The Guardian has obtained emails and messages from the BBC dated between 2020 and 2022, which appears to show the corporation is under pressure from No ten over its political reporting.
It is reported in the British press that BBC editors asked journalists not to use the word “lockdown” in writing during the pandemic and that Downing Street pressure forced them to be more critical of Labour.
Announced one particular email, sent to BBC correspondents in the evening on the day of lockdown, was labelled: IMPORTANT ADVISORY – language re-broadcast. The message said, “Hi everyone – our team members asked if we could avoid the word “lockdown”. There will be a message that people should stay home, but we will not discuss enforcement today.
Due to the reporters’ unsuccessful attempt to counter the ‘advice,’ the website and broadcasts on that day discussed “curbs” and “restrictions.” Rival broadcaster Sky used the word “lockdown”, but other outlets, including tabloid newspapers, used it prominently the next day.
The Guardian reports on how a leaked message revealed the BBC hesitates to publish the news that “damaged the then prime minister”, despite no evidence of pressure from Downing Street.
After Jennifer Arcuri gave an interview to a newspaper in October 2020 that appeared to confirm an affair with ex-PM Johnson, a senior editor “congratulated correspondents on staying off the subject of Jennifer Arcuri,” according to an email the newspaper has accessed. According to the allegations, he abused his position as mayor of London to secure her favourable treatment.
The Guardian reported that an insider at the BBC said, “We are frequently called by Downing Street for our headlines, particularly on our website.”
In most cases, they applied pressures verbally rather than in writing, so WhatsApp messages would have given a glimpse into what was happening.
Under pressure from the UK government and some sections of the Tory party, the BBC has buckled under pressure after its Director General and Chairman was accused of having close ties to the Tories.
The colleagues of football star presenter Gary Lineker demonstrated exemplary independence as a public broadcaster, but this would never be possible in any other place. In addition, BBC management was under fire for suspending Lineker from Match of the Day before relenting and apologizing to BBC audiences. Again, the row over Lineker’s views on the government’s controversial Illegal Migrants Bill has highlighted the BBC’s editorial independence in the spotlight.