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A little death of truth on BBC’s Saturday Live – comedian’s false statement is deemed merely ‘exaggeration’

As readers in the UK (at least) will know, the country re-elected a Conservative (Tory) government in June 2017, with a 54-seat majority over the Labour party but a zero-seat working majority in the House of Commons. Not everyone is happy that the Tories keep winning the popular vote and getting the largest number of seats, but even the most ardent socialists must admit that Labour keeps losing elections.

Few would deny that the BBC, which is publicly funded from the licence fee and has duties of impartiality, often seems to behave like the Labour party at prayer, with a low drone of anti-Tory sentiment among many of its presenters, guest speakers and hand-picked audiences of numerous current-affairs programmes.

An apparent example came from Radio 4’s Saturday Live on 29 July. Presented by Aasmah Mir and the staunch Labour supporter Richard Coles, the programme interviewed a comedian, Sophie Willan, about her life and hard times. She mentioned wanting to speak honestly and recalled, with some eloquence, being brought up in council care and by foster parents because her mum and dad were so intoxicated with alcohol or drugs (or both) that she was neglected. Willan went to university at age 23, but remarked: ‘They used to do a care leaver’s bursary, which they no longer do – thanks to the Tory government.’ Cue a sympathetic and contented hum in the studio: Tories wicked, Labour virtuous.

In fact, as a cursory search on the web will show, the care leaver’s bursary still exists, largely unchanged since its introduction by Labour in 2009.

So we thought we’d test the BBC’s impartiality and desire for straight talking by asking Saturday Live if it’d correct its contributor’s error in the next programme, given that her comment might have misled the public and even persuaded some care leavers not to seek support for attending higher education.

Nope, the programme certainly wouldn’t correct it, said the editor, John Goudie, who also looks after Start the Week, In Our Time, Desert Island Discs, Only Artists, and the British Museum Partnership Project: Living with the Gods (busy fella). He told us: ‘Sophie Willan perhaps exaggerated the situation that some care leavers experience…Her perception is that the care leaver’s bursary was cut…Saturday Live is not the forum for a detailed discussion of higher education support.’

So there we are. A demonstrably false statement is merely ‘exaggeration’. And if a contributor perceives there’s a hippo in the hedge, that’s because there really must be a hippo in the hedge. It all rather suggests that the BBC doesn’t mind fake news as long it reflects its own generally leftist agenda – or is that a false ‘perception’?

[2 Aug 2017]