Former Newsnight journalist John Sweeney has called for Ofcom to carry out an investigation into BBC News over its failure to broadcast reports on the “far-right, Russia and Brexit”.
Sweeney, who left the BBC last month, turned whistleblower to raise his concerns in a letter sent in confidence to the broadcast regulator and MPs, which he has since published online.
- September 17, 2020
- September 16, 2020
- September 15, 2020
He claimed in a tweet that the BBC’s “suppression” of a Government report into alleged Russian interference in British politics had “tipped the balance” and led to him speaking out.
“I love the BBC but it needs to regenerate,” Sweeney said.
OfCom are looking into it and are considering my status as a whistleblower. Naturally I am worried about the effect me doing this will have on my career – what bloody career? – but the suppression of the #RussiaReport tipped the balance. I love the BBC but it needs to regenerate. https://t.co/0Yfvuq3PZc
— John Sweeney (@johnsweeneyroar) November 24, 2019
In his letter, seen by Press Gazette, Sweeney said his concerns centred on seven reports across Newsnight, Panorama and BBC News that were not broadcast, a number of which he said were investigating alleged ties to Russia among figures working within British politics.
He also listed a Newsnight investigation into a firm who “sought to silence” Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia before her 2017 murder, and a BBC News investigation into Leave.EU co-founder Aaron Banks.
Furthermore, Sweeney told Ofcom that BBC management had “enfeebled” broadcast reports on Banks, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin.
He said BBC management, led by director general Lord Tony Hall, “has become so risk-averse in the face of threats from the far-right and the Russian state and its proxies that due impartiality is being undermined and investigative journalism is being endangered.”
He went on: “Brexit has split the country and maintaining fairness and due impartiality under ferocious pressure, accelerated by social media, is exhausting. The problem is this exhaustion has led to corporate risk aversion and this is destroying investigative journalism at the BBC.”
But, he added: “The vast majority of the BBC’s output is excellent and to be trusted.”
A BBC spokesperson said it was “difficult to argue” that it does not produced “hard-hitting public interest journalism” and pointed to its recent interview with Prince Andrew, its investigation into anti-Semitism within Labour, its report on the alleged cover up of war crimes by the British Army and its series on China under President Xi Jingping.
Sweeney, who had faced multiple redundancy threats while at the BBC, said being “attacked” by Tommy Robinson’s supporters over his Panorama investigation “was maddening for me, literally so”.
The journalist was secretly filmed by one of Robinson’s supporters during a meeting while investigating the English Defence League founder for Panorama, which was also never broadcast.
Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, hijacked a pre-arranged interview with Sweeney to play him the clandestine footage and broadcast both encounters in a Youtube video.
Some of Sweeney’s remarks, caught on film during the source meeting, forced Panorama to issue a statement acknowledging they had been “offensive and inappropriate” and apologising on his behalf.
Sweeney wrote in the Sunday Times yesterday that he felt “betrayed” by the BBC, who he said left him “undefended” while he was being attacked by Robinson’s supporters.
“I felt bewildered and betrayed and, eventually, I cracked up,” he wrote.
“I am back to my old self but have left the BBC. However, I love it too much to just walk away in silent dismay.”
He also admitted to having described BBC management as “jellyfish” and the BBC’s failure to broadcast reports as a “pattern of timidity”.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC demands high standards from its journalists and expects them to behave with the necessary professionalism.
“As John knows, failing to do so compromises investigative journalism. Furthermore, investigative journalism can take years. The fact something has not yet been broadcast does not mean an investigation has finished.”
Ofcom has declined to comment.