Selective quotations

We have a very clear and recent example of selective quotation by the BBC in its commentary surrounding the use of parliamentary privilege to name Sir Philip Green as the anonymous person who secured a court injunction preventing The Daily Telegraph publishing allegations of sexual and racial harassment.

While other commentators quite rightly concentrate on the use and abuse of parliamentary privilege, I draw attention to another feature that will receive no attention from the main stream media.

There have been many complaints about bias in the main stream media (MSM), with American President Donald Trump leading the charge.  It is common for people and political parties to complain about BBC bias.  The BBC defends itself by claiming that as the complaints come from opposite sides of a debate, the BBC must be quite balanced.  A better defence would be to point out that all programmes follow a line that is inherently biased, but as long as different views are allowed to be expressed in alternative programmes then the BBC performs its function as a public broadcasting corporation.

However, selective quotation is another matter.  This is very easy to do, is commonly done, and can be damaging.  It manifests that the desire to win an argument is greater than the regard for truth.  An old example that comes to mind because of its frequent recurrence is the selective curtailing of George Galloway’s meeting with Saddam Hussein, and the most recent one is the clipping from BBC’s This Week showing Alan Johnson last night questioning Peter Hain’s use of Parliamentary privilege as ‘undermining the law’ or judiciary.  News items have repeatedly shown it and Politics Live does the same today.  Each time the video clip stops very abruptly.  Why?  Because it goes on immediately to show the BBC’s Andrew Neil saying this view was very interesting and Michael Portillo agreed with this and said, “Well said, Alan.”   Why did the BBC in its reporting of this opinion confine this sentiment to Alan Johnson and not include Michael Portillo who was of a similar view?  The answer is not very important, but it demonstrates the readiness of the BBC to cut clippings short and prevent viewers seeing the reaction to the point being made in context.

I remind people that there is a context to every story and if people were more experienced in exegeting the Bible and more familiar with the centuries of debate over biblical doctrine, as former generations were, they would be more alert to the use of quotations out of context.

The historian Dr David Starkey put parliamentary privilege in context, beginning in Henry VIII’s reign, that it was to prevent the judiciary interfering with parliament.  He also compared Henry VIII’s breach with the pope of Rome to “a hard Brexit 16th-century style”, each Brexit requiring the approval of parliament, and the BBC subtitled this section of the debate ‘Court of Tudor Vs. Court of May’.

Alan Johnson said that parliamentary privilege should be used very carefully, recalling that Erskine May, the parliamentary manual of practice, explained that parliamentary privilege should be used as part of one’s legislative duties.  I find it difficult to see how Lord Haines’ exposure of Philip Green is part of a legislative duty and it appears to me that he has taken the law into his own hands.  This will lead to a serious debate on the use and abuse of parliamentary privilege.

The Politics Live presenter Emma Barnett preceded the This Week clipping with: “someone who is very clear in their view that they didn’t think it was the right thing to do is Alan Johnson”, and after the clip she said: “he is very clear there.”  The problem is that he was not “very clear” and he was more nuanced in his opinion.  He questioned it and correctly raised the topic for debate.  Similarly, I am raising the topic of accurate, contextual quotation, but this will not be debated by those who are practised in the nefarious art of misrepresenting other people.

Meanwhile, this blogpost allows me to add examples of selective quotation by MSM as they come across my path.

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