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Number 10 pressured BBC to avoid Covid ‘lockdown’ term, leak reveals

Number 10 pressured BBC to avoid Covid ‘lockdown’ term, leak reveals

Downing Street has put pressure on top BBC news editors not to use the term ‘lockdown’ at the height of Covid restrictions, news leaks have revealed.

BBC editors told journalists to avoid the term and also urged them to be “skeptical” of Labor’s call for action under Plan B, according to reported emails and WhatsApp messages.

It comes as the BBC comes under pressure over Gary Lineker’s impartiality row as it tries to develop new social media guidelines and avoid claims of bias.

Leaked news published by z Guardian depicting #10 top officials putting pressure on public broadcaster coverage during key times of the pandemic.

A senior editor told reporters that Number 10 had asked them not to apply a “lockdown” after Boris Johnson ordered people to stay at home on March 23, 2020.

The BBC website and broadcasts instead referred to “curbs” and “restrictions”, despite the widespread use of the blockade by other media outlets.

But there was no ban on the word lockdown at the BBC and the broadcaster used it days after Mr Johnson’s announcement.

An October 2021 WhatsApp message reportedly shows a senior editor asking correspondents to investigate Labor at Downing Street’s request.

It said: “D St complains that we are not mirroring the mess of Labour’s plan b online. i.e. Ashworth said it earlier this week and then reversed it. Can we increase the skepticism a bit on this?

Independent understands that the BBC rejects Guardian’s characterization of this message because coverage on the Plan B issue website provided balance views.

None of the 10 attempts to shape the BBC’s coverage appear to have been limited to the Covid crisis in recent years.

The senior editor shared with staff a message from Downing Street’s then director of communications about Mr Johnson’s comments in March 2022, in which he appeared to imply that Ukraine’s fight against Russia resembled the British vote for Brexit.

Pushing back, the #10 official shared a tweet from the Ukrainian embassy and stated: “I went home with the ambassador. He definitely did NOT think the prime minister was equating Brexit with Ukraine. He heard him say, “Apparently there hasn’t been anything like it since the 1940s.”

However, the BBC covered the story by stating in a headline that the prime minister was “comparing the war in Ukraine to the Brexit vote”.

Boris Johnson and Jennifer Arcuri


Another reported email from October 2020 shows a senior BBC editor saying staff did a “wonderful job” of avoiding Jennifer Arcuri’s story after she gave an interview that appeared to confirm an affair with Mr Johnson.

A spokesperson for the BBC stressed that the “selective” and out of context messages did not reflect the decision-making process. “The BBC makes its own independent editorial decisions and none of this news indicates otherwise,” they said.

The spokesperson added: “Like all news organisations, we are frequently contacted by representatives of all political parties. “Selected messages taken out of context from colleagues’ WhatsApp group and emails do not accurately reflect the BBC’s editorial decision-making process.”

Ofcom’s chief executive said on Tuesday that trust in the BBC was at stake as it reviewed social media guidelines to address the Linker controversy.

Melanie Dawes said the dispute over impartiality went “straight to the heart of the BBC’s wider reputation beyond news and current affairs coverage”.

Giving evidence to MPs, Ms Dawes warned that the BBC would have to weigh freedom of speech against impartiality when reviewing its social media. media guidelines after the “difficult episode” with Lineker.

She added: “But I think it’s a difficult issue for them, I don’t think it’s going to be straightforward and to some extent it will be about the level of trust especially with their staff.”


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