Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A note on the Laura Kuenssberg petition story..

The petition to sack the BBC's political editor* has created a bit of a fuss, in both social and mainstream media. Perhaps predictably, little of this has focused on the substantive claims behind the petition. These are either wilfully misrepresented (a peevish outcry that Labour's local electoral results weren't narrated as a triumph) or dismissed out of hand. Ironically, but implacably, it's now become a story about "nasty (sexist) Corbynistas", in accordance with established memes. 

The attacks on the petition rest on the argument not that the petition itself contains misogynistic remarks* but that a few misogynistic tweets have cited the petition or somehow been galvanised by it. This has roughly the same logical structure as saying that the Brexit campaign includes or inspires racists and therefore the campaign is itself racist and should be abandoned. This reasoning is of course false. 

It's not difficult to asses charges of partiality and bias: the respective coverage given to both major parties, the tone of the coverage, the angles taken, the extent to which commentating voices are from the left or the right, who qualifies as a legitimate commentator and who doesn't, the presence of critical voices and so on. By these criteria, there's a very compelling case for consistent BBC bias, and the petition, like all petitions, is partly just a way of drawing attention to the case. 

Instead,  it's largely morphed into an anti-Corbyn story, using the now familiar recipe: find sexist/ racist/ abusive comments on Twitter, automatically equate these comments with Corbyn Supporters per se and with the petition itself, then insinuate some degree of responsibility on the part of Corbyn himself. All of this, based on non sequiturs and a handful of unrepresentative examples, then silences the 30,00 signatures and detailed analyses of biased reporting. 

*Needless to say, petitions, over and above their ostensible object, are very often strategic ways of getting a subject discussed in the public domain. I take this to be the case here, the subject being BBC bias. 

*despite headlines like "David Cameron condemns 'sexist' petition  against BBc Political Editor.." the offensive remarks were not (i've been informed by 33 degrees) on the petition itself but posted independently on Twitter. Attempts to elicit information about the number or content of these remarks has proved pretty fruitless. If there's evidence that the "campaign" of abuse amounted to more than a handful of tweets, I've not heard it. A "campaign" implies a concerted effort involving a substantial number of those involved - a few random individuals, outside the 30,000 'mainstream', can't be so designated in any meaningful or useful way.

1 comment:

  1. Good article I signed the petition after seeing Laura Kuennsberg talk about the local election results. Their impact on Jeremy Corbyn's security as Labour leader was not the only issue arisng from the results, but that was all she talked about. When the petition was withdrawn the originator, Joe Haydon, emailed signatories informing them that "my petition was hijacked by a small number of people on twitter who tried to use it to abuse BBC presenter Laura Kuenssberg about her gender rather than because of her reporting." It was a small number of people on Twitter who made abusive comments. The vast majority of signatories left no comments. Many were women. A number of them said they were not supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. A careful analysis of the facts is given by Craig Murray at www.craigmurray.org.uk