Fri 4 December 2020

After Carole Cadwalladr challenged Director General Tony Hall over dark money lobbyists, the BBC has responded with new guidelines.

Lobbying outfits branded as “think tanks” will no longer be able to appear on the BBC without viewers being told about their funding.

The BBC has now explicitly included think tanks in its editorial guidelines after the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, who uncovered the Cambridge Analytica scandal, raised concerns in June this year with the platform given to such groups with the corporation’s Director General Tony Hall. 

Individuals working for organisations such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs – all part of the secretive ‘Tufton Street Network’ – are regularly invited onto the BBC’s news platforms, purportedly as research groups rather than lobbyists. 

However, these networks refuse to declare their funding and rank at the bottom of the think tank transparency ratings.

Reports by DeSmog, openDemocracy and Byline Times have revealed extensive links to US funding networks, often with commercial interests with industries such as tobacco, oil and gas and pharmaceuticals. They generally receive the lowest ‘E’ rating in the ‘Who Funds You’ index of UK think tank transparency over their failure to declare amounts given to them and who by.

As Simon Roach revealed in Byline Times and DeSmog this week, many of these opaque think tanks and lobbyists now have key players and allies in Boris Johnson’s Government.

In an email to Cadwalladr confirming the change in its policy, the BBC said: “We are clear that our journalists should not assume contributors from think tanks are unbiased… We agree that appropriate information about think tanks should be given to our audiences where relevant to the story.”

According to the guidelines, “appropriate information about [think tanks’] affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” will now have to be revealed to viewers.

Cadwalladr said on Twitter: “We are in such dark times but this is a good news story. And all it took was hard work by dedicated journalists and NGOs, a whistleblower’s testimony and thousands of ordinary citizens wailing at TV and radio on [an] almost daily basis over [a] sustained period of years (and the Director General to pay attention).” 

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