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BBC ban on term “electoral reform” even more preposterous

By Angela Harbutt
February 20th, 2011 at 7:35 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, BBC

As recently noted, the BBC powers-that-be have decided to ban the term “electoral reform” being used by its correspondents because the word “reform” sounds too positive (see previous post on why this in itself is preposterous).

But now it looks even more absurd!

The Prime Minister – who is standing with the NO campaign is still using that self-same term.  In his speech on Friday (and i will say this again!), arguing against AV, David Cameron himself uses the term “electoral reform” again and actually defines AV as a type of reform …quoted on the BBC website…

“(David Cameron) said he believed the Alternative Vote was “completely the wrong reform” and would be “bad for our democracy” – leading to unfair results and an unaccountable political system” (source bbc website)

If AV is -according to the PM – the “wrong sort of reform” ..then definition-ally it is “reform”. Any reason why we can ALL agree that this vote is about ELECTORAL REFORM – except the BBC? 

Surely there is something very odd going on…The Prime Minister of this country can make a speech against electoral reform in which he uses – once again –  the term “electoral reform” … and in that speech define  AV as a type of reform (if the wrong one). That the BBC can report that speech, quoting the PM using the term “electoral reform” and showing the highlights of the speech in its website. BUT the BBC journalists are banned from using the term themselves? 

The dictat looks more preposterous and untenable with every day that passes. 

On a related issue – any reason why the main BBC News political story on AV runs with the title “Votes referendum: Cameron rejects Clegg AV call” . Is that really fair? to headline the story with reference to Cameron’s view (what’s wrong with “Clegg and Cameron go head to head over…..”) …. is it really impartial to list the PMs objections extensively at the top of the article and drop in Nick ‘s arguments much further down the piece?  Maybe it doesn’t matter – but for a BBC that appears obsessive about impartiality this seems a tad..oh how can I say this…biased?

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So why has the BBC banned the term “electoral reform” ?

By Angela Harbutt
February 7th, 2011 at 8:58 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, BBC

About a fortnight a story emerged that BBC journalists had been sent an internal document from the top brass demanding that their staff stop describing “electoral reform” as “electoral reform”.

I raise it now (late) because having missed the revelation at the time I assumed “word had got out there” about it, so I let it pass. I am however surprised to find how few people who are usually “in the know” – don’t know. Here are the basics….

In an internal BBC memo leaked to The Independent, Ric Bailey, the corporation’s chief political adviser, said: “Please can we make sure that we don’t describe this – in our own scripts, headlines, etc – as the referendum on ‘electoral reform’. When the [BBC’s] Guidance is published ahead of the referendum period, it will make clear that, in the context of the referendum, that is not an impartial term – ‘reform’ explicitly contains a definition of ‘improvement’.”

 So if “reform” is “not an impartial term” why is it that changes to the public services and laws of this country can be described in terms of “reform” by the Government – and parroted by the BBC…. NHS reform plans will strenthen NHS,says Government. BBC October 1st 2010. Welfare benefit reforms unveiled by Government. BBC October 2010. Government to press ahead with radical NHS reform plans. BBC December 15th 2010.  “When ministers drew up their plans for radical reform of the NHS, schools and the welfare system..” Norman Smith Chief Political Correspondent, BBC Radio 4 , February 2nd 2011. and so on……

Why is it that a term such as “electoral reform” causes such offence to the BBC but all other Government reform is OK?

You could argue I suppose that the reason why”electoral reform” is on the forboten list and “NHS reform” isn’t, is because there is to be a vote on electoral reform. But then surely that must mean that the BBC is openly admitting that it frankly doesn’t give a toss about the language it uses day-today, but does care when it comes to a vote.

Slack, lazy reporting on a day to day basis BBC? Maybe. But I suspect that it is not that. Could it be that the BBC is running scared of the Government? Could it be that the BBC has been got at by the highly influential No campaigners with their slick suits, armed with promises of who-knows what  post election by those in the corridors of power?  So BBC,  are you incompetent, lazy,or just plain “got at”. It doesn’t look good any way you look at it.

And here is why this is oh so puzzling.. “electoral reform” is a term that has been around longer than the BBC. It is part of the language of politics. Of democracy indeed. We all know what it means.

Significantly it was this Government  that made a pledge to introduce a vote on electoral reform. Not “electoral change”. Not “electoral alteration”.. It is there in black and white. A vote on electoral reform.. We will bring forward a referendum on electoral reform” … (Coalition Agreement)… Next May, there’ll be a referendum on electoral reform”; (David Cameron speech to Conservative Party) ..

And so, The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill 2010-11 has thus been called, ever since, as the “electoral reform bill” by all the main news sources in the UK – including the  BBC….. “Lord Falconer and Lord McNally debate whether the house of Lords should pass the electoral reform bill”  (source BBC)….  “Peers’ threat to AV voting reform referendum defeated” (source BBC)…

 So if the Prime Minister and the Coalition Government can and have promised this country a vote on electoral reform -and  the newspapers and broadcasters of this land have thus described it, and the bill that will enable it, as “electoral reform” / “electoral reform bill”, for the last 12 months, why has the BBC decided in its infinite wisdom to ban the term now?  On whose say so?

The BBC should not be allowed to rewrite history, or skew the debate. Nor should any shiny suited boys, with an eye to their own future prospects, be allowed to threaten or cajole the BBC into actions that suit them now.

 Yes to Fairer Votes are writing a letter to the BBC condemning this action, which you can sign here: Reform” isn’t a dirty word: Cosign our letter to the BBC.  It is a start but it is almost certainly not enough if what we get in May is a free and fair vote. We need more questions raised in every public place, and to the BBC at every opportunity. And frankly, a lot more answers…

Oh…. and if any BBC employee  out there is willing to spill the beans and tell us what is really going on – please email me – I will happily publish your post – anonymously if necessary. Surely one of you cares more about journalism than just plain self interest?

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