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Nelson McCausland

Why left-wing bias at the BBC raises questions of transparency and balance at the broadcaster

Nelson McCausland

Half an hour on the web would have shown that Panorama participants were pro-Labour, says Nelson McCausland

The recent BBC Panorama programme, Has the Government failed to protect the NHS?, certainly provoked a lot of controversy, not so much about the NHS but about the BBC itself. The programme was built around a series of contributions from workers in the NHS and all the contributors were very critical of the Government. So, who were they?

Professor John Ashton, a Labour Party member for 53 years, was one of them and another was Dr Sonia Adesara, a Labour Party activist, who sought an election nomination in 2018.

Then there was Dr Abhi Mantgani, another Labour supporter, so by this point, even if you didn't see the programme, you will detect an emerging pattern.

Another contributor was Libby Nolan, a nurse who was introduced as a "union rep", but on social media the Unison representative has described herself as a "constant agitator" and has posted badges reading "Proud to be everything the Conservatives hate".

The others were Asif Munaf, a Labour supporter, and Irial Eno, who introduced herself as a "doctor working with Covid patients" and said she was "really angry at the Government".

On that basis, you might assume that every single doctor and every single nurse in Britain is a Labour activist.

However, at the last General Election, Labour got just 32% of the popular vote, so we might expect that, at most, a third of contributors would be Labour voters. But these are not just Labour voters - they are activists.

Now, the Labour Party has 580,000 members, so you might expect that, when it comes to Labour activist-supporters, one out of five or six contributors would be more than enough and should be balanced by a Conservative activist. That would be fair.

But, then, this is the BBC and that would not be good enough for them.

In this programme, every contributor was a Labour activist-supporter, although the programme itself didn't tell you that.

What became of the much-vaunted BBC commitment to fairness, balance and transparency?

In truth, it seems to have abandoned them and this is a clear example of a public service broadcaster failing to deliver on its obligations.

So, then, how did the BBC recruit and select their Labour-supporting contributors?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in a tweet from Nigel Flanagan, a communist trade union organiser, who claimed: "I was one of those who spoke to Panorama and put them in touch with health workers."

When challenged about this, the BBC eventually conceded that they had spoken to Flanagan, but said that none of the contributors were sourced through him.

Yes, but how many other communist trade union organisers did the BBC talk to? Or is it that BBC researchers only know people who are Labour Party activists?

There was no balance among the contributors and, on top of that, there was no transparency about the shared political allegiance of all the contributors.

Panorama describes itself as an "investigative" programme that "reveals the truth about the stories that matter". Did it not make even a cursory investigation of the political balance of the contributors?

It didn't take long for the investigative website Guido Fawkes to uncover the problem, so it shouldn't have been too difficult for the Panorama team to ask the contributors or, alternatively, spend half an hour on the internet.

So, did they not bother? Or did they know about the imbalance and simply did not care, hoping no one would find out?

Well, they should care, because the BBC's own editorial guidelines state (under "contributors' affiliations") that: "Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context."

This was a programme in which the contributors criticised the Government, so their associations with the Labour Party were, indeed, "relevant".

It seems that many governments around the world could have done more, over a period of years, to prepare for a possible pandemic and, in due course, there will be inquiries into the adequacy, or otherwise, of what was done.

However, that does not excuse the BBC for such a blatant breach of its editorial guidelines. The culpability of Panorama has been highlighted, but if a flagship BBC programme such as this feels able to behave in this way, how many other BBC programmes behave in a similar manner?

Belfast Telegraph