The film about a rocket attack on a Ukrainian train station has exactly the same format as the BBC. The same red stripe with white letters, the same logo at the top left of the screen. According to the video Ukrainian soldiers are said to be responsible for the rocket attack that killed dozens of civilians.
Look after, warned the BBC soon, this is not coming from us. It is fake news, spread through pro-Russian channels on Telegram and broadcast on Russian state television. And although it is not known from whom the video comes, it is understandable why the makers chose the BBC as the so-called sender: an internationally respected and renowned news medium.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the British broadcaster has received much praise for its war coverage. Correspondents report tirelessly with their teams of cameramen, translators and producers. From the front line in, for example, the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov, from the capital Kiev, from the hard-fought region of Donbas; the BBC is there and reports the violence for the eyes and ears of the world.
It happens in the year in which the broadcaster celebrates its centenary celebrates and is constantly at odds with the government of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson. At the beginning of this year, Minister Nadine Dorries (Media) decided to freeze the viewing and radio license fees on which the BBC runs for the next two years at an amount of 159 pounds (190 euros) per year per household. This amounts to a saving of about £285 million a year, as the fairy normally increases every year. Director General Tim Davie made recently known that this will allow them to make fewer programs.
Frontline reporting from the Ukrainian frontline “is exactly what sets the BBC apart,” said Richard Sambrook, emeritus professor of journalism and former BBC news manager. “Their reporting goes both breadth and depth, with very experienced war correspondents who tell what they see happening and provide background and explanation. Very strong.” He calls the experienced correspondent Lyse Doucet as an example, who first reported from Kiev and now from London, among other things, the very well-received podcast Ukrainecast in which, for example, she calmly and informed questioning Russian parliamentarians.
But don’t think that this kind of performance in difficult times changes the bad relations between the Beeb and the Johnson administration, Richard Sambrook immediately says. At the start of the war, Secretary of State Dorries praised the BBC for its coverage in Ukraine, and last week she suddenly said that British public radio and television “incite global envy” and “deliver groundbreaking programmes”. She is trying to ride the wave of public appreciation for the BBC, says Sambrook, “but within the Conservative Party there is deep resistance to public interference in the media. Those tensions go back decades, although it seems to have gotten worse under Johnson.”
According to Sambrook, the Conservative aversion is partly due to the principled objection that the BBC is publicly funded, while the Conservatives prefer to outsource everything to the market. “But the lobby of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and other large media companies also play a role, who find the scale of the BBC far too large.” The BBC is one of the largest employers in the UK, with around 22,000 employees. Murdoch owns several British newspapers (The Times† The Sun) and until a few years ago also the commercial TV broadcaster Sky.
Inspired by these kinds of negative sentiments about the BBC and the high fines for those who do not pay the viewing and radio license fees, Minister Dorries announced end of April officially declare that they have the system with license fees, of which all proceeds go directly to the broadcaster, wants to organize differently. This tax even distinguishes between color and black-and-white televisions. Due to the many online streaming services and extra screens in the house, the government no longer finds such a ‘TV tax’ logical. Critics fear the broadcaster will be stripped down, but a good option would be to arrange payment through council taxes, says Richard Sambrook. “As long as there is some kind of intermediary, an agency that stops direct political influence.”
Also read: British culture minister freezes BBC viewing and listening fees
Questions about impartiality
Back to the war. The longer it lasts, the more room for discomfort and criticism about the attitude of BBC journalists. There are questions about their impartiality, which is often a pain point for broadcasters.
One of the critics is Zahera Harb. She directs the International Journalism Studies cluster at the University of London and has reported for years from Lebanon for the BBC, among others. She was always criticized in the 1990s because she used exactly the terms that BBC reporters now use in Ukraine, she says. “We were not allowed to use terms such as ‘occupier’ and ‘invasion’ for Israel, while that was actually the case. In the name of impartiality and objectivity, we had to avoid such words.”
She is questioning by the sympathy that Western journalists show for the Ukrainians, about their bravery they keep naming, the side they choose. Sometimes she thinks it goes too far. “I’m for what I call ‘contextual objectivity’, so showing in your journalistic work why claims from some sources are probably wrong. But a BBC journalist who calls Russian claims ‘ridiculous’, as happened on TV recently, can’t really do that, can it?”
As another example, Harb gives a BBC report from Kharkov in March, in which the journalist tells his story as he walks past dead Russian soldiers. Earlier in the item, their faces can be seen as well as Ukrainian fighters poking at the bodies. „I talked about it with BBC people who can find it, but wow, I was shocked. We should still treat friends and enemies alike, both from a journalistic and a humane point of view.”
Complainants can’t do without the BBC either
British media regulator Ofcom appointed last year ‘appropriate impartiality’ as a ‘complex challenge’ for the BBC. It is one of the basic principles of broadcasting: it does not have to be neutral in an absolute sense, but it must give both sides adequate space. The broadcaster scores high on reliability and accuracy, but the public has less confidence in such impartiality. Difficult too, when a society is as divided on major issues as the British . A Bknown example is the reporting on the referendum on the withdrawal from the European Union. Proponents of Brexit felt that they received too little attention, while the remainers correct that the leavers received too little factual response.
Also in the debate on gender identity and rights for transgender people, the BBC is often criticized from both sides. Controversial was last year that the broadcaster withdrew from a program by the influential LGBTI lobby group Stonewall, which offers training courses to companies to make their workplaces more LGBTI-friendly. The BBC received complaints of partisanship through its participation in the programme, but was subsequently accused of transphobia by withdrawing from it. There are also major differences of opinion on the work floor of the BBC itself.
Grumbling on public service broadcasters in the UK is like chatting about the weather: it’s part of the job. Last week, research showed that the British who said they could do without the BBC and rather not license fee paid, changed their mind after a nine-day test with no BBC programmes. During that period they could not watch BBC news and sports, no Strictly Come Dancing nor any BBC series on streaming services like The Split or Peaky Blinders† Seventy percent of the skeptical households were willing to pay viewing and radio license fees after the trial. These results were almost the same as in 2014, despite the strong competition the BBC now has from Netflix, Apple TV and Amazon Prime.