I’ve written a piece for Mail+ today about one of the overlooked aspects of Dominic Cummings’s testimony. The reason he was able to dominate the news headlines is because the broadcast media hasn’t uncovered most of the scandals he revealed before. We’d heard about a few of these stories, but the sheer depth of incompetence he revealed at the heart of Government last March was genuinely shocking. Okay, he was protected by Parliamentary privilege and it might have been difficult for television journalists to broadcast some of these stories – to accuse Matt Hancock of being a serial liar, for instance – but that’s surely not the main reason we hadn’t heard any of this stuff before. So what is the reason? I think Ofcom has a lot to answer for, as I explain in my article.
On March 27, 2020, four days after Boris announced the first lockdown, Ofcom sent some “important guidance” to its licensees, cautioning them to take “particular care” when broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the coronavirus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information about the disease”.
Was this a shocking attempt to muzzle the free press? Three weeks later, the regulator showed it meant business by reprimanding Eamonn Holmes, presenter of ITV’s This Morning, for breaching this guidance. His sin, according to Ofcom, was to say he didn’t think people expressing unorthodox views about the virus – such as the one linking the symptoms of Covid-19 to 5G masts – should be vilified by the mainstream media. He didn’t say he thought that particular conspiracy theory was true. In fact, he described it as “not true and incredibly stupid”. He merely said it ought to be discussed.
For that heresy, Ofcom gave him a stern ticking-off, telling him he “could have undermined people’s trust in the views being expressed by the authorities on the coronavirus”.
After that, we barely heard a squeak of criticism from broadcast journalists about the Government’s handling of the crisis. Whenever a dissenting voice popped up on the BBC, it often felt like a mistake, as though the person had only managed to slip past the official gatekeepers when they were looking the other way.
For instance, on October 14th, 2020, Professor Sunetra Gupta, a prominent critic of the Government’s approach to the pandemic, appeared on BBC News to talk about the local lockdowns that had been imposed in the north of England. It is claimed that just before she went on air, one of the producers told her not to mention the Great Barrington Declaration, a document signed by eminent scientists setting out an alternative policy. Where did that instruction come from?
Another example: At the end of September, Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, tweeted that she’d been invited on to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to discuss the lockdown on the understanding that the scientists who opposed it would be portrayed as beyond the pale, only for Prof Gupta, who appeared alongside her, to make a compelling, logical argument. The SAGE panjandrum was furious.
“I’d got prior agreement from R4 about the framing of the item,” she harrumphed. “I was assured that this would not be held as an even-handed debate.”
Luckily for the BBC, it managed to avoid being censured by the state regulator for this momentary lapse.
Worth reading in full.