Booing and hissing a political reporter is no way to behave, says Man On Ledge, JULIAN COLE
IMAGINE if a question put to David Cameron by the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, were drowned out by sneers and shouts from a bunch of posh-boy yobbos.
What would we think of that? Not a lot, I’d say. Yet this actually happened, the only difference being that it was at a pro-Europe speech given by Jeremy Corbyn and it was LABOUR supporters who started booing and hissing when Kuenssberg was invited to ask a question. The Labour leader reportedly had to shush the crowd before the Beeb’s political editor could speak.
Why did this happen? Many Corbyn supporters are obsessed with bias and believe that Kuenssberg has it in for their man. A little like followers of a religion, they react with holy anger whenever they feel their sainted hero is being treated unfairly.
There are a number of possible explanations. The first is that the criticism might be true (which I don’t believe, by the way); the second involves the role of social media; the third concerns the strong support Corbyn enjoys from new supporters from outside of the old-style Labour party.
Add those three strands together and you get a big knot of a conspiracy theory.
So is Kuenssberg biased? It is partly a matter of taste and interpretation. Some of the criticism is a misunderstanding of how a political journalist works, perhaps how any reporter works. By its nature, the job involves asking confrontational questions of political leaders. Kuenssberg took on the role when Corbyn was newish to his role, and so he was a big political story. Whenever she asked anything the Corbynistas considered ‘unfriendly’ they reacted angrily, then took to social media to complain.
Social media platforms can act as an echo chamber for the like-minded: people gather in a dispersed mob, moan and shout, and then assume they must be right in their beliefs because everyone around them is making the same point.
Add to Twitter and Facebook et al left-wing websites such as The Canary, where many of the complaints about the BBC originate and which says of the latest row: “The mainstream media has closed ranks to protect the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenessberg, but the public aren’t falling for it.”
By ‘the public’, of course, they mean all those people who think the same as they do. Nothing wrong with that as such; indeed, nothing wrong with such websites adding to the political variety of life. Except that they are as biased as everyone else, and more openly so than the BBC ever is; biased in the way that, say, the Daily Mail or the Telegraph are, but from the other perspective.
Interestingly, the phrase ‘mainstream media’ is used pejoratively to embrace just about everyone, apart from websites such as The Canary. The Guardian and the Observer, newspapers of choice for many an old leftie, are often swept up in the general contempt felt by the ‘alternative’ media. And in my world, if those two newspapers aren’t to be trusted, then who is?
In the end, all this hating of Laura Kuenssberg and the BBC is an unhelpful distraction for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. Instead of complaining all the time, Labour needs to make better efforts to use television and other media to put across its messages. It’s a game that has to be played in this country, and standing on the touchline saying “It’s not fair” doesn’t get you very far.
If the Kuenssberg haters get their way, a BBC political editor wI’ll have been removed by pressure from a political party or its supporters. What a frightening precedent THAT would set.
Incidentally, another possible explanation for all this is that David Cameron mostly favours stage-managed occasions at which he is asked no difficult questions. And that’s why it was good to see him pushed onto the defensive on Sky News during the first major TV event of the EU referendum campaign.
If the BBC is failing ANYWHERE in its political coverage, the problem lies in not asking enough questions of the prime minister.