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Did the BBC deliberately use the wrong footage of Johnson?

If they did, then that would be an unforgivable propaganda stunt of North-Korean proportions, writes BEN COWLES

PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson made several minor gaffes during yesterday’s Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, such as stepping out of line too early, looking somewhat hungover and laying his poppy wreath upside down.

Normally, such a trivial topic wouldn’t be worth writing about.

Perhaps a better use of everyone’s time would be focusing on how Europe’s ruling class sent millions of men and women to die in a hail of bullets, bayonets, barbed wire, bombs and chlorine gas for a few extra miles of mud during the first world war. 

But something quite bizarre happened on the BBC this morning that makes all of this worth the ink. 

Instead of using yesterday’s footage as part of BBC Breakfast’s news bulletin, the show pulled from its archive a clip of Johnson from 2016 — in which the PM looked younger, slightly pudgier, better dressed and laying down a much bigger green floral wreath the right way up.



The BBC’s blunder did not go unnoticed. Later in the morning, BBC Breakfast confirmed it had messed up in a tweet.  

“This morning on the programme we incorrectly used footage from a Remembrance Day service that was not filmed yesterday. 

“This was a production mistake and we apologise for the error.”

Many, including journalists and media critics, were unconvinced by the apology. 

Author and former BBC journalist Patrick Howse — who left the corporation back in 2014 and has since criticised its coverage of the Brexit debate, US President Donald Trump, etc — tweeted: “As a former producer on BBC Breakfast, I think you need to explain this more fully.

“The edit avoided showing the Prime Minister placing his wreath upside down on the Cenotaph. He was also dishevelled. It’s not your job to make the PM look good.”

It certainly isn’t, especially if we’re to believe that the BBC is impartial, objective and neutral, which it isn’t of course. 

If it were, then the people at the top of the Beeb would not be chosen by the government. While they might not be in charge of the editorial content, the people who are will have to answer to them. 

If the BBC were impartial, then Auntie would present a plurality of views in its coverage and not just a “white, middle class and London-centric point of view,” as a recent Ofcom report found. 

If it were truly impartial, then there would be no valid reason why this newspaper should not be included in its newspaper reviews.

The very idea of impartial media is ludicrous. From birth, through school, the media and public institutions, we are inculcated to accept the values and beliefs of the powerful. The BBC is one of these public institutions, of course. 

As media watchdog Media Lens once put it to the Star: “It should be obvious that profit-maximising, 1 per cent-owned media corporations dependent on corporate advertising and subsidised news from state-corporate sources with the political, economic and legal clout to reward conformity and punish dissent, are not willing or able to report honestly on a world dominated by giant corporations.”

While it is possible that the BBC mistakenly used footage from three years ago, it’s harder to believe that no-one noticed that the tape included Theresa May as the Tory leader, Tim Farron as Lib Dem leader, and David Gauke, Michael Fallon, Amber Rudd, Chris Grayling and Liam Fox as government ministers. 

Whenever the Star includes pictures of Jeremy Corbyn in the paper or on the website, we deliberately avoid using photos of him in which he looks dishevelled, or has one eye closed, or has his lips pursed, etc.

One reason for this is that the Star does not need to pretend to be neutral or unbiased. The paper has the decency to tell you where it stands: “For peace and socialism.” 

Either the person(s) responsible for the footage was immensely incompetent (a forgivable mistake) or they were trying to make Johnson look less buffoonish (an unforgivable propaganda stunt of North-Korean proportions). 

Ben Cowles is Morning Star web editor. You can check out his “impartial” views on Twitter: @Cowlesz. 


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