Leaked Emails, WhatsApp Messages Reveal Pressure on BBC From British PM's Office: Guardian

Just as the Gary Lineker controversy was appearing to blow over, the British government is in the eye of a storm after leaked communications appear to show ‘Number 10’ (the residence of the British PM) between 2020 and 2022, trying to influence reporting by the public broadcaster.

New Delhi: Emails and messages, dated between 2020 and 2022, and seen by the Guardian, appear to show the “BBC coming under pressure from No 10 over the corporation’s political reporting.”

The British newspaper reports that BBC editors had “asked their journalists to avoid using the word “lockdown” in reporting at the start of the pandemic and to be more critical of Labour after pressure from Downing Street”.

One particular email, sent to BBC correspondents in the evening on the day lockdown was announced, was labelled: IMPORTANT ADVISORY – language re broadcast. “Hi all – D st are asking if we can avoid the word ‘lockdown’. I’m told the message will be that they want to keep pushing people to stay at home but they are not talking about enforcement at the moment,” it said.

Reporters are meant to have argued (unsuccessfully) against the ‘advice’ and thus the website and broadcasts on that day spoke about “curbs” and “restrictions” on daily life. But other outlets, such as rival broadcaster Sky, were calling it a “lockdown”. Tabloid newspapers the next day used the word lockdown prominently.

In another matter, Guardian reports how a leaked message established that the BBC was hesitating to report a story “that was potentially damaging to the then prime minister, although there is no evidence of any pressure from Downing Street”.

In an email that the newspaper has accessed, a senior editor “congratulated correspondents for staying away from the subject of Jennifer Arcuri after the American tech entrepreneur gave an interview to a newspaper in October 2020 appearing to confirm an affair with ex PM Johnson, following allegations that he used his position as London mayor to ensure favourable treatment for her”.

One BBC insider told Guardian: “Particularly on the website, our headlines have been determined by calls from Downing Street on a very regular basis.”

They said that the WhatsApp messages would have been “a small snapshot of what was going on, because most pressure was applied verbally rather than written down”.

BBC, with a DG and Chairman under a cloud over perceived proximity to the Tories, has been increasingly under fire over buckling under pressure from the UK government and a section of the Tory party.

While colleagues of football star presenter Gary Lineker demonstrated great independence perhaps not possible at any place other than a public broadcaster, BBC management was under fire for suspending Lineker from the Match of the Day, before relenting and apologising to BBC audiences. The row on Lineker expressing his views on the government’s controversial Illegal Migrants Bill has once again cast a harsh light on the battle for the BBC’s editorial independence.