December 4, 2019 by Paul Goldsmith
The BBC has to be impartial. Therefore, what it does shouldn’t swing an election. To have interviewed and aired the Andrew Neil interview with Jeremy Corbyn before they had even secured an interview with a Boris Johnson was an avoidable error, but a serious one that should be investigated by the electoral commission.
I am someone who believes deeply in the impartiality of our national broadcasters. The BBC spends its life constantly under attack from both sides, which usually means it is doing the right thing. I have genuinely seen accusations of bias from Remainers and Leavers posted at the same second on Twitter. Same with Conservative and Labour. I would laugh at that, if these constant accusations of bias, and what they might mean for media freedom, could mean.
But last week the BBC genuinely messed up. It was an own goal of massive proportions. After the election it should be investigated and should never happen again.
Andrew Neil is the BBC’s fiercest interviewer. Prime Ministers avoid him as much as they can. So it was decided that during this election he would interview and the BBC would show one half an hour interview a night with Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
After grillings for Sturgeon and Corbyn, it emerged that Boris Johnson was refusing to be interviewed. Don’t be fooled by his ridiculous ‘there are loads of conversations going on about loads of interviews’ and ‘I will do as I am told, it’s not my decision’. He made the decision and he will not face Andrew Neil.
It is barefaced avoidance of scrutiny. Corbyn’s people say they only agreed to do the interview as they were assured by the BBC that Johnson had agreed as well. No proof has emerged of this, but frankly no proof should be needed. Corbyn was subjected to half-an-hour of on screen torture and Johnson won’t be.
The BBC have been scratching around trying to rescue the situation by my saying they were refusing to interview him on Andrew Marr unless he did the Neil interview. Then because of Friday’s terrorist attack, they realised they have to interview the Prime Minister about that so he WAS interview on Marr.
But this was avoidable. They could have filmed all the interviews in one day and then aired them maybe in groups over the next two days so they were as up to date as possible.
Of course, none of this should be necessary. Boris Johnson shouldn’t be avoiding scrutiny and shouldn’t be lying about why he is doing so. But this is how he plays politics, and the BBC should have realised that. Maybe they should have interviewed him first.
The electoral commission, who try to regulate elections, along with OfCom, who try to regulate the media, should investigate this, and at the very least agree a protocol with the political parties so that it doesn’t happen again. It shouldn’t be needed if all parties acted in good faith, but this Conservative Party doesn’t act in good faith anymore, so that needs to be planned for.
It’s a sad situation, but for the BBC to survive in their current form they need to avoid mistakes like this.