One of the public purposes defined in the Charter which is the BBC’s constitutional basis is that of “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. According to the BBC Trust’s interpretation of that public purpose, it will be achieved through “high-quality and distinctive journalism that meets the highest standards of accuracy, fairness and impartiality”.
In the opening paragraphs of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality it is stated:
“Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.” [emphasis added]
Needless to say, it would be perfectly obvious to most licence fee payers that “detachment from fundamental democratic principles” includes the promotion and amplification of the views of people to whom democracy is an anathema to be rejected on the basis of ideology.
Nevertheless, the BBC once again found itself at the centre of wide-ranging public criticism towards the end of December 2013 when it chose to provide a platform for the views of just such an opponent to “fundamental democratic principles”.
On December 20th 2013 BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme conducted an interview with Anjem Choudary as part of its coverage of the sentencing of the murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London last year.
“When asked by the Today presenter John Humphrys whether he condemned the killings, Choudary said: “I think that to talk about condemnation or to talk about how we feel is not the most important question now, and I’m not going to go down that road. I think that what is important is to learn lessons from what has taken place.
“Whether you agree or disagree with what took place, you cannot predict the actions of one individual among a population of 60 million when the government is clearly at war in Muslim countries. I condemn those who have caused what has taken place on the streets of London, and I believe that the cause of this is David Cameron and his foreign policy.” “
Of course there can be no doubt that the BBC editors who decided to interview Choudary for that programme knew in advance exactly what kind of responses they were going to get from him. After all, like the proprietors of some Victorian freak-show seeking to attract audiences by way of the ‘shock factor’, the BBC has been wheeling out Choudary and his template propaganda for over a decade, including a ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2003 in which he refused to condemn the Mike’s Place suicide bombers, another ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2005 in which he likewise refused to condemn the London terror attacks, participation in ‘The Big Questions’ and ‘Newsnight’ and an appearance on ‘Newsnight’ in May 2013 (also promoted on the BBC News website) in which his stance on the brutal murder of Lee Rigby was made amply clear.
Beyond his tawdry ‘shock factor’ which is exploited to the full by the BBC, Anjem Choudary does not represent one of those “significant stands of thought” which the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines pledge to reflect and represent. His bigoted rants and apologist attitude to terrorism reflect the views of no more than a minuscule proportion of British citizens and such views certainly are not embraced by the vast majority of people who share his faith. And yet, following the latest round of criticism in December, the BBC felt the need to defend its amplification of the abhorrent views of an anti-democratic supremacist.
“A BBC spokeswoman said: “We have given great consideration to our reporting of the Woolwich murder and the subsequent trial, and carried a wide range of views from across the political and religious spectrums.
“We have a responsibility to both report on the story and try to shed light on why it happened. We believe it is important to reflect the fact that such opinions exist and feel that Choudary’s comments may offer some insight into how this crime came about.”
It is of course nothing short of amazing that an organization with such a miserable record on the reporting of terrorism – so much so that it even self-censors the use of the word – believes that it has the credentials to offer its audiences anything which can honestly be described as relevant “insight” into the background to an act of terrorism.
But if that genuinely is the BBC’s intention, then rather than merely providing a sensationalist rating-magnet platform for the propagation of his ample hate, it could of course conduct some proper exposure of the nature of the activities of Choudary and his associates.
In contrast to its valueless amplification of Choudary’s bigoted and undemocratic views to millions, that would go some way towards sustaining the civil society – both in Britain and abroad – to which the BBC is supposedly committed.