The subject hardly needs an introduction: at the time of writing,the two-minute Twitter film compiled by Peter Stefanovic debunking a series of statements to Parliament by Boris Johnson has clocked up more than 33 million views.
Kanye West or Taylor Swift might be disappointed by that kind of viewing figure for a video, but not many other people would be. Stefanovic is no global music star (he’s a Northamptonshire-based lawyer) but his little film is seriously famous.
Which makes the attitude towards it of the BBC all the more baffling. Because the evidence strongly suggests that the national broadcaster has blacklisted the film and its maker across all of its outlets.
Not that the BBC admits this. If you ask it, you receive a reply pointing out: “A BBC News online article covered Green Party MP Caroline Lucas” calls for a debate “to challenge the Prime Minister’s persistent failure to give accurate information to the House of Commons”.
The piece referenced this video.
Click on the link and scroll down and you will find, buried at paragraphs 20 and 21, a brisk, 60-word allusion to the Stefanovic film with no detail and no link. And the story is dated 26 April, more than four months ago.
Consider for a moment the range and volume of BBC news and current affairs output on television, on radio and online, nationally, internationally and regionally, every hour of every day, week after week: it is a River Amazon of news. And all it can find in it is one throwaway mention at the fag-end of one online story that was published four months ago. It is as though the corporation wanted to prove that it was ignoring the story.
Even more vivid evidence of blacklisting came in the BBC’s coverage of the dismissal of Labour MP Dawn Butler from the House of Commons for calling Boris Johnson a liar.
When she used that word, she was explicitly relying on the evidence of the Stefanovic video, had just mentioned Stefanovic by name, and was quoting directly from the film’s script.
Yet, as Stefanovic points out (and I have seen no evidence that he is wrong) the BBC’s reporting of what happened never once mentioned him and Butler’s references to him and to the film were edited out of the parliamentary footage. This is simply perverse.
The corporation’s army of editors – at the Today programme, at Newsnight, at the Jeremy Vine Show, at Newsbeat, at the BBC News Channel, at Stefanovic’s local BBC radio station, and at dozens of other BBC programmes and outlets – all appear to think with one brain about the film. There is no sign of dissent or independent action.
They have also conspicuously ignored a long series of ‘news pegs’ or timely opportunities for reporting the story – such as when the film passed 10 million views in April, 15 million and then 20 million in May, 25 million in July, and 30 million in August.
And it is striking that both ITV and Sky, which have news output that is a tiny fraction of the BBC’s, found air-time to cover Stefanovic and his film.
Let’s be clear: there is no law requiring any editor to report on any particular story. Editors get to choose what is important and/or interesting, and they always have to leave stuff out.
But journalists also have an underlying obligation to their readers and viewers to try to reflect the world as it is. So, if an editor or a news organisation withholds newsworthy information, for whatever reason, they are failing the public and their profession.
Nobody has put this better than Rupert Murdoch, who said in a 1968 interview: “A newspaper can create great controversies, stir up arguments in the community – discussion. It can throw light on injustices. Just has it can do the opposite: it can hide things and be a great power for evil.”
Hiding newsworthy information is evil. We may be used to our corrupt and partisan corporate newspapers (including Murdoch’s) doing it, but not the BBC.
And make no mistake: the Stefanovic film is newsworthy. It concerns a matter of paramount public interest – the honesty of the Prime Minister – and it is being viewed online something like 100,000 times every day. It is also accurate: its claims have been verified many times, including here.
And no one is suggesting that the BBC should simply broadcast the whole two minutes uncritically. Stefanovic can and should be interviewed and challenged. He is ready for that.
Former BBC reporter Patrick Howse speaks to those inside the corporation after Byline Times asked the BBC about its lack of coverage of Jennifer Arcuri’s new revelations of a four-year sexual affair with the now Prime Minister
Is the BBC afraid of setting a precedent of placing itself under an obligation to report every political video that achieves 33 million views? It’s a feeble argument, but if it does believe that why doesn’t it say so? Does it doubt Stefanovic’s motives? Does it believe that the number of views has been fiddled? Again pretty daft, but again, let it say it.
For the moment, the BBC looks about as bad as it could: as though it has blacklisted someone for criticising the Prime Minister. In other words, and to borrow from Murdoch, it appears to be hiding news and operating as a power for evil.
Brian Cathcart is Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London and the author of ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’ (1999)