Glenn Greenwald Smears The BBC And British Television Regulator With Comically Inept Journalism

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Ben Cohen
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At the risk of canonizing The Daily Banter's reputation as a perpetual Glenn Greenwald debunking outlet, The Intercept'slatest article is so rife with comical school boy errors it would be irresponsible of us not to unpack it for the farcical piece of nonsense it is.

In Greenwald's latest screed against vast and pernicious western governments, he decries the British television regulator Ofcom (the Office of Communications) for serially threatening Russia's state funded news network, RT, with "revocation of its license", and most recently launching a new investigation over a news segment that aired 'anti western' views (you can read about the episode here).

Greenwald also furiously denounces the British press in general, asserting among other things that the BBC is nothing more than a propaganda outlet for the government. He writes:

Ofcom has rarely punished establishment British media outlets for “bias” even though the British media is notoriously and slavishly loyal to the state and other British political and financial elites. Just last week, Guardian editor Seumus Milne noted: “as one academic studyafter another has demonstrated . . . . from the coverage of wars to economics, [the BBC] has a pro-government, elite and corporate anchor. The BBC is full of Conservatives and former New Labour apparatchiks with almost identical views about politics, business and the world.” Indeed, of all the countless media outlets around the world covering NSA reporting over the last 18 months, the BBC has easily been the worst: the most overtly biased in favor of mass surveillance and official claims. Ofcom’s authority over BBC is limited, but plenty of British media outlets — certainly most of its largest ones — are driven by these same biases.

Where to begin. Firstly, Ofcom has not, as Greenwald writes, "repeatedly threatened the Russian-state television outlet RT with revocation of its license". Here's Greenwald's quote:

That investigative history included a finding last fall whereby the networkwas “threatened with statutory sanctions by [] Ofcom after the Kremlin-backed news channel breached broadcasting regulations on impartiality with its coverage of the Ukraine crisis.” RT executives were “summoned to a meeting with Ofcom after it was found guilty of breaching the code governing UK broadcasters” and told they could face revocation of their license if these breaches of “impartiality rules” continued.

Here is the actual quote, without Greenwald's paraphrasing:

It said it had put the channel “on notice that any future breaches of the due impartiality rules may result in further regulatory action, including consideration of a statutory sanction”.

So Ofcom hasn't actually threatened to revoke RT's license -- it has warned them that further transgressions may result in more regulatory action that could include consideration of a statutory sanction. Furthermore, that statutory sanction doesn't necessarily mean the revocation of its license. From the Ofcom website:

1.10 The imposition of a sanction against a broadcaster is a serious matter. Ofcom may, following due process, impose a sanction if it considers that a broadcaster has seriously, deliberately, repeatedly (-17-) or recklessly breached a relevant requirement.

1.11 The sanctions available to Ofcom include a decision to:

  • issue a direction (-18-) not to repeat a programme or advertisement;

  • issue a direction to broadcast a correction or a statement of Ofcom’s findings which may be required to be in such form, and to be included in programmes at such times, as Ofcom may determine (-19-);

  • impose a financial penalty (-20-);

  • shorten (-21-) or suspend a licence (-22-) (only applicable in certain cases); and/or (-23-)

  • revoke a licence (not applicable to the BBC, S4C or Channel 4) (-24-).

Regardless, Greenwald appears to want it to mean that Ofcom has threatened RT with revoking its license, so the rest of his article operates on the basis that there is some sort of conspiracy to repress free speech in the UK. Greenwald continues:

Purporting to compel media “objectivity” is always about imposing a very specific and subjective agenda masquerading as impartiality. The chair of Ofcom is Colette Bowe, who was previously the chief information officer at the Department of Trade and Industry as well as a board member of Morgan Stanley and Electra Private Equity. She is also “a former executive chairman of Fleming Fund Management, chief executive of the Personal Investment Authority, and a director of the Securities and Investment Board.” Does anyone believe her concept of “objectivity” and “impartiality” will be anything other than the prevailing conventional wisdom and orthodoxies of the British elite?

So Colette Bowe was on the board of some big financial institutions, therefore she cannot be impartial or objective, and wants to suppress free speech and revoke RT's license. Of course Greenwald provides zero evidence for this claim, evidently relying on his readers to assume it because he says so. As further evidence of this supposed bias, Greenwald states:

Needless to say, none of that extreme, power-serving media bias — including the avalanche of deceit and lies much of the British media peddled to sell Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq — has ever provoked any punishment from Ofcom.

If Greenwald had bothered to do any actual research on Ofcom, he would have discovered that it officially launched in December of 2003, nine months after the invasion of Iraq and the "avalanche of deceit and lies" supposedly peddled by 'the British media' (whatever that means) in order to sell the invasion.

Greenwald's characterization of the BBC as one of the worst offenders ("full of Conservatives and former New Labour apparatchiks with almost identical views about politics, business and the world," is not without merit, but to hold it up in comparison to RT isn't just unfair, but patently absurd. In the US and UK, RT has maintained a staunch policy of hiring leftist activists with an open bias against the US and UK governments (and I say this not to criticize leftist activists given I am regularly asked on RT shows for my admittedly leftist opinions - but as a statement of fact).

When RT began its broadcasting in America, it hired 9/11 conspiracy theorists like Adam Kokesh to host nightly shows:

Would someone like Adam Kokesh get a nightly show on the BBC? However bad the BBC might be, it cannot be compared to a network that hires presenters who go walk around with loaded shotguns in public, and openly assert that the US government murdered thousands of its own people on 9/11.

While relentlessly attacking the US government for military aggression and imperialism, RT's coverage of Russian's invasion of Ukraine was so horrendously one sided that several anchors quit over the network's bias, one dramatically on air.  While the BBC's coverage of the invasion of Iraq was not exemplary, it did repeatedly question the government's motives and rationale. For example, Tony Blair himself was grilled mercilessly on BBC's News Night by Jeremy Paxman and members of the public. Here's part of the exchange:

JEREMY PAXMAN: You produced a dossier last September in which you outlined Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. All the sites in that report were visited by UN inspectors who found no evidence of the weapons or no evidence of there having been hidden.

TONY BLAIR: I'm sorry, it is absolutely clear what has been happening over the past few months, which is of course, I mean the moment we mentioned those in our intelligence reports we were aware of the fact that the Iraqis would then have a significant period of time in which they could conceal these weapons.

But, you know, if this were some country that we had no history of this problem with and this was the first time anyone had ever raised the issue, there might be a point in what you're saying. It is absurd in the case -

JEREMY PAXMAN: But you concede it's true -

TONY BLAIR: I don't concede it's true at all. It is absurd¿

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well, your own foreign minister Mike O'Brian said it is true.

The BBC also ran a report claiming the government 'sexed up' a dossier on Saddam Hussein's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, leading to the resignation of Director General Greg Dyke, who backed it despite severe pushback from the government. Where was RT's questioning of Putin over the invasion of Ukraine? Did any of its reporters cover the invasion from anything other than the Russian government's perspective?  The answer of course, is no.

Greenwald claims Ofcom's focus on RT is part of a broader British government conspiracy to destroy the network and "propagandize its citizens." But cherry picking facts, using selective quotes and conveniently ignoring evidence that counters your thesis, isn't just bad journalism, it's outright fabrication. Writes Greenwald:

The U.K. Government loves to lecture the world about infringements of liberty generally and press freedom specifically. It does so as it threatens to revoke the broadcasting license of a media outlet for broadcasting “anti-western” views and other perspectives at odds with the U.K. Government, all while shielding (and venerating) the equally virulent biases from pro-state television in the U.K. That is the classic hallmark of how a government propagandizes its citizens: ensuring that they hear only those views of which the government approves and which serve its interests and agenda.

So other than the UK government not actually threatening to revoke RT's license, there being absolutely no moral equivalent between RT and the BBC, or any evidence that the UK government is actively suppressing anti western views, Greenwald has again hit the nail on the head.