The BBC has today launched a significant review of ‘vetting and transparency’ after its Tory leadership debate disaster – but has not suspended any staff over the fiasco and will not apologise.
The corporation says it will learn lessons after it was accused of breaching its own rules on impartiality during the biggest political show of the year watched by 5.7million people on Tuesday night.
BBC staff failed to properly vet the members of the public invited on to question the five MPs vying to be Conservative leader – with a Bristol Imam outed as anti-Semite Corbynista and a London lawyer unmasked as a Labour council candidate hours after the debate.
Furious MPs have queued up to demand that Ofcom probes the BBC’s Tory debate fiasco – but Britain’s broadcasting watchdog insists that all complaints will be dealt with by the corporation, for now.
And the remaining Tory leadership hopefuls today threatened to boycott any new BBC TV debate after the first showdown descended into a shambles.
Revealing a new probe into Tuesday night’s show – but falling short of an apology – a BBC spokesman said: ‘We have a long history of producing successful debate programmes and this was no different. We did however, adopt a different format for this programme and we will look at whether there are additional steps we might take on vetting and transparency should we repeat it in the future’.
She added: ‘It is important to remember that a political debate programme involving members of the public will, by its very nature, attract people interested and engaged in issues who may well have been active in politics. It would be odd only to have programmes involving the public where everyone agrees with the politics of those they are questioning’.
MailOnline revealed yesterday the BBC’s choice of questioners may have breached the broadcaster’s own rules on impartiality.
David Jordan the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards is going to examine if ‘additional steps’ on vetting need to be made for the corporation’s political programmes
Aman Thakar (pictured) who questioned if the candidates had a democratic mandate, has worked in the Labour Party’s legal department and was council candidate in 2018 – but the BBC didn’t tell viewers with the broadcaster now launching a vetting review
Labour supporter Mr Thakar asked the Tory candidates about calling a general election and their right to govern
This is the section of the BBC’s own impartiality rules which says that viewers may have to be told of a person’s affiliation to an organisation if relevant to a political show
David Jordan (pictured), the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards is going to examine if ‘additional steps’ on vetting need to be made for the corporation’s political programmes
Ofcom has so far received 31 complaints about the BBC’s Tory leadership debate.
Abdullah Patel, has been suspended from his job as deputy head of a Muslim primary school over tweets he sent blaming women for rape, praising Jeremy Corbyn and attacking Jews.
And Aman Thakar, who previously worked for the Labour party, has been suspended from his law firm Leigh Day after it emerged he said the most harmful part of Hitler’s legacy was his ‘abuse of nationalism’ in a tweet.
How did the BBC choose the debate questioners?
- BBC used its social media channels and biggest national and local TV and radio shows to encourage the public to send in questions;
- 30,000 were received in a fortnight and a team cut chose the top areas of interest including Brexit, the economy and climate change;
- A smaller set of questions was selected by the BBC production team based in the ones they felt were the strongest;
- Individuals were pencilled in after ensuring a geographical spread of questioners and a variety of ages, backgrounds, gender and ethinicity;
- Final social media and background checks were carried out on Monday this week;
- Questioners were told they would be appearing in the 24 hours before the show;
In reference to Thakar the BBC’s own impartiality rules state ‘we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributor’s are associated with a particular viewpoint.’
Thakar is a lawyer who had worked for Labour in its London HQ investigating anti-Semitism complaints.
Questions are being raised about the vetting process which allowed the two individuals onto the debate show in the first place.
The corporation uses social media to gather questions to encourage the public to send in questions, and received more than 30,000 in just a fortnight.
A smaller set of questions are then selected by the BBC production team based in the ones they felt were the strongest and individuals were pencilled in after ensuring a geographical spread of questioners and a variety of ages, backgrounds, gender and ethinicity.
A final social media and background checks were carried out on Monday this week, but didn’t manage to unearth the Imam’s or Mr Thakar’s tweets.
Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale lambasted the quality of the vetting.
‘For a programme of this importance and with such a tiny number of people to check, having a quick glance at a Twitter account just to make sure they haven’t said anything really embarrassing is not sufficient. I would have expected them to do a little ore due diligence.
‘The BBC must put their hand up an apologise for what is quite a serious failure in terms of vetting or ensuring that the people they chose to ask questions were genuinely independent,’ he said.
Ed Vaizey, a former Tory culture Minister, added: ‘It’s a pretty lamentable performance by the BBC. The fact that the background of these questioners was discovered so quickly by online journalists Guido Fawkes shows that the BBC didn’t do its homework properly.
‘I think the BBC should follow Nicky Campbell’s lead and apologise for this appalling lapse in judgement.’
Brexit Minister James Cleverly, who stood in the leadership race before backing Boris Johnson, said: ‘I love and value the BBC, but stuff like this makes it really hard to defend you from critics. Didn’t you think it relevant to inform viewers that Aman had been Labour Party staff? Other questioners said their political affiliations.’
Michael Gove supporter Michael Fabricant added: ‘This is appalling. The BBC should apologise’.
Bernard Jenkin, Tory MP and a former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, added: ‘This is clear evidence that the BBC needs to do far better due diligence on the people to whom they give a platform. The BBC cannot command public confidence if it is consistently open to accusations of institutional blindness to left-wing sentiment.
‘Ofcom should either investigate itself or explain why it is not necessary.’
Some 21 people had complained to the broadcasting watchdog by yesterday afternoon. The regulator said it would direct the complaints to the BBC to deal with in the first instance.
It typically investigates BBC broadcasts if the complainants are unsatisfied by a BBC probe.
The show’s editor Rob Burley has said that the Imam hid his social media posts but admitted that guests were not checked and confirmed until the 24 hours before the debate
The show’s editor Rob Burley also revealed the guests were ‘not confirmed until very late’ and ‘routine’ background checks were only completed on Monday – just 24 hours before they grilled Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Rory Stewart.
Tory leadership candidates threaten to BOYCOTT next BBC TV debate after the ‘biased’ corporation failed to vet guests
Tory leadership hopefuls are threatening to boycott a BBC TV debate after the first showdown (pictured) descended into a shambles
Tory leadership hopefuls were today threatening to boycott a BBC TV debate after the first showdown descended into a shambles.
The special programme featuring five would-be PMs has been widely condemned after it emerged one of the ‘ordinary voters’ posting questions was an imam who had previously posted vile tweets about Israel.
Another was a former Labour staffer. There was also fury about the format – which contenders complained made them look like an aging boyband – and how presenter Emily Maitlis weighted into the exchanges.
The debacle has cast serious doubt on a proposed Question Time-style debate between the final two, which would be hosted by Fiona Bruce.
A source on Johnson’s team said the controversy ‘hasn’t helped the case’, while other campaigns also warned that they would be looking more carefully at what was put forward. ‘It’s got to be better than that,’ one said.
Julian Knight, a Conservative member of the culture select committee, said: ‘People look up to the BBC but the format and editorial failings were such that they actually produced a much worse debate than Channel 4.
‘The greats of the past like Robin Day and Richard Dimbleby will be doing full 360 degree spins in their graves at this shambolic execution by the BBC.’
Nicky Campbell, who interviewed Abdullah Patel on 5Live yesterday morning, apologised to listeners after his ‘extremely disturbing’ remarks emerged on Twitter and suggested that the BBC’s checks on him had not been up to scratch.
The Imam told Boris Johnson that ‘words have consequences’ – but was later outed as a Jeremy Corbyn supporter making anti-Semitic comments and blaming women for rape on social media.
BBC bosses have since accused Mr Patel, who has been suspended from his job as a deputy headteacher of a Gloucestershire primary school, of deleting his social media profiles to avoid their checks.
But critics have said that even if his Facebook and Twitter accounts had been temporarily deactivated, researchers could and should have looked harder, a claim denied by the BBC.
The BBC has also admitted it knew another questioner Aman Thakar, who asked the Tory candidates about calling a general election, is a lawyer who had worked for Labour in its London HQ investigating anti-Semitism complaints.
He also stood for the party as a council candidate in south London last year and the BBC admitted they knew about his past but failed to mention it on the show.
For the past few weeks the BBC invited the public to submit questions for the Tory candidates to answer via email or an online form, and got 30,000 back, MailOnline understands.
They first analysed the questions to get a good range covering all the important topics, a BBC source said.
Then from that pool of people, they chose questioners to represent a cross sections of the general population, by geographic spread, age and ethnicity. It is not clear if they were asked for political affiliations.
They then carried out the background checks including social media searches, before confirming the questioners as guests in the 24 hours before the debate.
These searches and decisions about who made the questions were done by the BBC, not by an outside production company, but nobody has been suspended over the decisions made.
The two questioners at the centre of the row have been suspended by their employers.
A series of vile posts by Abdullah Patel were unearthed moments after the BBC debate he took part in ended
A series of posts tweeted by Patel were exposed revealing his controversial views
Five million people tune into BBC debate
The BBC’s Tory leadership debate was watched by more than five million viewers.
It drew an average of 5.3 million viewers and peaked at 5.7 million.
According to the corporation, the hour-long broadcast from 8pm was the ‘best performing programme of the night across all channels’.
Channel 4’s debate on Sunday averaged 1.3 million viewers and peaked at 1.5 million.
It included five of the Tory hopefuls, including Dominic Raab who failed to reach the next stage in the voting process yesterday, with an empty lectern left for Mr Johnson who did not participate.
It was hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
Sky News had previously announced plans to host a live head-to-head debate with the final two candidates. It will be hosted by Kay Burley, but the date has not yet been announced.
It has also been reported ITV News will host its own leadership debate, but details are not yet known.
But Emily Maitlis only introduced him as Aman Thakar from London when he faced the five candidates on live TV.
Others on screen declared their affiliations to political parties, including the Tory party and Brexit Party.
The executive editor of the debate was Jonathan Munro, who was head of newsgathering at the BBC when they filmed police raiding the home of Sir Cliff Richard.
Mr Munro was hauled before the High Court to appear in the case brought by the star, and told the judge that he reviewed ‘helicopter footage’ and did not have ‘any concerns’.
Sir Cliff, 77, successfully sued the BBC over the coverage, which involved the use of a helicopter, was a ‘very serious invasion’ of his privacy.
Mr Munro is yet to comment on the case.
But Rob Burley, who edited the programme, took to Twitter to defend the BBC’s vetting process saying that Abdullah Patel actively hid his social media posts.
He tweeted: ‘It was AFTER the show that Mr Patel reactivated his account revealing his tweets.
‘We wouldn’t have put him on the programme if these were public before broadcast, but they were not. We also carried out a number of other routine checks which didn’t uncover anything untoward.’
When asked when he was chosen for the show he said: ‘Not confirmed until very late, the social media search was on Monday’.
In response to the accusation that the BBC knew of Mr Thakar’s links to the Labour Party, BBC Live Political Programmes Editor Rob Burley tweeted: ‘There was also self-described Conservative on the programme.’
A BBC spokesman said the ‘debate saw, for the first time, all the remaining prime ministerial candidates put on the spot, answering a range of public questions.
‘A background in politics doesn’t disqualify anyone from taking part in a debate show. Questioners held a range of political views and we did not specify these views nor their backgrounds although some chose to do so themselves.
‘The last questioner on the debate is a solicitor who was seconded by his law firm to the Labour Party in the past, rather than being a Labour ‘staffer’. He is a Labour supporter and once stood as a councillor.’
Who asked the questions in BBC Tory leader debate?
Question one: Lee from Norwich
He asked: ‘As a lifelong Conservative voter I voted for the Brexit party in the recent European elections.
‘My question to you all is can you guarantee that you will be able to get your Brexit plan through Parliament by the 31st of October.
Question two: Carmella from Southampton
She asked: ‘My question as a mother of three with a husband in the property industry is if we have a No Deal my husband could lose his job and my children face an uncertain future.
‘Why are you even contemplating a No Deal Brexit?’
Question three: Mark in Belfast
He asked: ‘I grew up during the Troubles and I have seen how a free and open border to the Republic of Ireland has helped secure both piece but support trade and development.
‘Can the candidates explain how they will solve the issue of the Irish border, a subject many people here see as Theresa May’s downfall.’
Question four: James in Oxford
He asked: ‘I used to be a Conservative voter but now consider myself party-less. I have reluctantly voted for the Brexit Party.
‘My question to all of you is what is your plan to lift the tax burden on the working classes?’
Question five: Tina in Tunbridge Wells
She asked: ‘I have fostered more than 10 children over 27 years despite the support from my local authority I now struggle to get appropriate mental health services, special educational needs support and even doctors’ appointments. What are you going to do for vulnerable children.’
Question six: Abdullah in Bristol
He asked: ‘I am the imam of a mosque and I see first-hand the everyday impact of Islamophobic rhetoric on my community.
‘Do the candidates agree that words have consequences?’
Question seven: Erin in Glasgow
She asked: ‘On behalf of youth strikers all over the UK I’d like to ask can you promise that the environment will be your top priority if elected? Will you commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2025?’