An article by Joel Baccas and Madeleina Kay criticising impartiality in BBC coverage of Youth activism.
‘Party Girls Can Do Politics’ – the young politicians of tomorrow are growing up with social media of today – so should they be filtering what they post to suit their political futures?In principle, this would seem a rather refreshing and modern piece by the BBC – seeking to diversify the political debate to include the voice of British youth – but hold your horses! Most of us are under the impression that the BBC as our national broadcaster is bound by impartiality rules: So why was this piece ‘Party Girls Can Do Politics’ featuring only a young Brexit supporter? And why has the BBC chosen to ignore other young people, with more liberal values, who also enjoy using social media like Insta, FB and Twitter when they go out for a few bevvies?
Firstly, let’s examine what is so special about Emily Hewertson that warrants a feature piece by BBC Stories?
She’s young ‘and like many girls her age she likes clubbing and Instagram – but she’s also: a member of the Conservative party, an aspiring politician and an influencer for right-wing group Turning Point UK.’ Except the BBC, for some inexplicable reason, omitted to include that latter detail in their feature. Are budgets so stretched at the BEEB that their researchers couldn’t dedicate enough time to finding out this rather significant piece of information, which was immediately called out by a swathe of accounts on twitter? Or was there another reason why the BBC and their political activist star didn’t want to disclose this affiliation?
British print media have stepped up in the fight to protect UK democracy, by calling out the National Broadcaster for its decay in impartiality and integrity. The New Statesman published an article titled “BBC puff piece of young Brexiteer fails to mention Turning Point UK – Odd feature omits youth activist’s political credentials.” Making the very valid argument that, “Giving an individual from this movement such a big slot also seems disproportionate.” And pointing out the BBC’s previous bias towards “Turning Point UK, whose disastrous launch was covered thoroughly by the BBC, hasn’t had very much influence at all – compared with, say, the young activists in the Labour-supporting Momentum movement, who are rarely given unquestioningly positive coverage”
Turning Point UK is a right wing pressure group aimed at millenials, hence the selfie-obsessed, insta-junkie activists. The group originated in the USA, so there is an immediate concern of foreign interference in our elections and political debate. What’s worse are the accusations of anti-islamic messages and links to racism. In the UK, the anti extremist group Hope not Hate found links to radical right wing activists as well as conspiracy theorists.
Hope not Hate further said:
‘The leaders of the Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, have had links with radical right-wing activists from the UK, with Owens being photographed with figures such as Leave.EU head of communications Andy Wigmore, Nigel Farage and far-right conspiracy theory vlogger Paul Joseph Watson last year (the latter has been in contact with Owens for some time, having interviewed her first on InfoWars alongside Alex Jones), and Katie Hopkins in November 2017.’
Whatsmore, the BBC Stories feature was not Hewertson’s only appearance on the BBC. She has previously been given a platform on prime BBC show ‘Question Time’, which was included in the subsequent feature piece. More disturbingly, BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, with over 1m Twitter followers spuriously RT one of Hewertson’s drunken videos from a night out with the caption “Excellent multitasking ladies” providing further endorsement and promotion to the activist.
Not only is it alarming that the BBC has given such a huge platform to a representative of a movement with far-right extremist links, but as our supposed bastion of impartiality, it is shocking that there was no balance provided in this piece. No young person, regardless of their views, should be faulted for showing an interest and becoming active in the political debate but where are the BBC’s documentaries about other young political activists?
Well, BBC Three did, in fact produce a series called “Generation Activism” on a variety of young activists last summer. However, it is important to compare the format of this BBC Stories feature, where a high production budget style, and a full 8 mins was given to Hewertson on a prominent platform, to the much smaller, purely digital platform of BBC Three, where the activists filmed all the footage themselves on a mobile phone selfie camera. In the documentary on Brexit activism, Remain activist Madeleina Kay was featured alongside a pro Brexit activist. Both were given 4 mins each on the grounds of impartiality. The other documentaries in this series all featured 2 activist both in support of a political cause: Transgender Rights, Animal Welfare and Climate change – where a much more thorough, and compelling case was made because a full 8 minutes was devoted to the respective causes. So if it was necessary to compromise the integrity of the BBC Three documentary on Brexit in the name of “impartiality” – why was it deemed necessary to provide balance in the ‘Party Girls Can Do Politics’ piece?
This corresponds with internal changes in the BBC, as reported by the Guardian, about the proposals for a unitary board at the BBC with government appointed executives. There is a serious risk of an Orwellian nature to UK democracy if our national broadcaster is being dictated by the governing political party, “Culture secretary accused of trying to ‘bend BBC to his political will’ over plans for new body to run corporation.”
It seems quite evident that the BBC’s impartiality has been compromised. If they want to address this lack of impartiality they are, of course, very welcome to hang out with a group called “EU Party People” which is made up young and older Remainers and social media influencers, of both genders… who also like “Partying AND politics”.
By Madeleina Kay and Joel Baccas