistan bias on the part of the BBC on social media.
LIST OF KEY CONTROVERSIES SURROUNDING BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION
TUC general strike (1926): Labour politicians accused BBC of being “biased” and “misleading the public” during the strike
Commercial radio (1930): Faced controversial competition from people operating leased transmitters to broadcast commercial radio programmes in the UK
Iranian coup d’état (1953): The code world plot involving the Shah of Iran
The War Game (1965): A pseudodocumentary about a fictional attack on London was not screened by the BBC until 1985 as it found it “too horrifying”
Clean-up campaign (1964): Mary Whitehouse launched a ‘Clean Up TV campaign’ as in her view, Hugh Greene as BBC Director General was “more than anybody else … responsible for the moral collapse in this country
Yesterday’s Men (1971): BBC documentary about ex-ministers of Harold Wilson Government was seen by Labour Party as displaying explicit Conservative bias
IRA roadblock (1979): Admitted that the filming of roadblock “would appear to be a clear breach of standing instructions in relation to filming in Ireland”
Falklands War (1982): PM Thatcher and some Conservative MPs believed that the BBC was excessively even-handed between Britain and Argentina
Miners’ strike (1984): The footage was edited and broadcast out of chronological sequence, falsely showing pickets throwing stones at the police
Libyan raid (1986): The BBC News at Six reporting of the American bombing raid on Libya outraged Thatcher and Conservative Party Chairman
Broadcast ban (1988): Prohibited BBC from broadcasting statements by representatives or supporters of eleven Irish political and military organisations
Cocaine controversy (1998): Blue Peter, a presenter of children’s TV programme came in the headlines when it emerged he had taken cocaine
WMD dossier (2003): Hutton Report critical of BBC’s standards of journalism over its report about a dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
Siemens outsourcing (2004): A report by the House panel was critical of BBC’s outsourcing deal saying it had omitted hidden costs in its application to the Board
Blue Peter phone-in (2006): A phone-in competition supporting Unicef, held by the children’s programme Blue Peter, was revealed to have been rigged
Gaza DEC appeal (2009): BBC declined a request from the Disasters Emergency Committee to screen an aid appeal for relief effort in Gaza Strip
Women in shows (2009): Actress and comedian Victoria Wood said BBC panel shows were too maledominated and involved “a lot of men topping each other”
Ageing accusations (2007): The BBC was accused of ageism and sexism when news presenter Moira Stuart (55) was sacked in April 2007
Tsutomu Yamaguchi (2011): BBC issued an apology to Japan for a show in which panelists made jokes about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived atomic bombings
Fake child labour (2008): Panorama documentary about child labour used by retailer Primark in Bengaluru was found untrue and BBC apologised to Primark
Queen’s jubilee (2012): BBC’s live television coverage of the Queen’s diamond jubilee attracted some criticism and it received over 4,500 complaints
Jimmy Savile scandal (2012): Director-General announced a probe into BBC’s child protection policy, and also into the prevalent culture within the department
Executive payoffs (2013): The large severance payments given to departing BBC executives came to widespread media attention
Generation War (2013): BBC plans to broadcast the German ZDF film Generation War upset certain British residents of Polish origin
Scottish campaign (2014): Throughout the Scottish independence campaign, there were accusations that the BBC was neither neutral nor impartial
Trump interview (2019): The BBC upheld a complaint against Naga Munchetty for having breached BBC rules by giving an opinion on Donald Trump’s comments
Prince Philip death (2021): BBC received over 100,000 complaints accusing it of excessive coverage
Princess of Wales (2021): Accusations were made that former BBC interviewer had lied to gain his 1995 interview with Diana