Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

BBC bashing by Boris Johnson’s closest aides and supporters has already been knocked on the head by the deepening coronavirus crisis and the government’s desperate need to maximise every possible means of communicating with the public.

Ministers are coming face to face with the stark reality that the nationwide network of television and radio coverage provided by the BBC is a unique resource that any responsible administration should be duty bound to preserve and maintain.

Well over half the 28 million television audience for the Prime Minister’s Downing Street address announcing the lockdown was tuned to BBC 1 and the channel’s Six O’clock New has been attracting as many as 9 million viewers, twice the average viewing figure.

Further evidence has emerged about the damage inflicted to Labour’s 2019 general election campaign by the orchestration and manipulation of attack lines generated by Conservative-supporting newspapers that were then backed up on social media.

Unlike the 2017 campaign when Theresa May failed to take advantage of the ammunition being provided by her press cheerleaders, there was deadly synchronisation between Boris Johnson and the Corbyn-tormenting Tory tabloids.

At the start of the 2019 campaign a well-timed intervention by the former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove helped to pivot the Johnson campaign on to territory where the Labour leader was especially vulnerable.

Ever since he emerged as a serious contender for the Labour leadership Jeremy Corbyn was subjected to unprecedented vilification by the UK’s dominant Conservative-supporting, pro-Brexit press.

Some of the country’s highest-paid columnists and commentators succeeded in delivering a master class in the character assassination of a British politician.

Steps can be taken to challenge the agenda-setting impact of national newspapers, but that requires the news media at large to have the courage the flag up the heightened politicisation of UK newspapers.

Shameful and shameless – two words that best sum up the post-election reaction of political journalists to the relentless campaign that was pursued by most of the British press to demonise Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Some of my former colleagues were ashamed.

They were aghast at the extent of the vilification printed by newspapers that did all they could before polling day to terrify their readers about the prospect of a Labour government.

By contrast most correspondents and columnists employed by pro-Conservative newspapers were entirely shameless.

Laura Kuenssberg’s apology for her tweet reporting the fake news that a Conservative aide had been punched in the face by a Labour activist was yet another illustration of the erosion in editorial standards that has resulted from cut-throat competition among journalists to be first with the news on Twitter.

By placing her trust in the truthfulness of Boris Johnson’s propaganda machine she had endangered the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and reliability.

As a BBC correspondent for 30 years I can speak with first-hand experience of the inherent dangers – and frustrations – of having to deal with media advisers closest to the Prime Minister who tend increasingly to speak exclusively to a handful of trusted journalists.