Looking behind a BBC News Press Team Tweet

On March 23rd the BBC News Press Team put out this Tweet:

The article by freelance journalist Ben Bold which the BBC chose to promote states:

“The BBC has become the most-trusted news brand on coronavirus, with 64% of respondents selecting it as a reliable source of information from a list of media brands. The public-service broadcaster beat Sky News, which was voted for by 29% of participants, followed by The Guardian (15%), according to research from Havas Media Group.

The Covid-19 Media Behaviours Report, which surveyed nearly 1,500 respondents, found that more than half (53%) of Brits are using BBC News more than before Covid-19 hit the UK – more than double the proportion of people for any other channel.

Eva Grimmett, Havas Media’s chief strategy officer, said: “This study really highlights the role that trusted, meaningful media play in times of crisis. While most channels have seen an increase in consumption in response to Covid-19, our research reveals a much greater reliance on live TV and a need for trusted news brands such as the BBC. We’re looking forward to seeing how this behaviour develops as the situation evolves in the coming weeks.”” [emphasis added]

The Havas Media Group is part of the Havas Group – a multinational advertising and PR company.

Havas has long worked with the BBC and opened an office in Manchester after having been contracted to handle the corporation’s strategic media planning in 2015. That contract is apparently currently worth some £25 million according to reports from last August stating that Havas would be tendering to retain the account. Havas Media Manchester still lists the BBC among its clients.

In addition, Havas Media is listed as being contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to TV Licensing.

To summarise: while a UK government consultation concerning the TV license is still ongoing, a PR company contracted to provide media services to the BBC in relation to television licensing just happened to conduct research at the time of a pandemic which “reveals…a need for trusted brands such as the BBC” and a BBC press team then promoted those findings without clarification of the commercial relationship between the BBC and that PR company.    

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BBC Trending, Saudi Arabia and the missing link

On September 23rd an article by BBC Trending appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The young Saudi who could be executed at any time“.

Trending Saudi story on ME pge

The article relates to social media interest in the case of a Saudi Arabian citizen sentenced to death in May 2014.

“Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr could be beheaded at any time, and now activists are rallying to highlight his case online. He’s accused of a variety of crimes against the state, all stemming from protests he took part in against the Saudi government. His appeals against a death sentence are exhausted.”BBC Trending Saudi Arabia

Later on in the article readers are told that:

“… the trend really spiked big on Wednesday. Al-Nimr’s name has now been mentioned 15,000 times in English and 21,000 times in Arabic over the past few days, with liberal and secular activists and human rights organisations leading the charge. “Our leading ally in the region crucify government critics,” tweeted one British blogger. “Wake up world.” Under Saudi law, the punishment of crucifixion to which al-Nimr was sentenced is actually a beheading, followed by the public display of the body. Others online linked the case with the recent appointment of a Saudi ambassador as chair of a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council. “Saudi Arabia chosen to head UN’s human’s rights panel & yet they’re about to behead 21yr activist,” one user commented.”

However as readers will see if they follow that link about the election of Saudi Arabia to a UN Human Rights Council panel, the writer of this article had to link to a report on the subject from the Independent – presumably because to date the BBC has refrained from producing any reporting of its own on that matter.

Quite why the BBC did not consider it newsworthy when one of the worst human rights abusing regimes in the world bagged a top position at a UN body it regularly quotes and promotes  (including on Gaza Strip casualty figures during the summer 2014 conflict) is of course a question in itself.

But the timing of this particular example of BBC self-censorship is all the more remarkable because just last week the BBC News Press Team saw fit to promote a particular quote from the latest article by a Carnegie Europe employee (there has been at least one other) extolling the virtues of the BBC World Service on the occasion of the International Day of Democracy.

Press Team tweet

Surely one would expect a media organization which touts its credentials as an agent of freedom and democracy to be among the first to report on the fact that a UN panel responsible for selecting officials who shape international human rights standards has been placed in the hands of a non-democratic, human rights abusing regime which employs medieval-style punishments