The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint against the BBC News at Six and political editor Laura Kuenssberg over a report which said the Labour leader rejected a “shoot to kill” policy in the event of Paris-style terror attacks.
Although the complaint from an unnamed viewer was upheld on accuracy grounds, the Trust found no evidence of bias.
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On 16 November, three days after the Paris terror attacks in which 130 people died, Kuenssberg quoted Corybn as saying: “I am not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive.”
Her report said this was his response to a question put to him as to whether he would be “happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”.
In fact the exact wording of the question put to Corbyn, which was included in a full version of the interview carried online, was: “If you were Prime Minister would you be happy to order people, police or military, to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?”
The previous question from the same interview, which was not included in the News at Six report, had asked him whether, if he saw there the kinds of horrors in Paris, he would order “security services” on to the streets to stop people being killed.
In answer to that question Corbyn had replied: “Of course you’d bring people onto the streets to prevent and ensure there is safety within our society, much better that’s done by the police than security services, much better we have strong and effective community policing, neighbourhood policing and a cohesive society that brings people together, obviously that is essential and so that’s one of the messages I’ll be putting to the Prime Minister.”
The Trust Complaints Committee said it found “no evidence that there was a deliberate attempt to mislead audiences: indeed the clip used in the News at Six came from an interview the BBC had conducted with Mr Corbyn earlier in the day which had already been published in its entirety on the BBC website so the context of the questioning was clear to anyone who chose to watch it online”.
But it said: “The report had not been duly accurate in how it framed the extract it used from Mr Corbyn’s interview.”
It said the effect of the inaccuracy was compounded when Kuenssberg’s report went on to state that “[the Prime Minister’s] message and the Labour leader’s couldn’t be more different”.
The information in the news report regarding the Prime Minister’s forthcoming message was a list of some of the measures the government was said to be proposing. This list did not include a reference to “shoot to kill”, and none of the measures listed in the report had been put to Mr Corbyn by the BBC – the Trust noted.
The Trust said it understood the complainant’s point when he said that: “If the BBC considered that Mr Corbyn’s position was that he was opposed to police opening fire while terrorists were in the process of committing mass murder then it was required to have put that question to him.”
BBC News had appealed against the Trust finding and argued in its response that the premise of the interview was clear. It said The Times had reported that morning that the military were to shoot on sight, that Mr Corbyn had answered in generalities and not clarified his position until the next day, and that it was standard practice to re-phrase a question in different words to try to get an answer.
BBC head of news James Harding said: “While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding.
“Laura is an outstanding journalist and political editor with the utmost integrity and professionalism. BBC News reported on the leader of the opposition in the same way it would any other politician.”
“It is striking that the trust itself said there was ‘no evidence of bias’. Indeed, it also said the news report was ‘compiled in good faith’.
“The process is now concluded and BBC News formally notes the Trust’s finding.”