The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) has responded to complaints about its news coverage of an anti-Ulez protest in London’s Trafalgar Square on Saturday, April 15th, 2023. BBC London News broadcast at the time that:
Local protestors and mainstream politicians were joined by conspiracy theorists and Far Right groups.
I was among many people to complain at the time, disgusted at the BBC’s smear. I was at the protest myself, the first of any kind that I had attended. Since my previous exposure to similar protests – such as those against the lockdowns over the course of the pandemic – was limited to watching clips on Twitter, I was slightly anxious. Were things likely to kick off? Were the police going to ‘kettle’ us all in a side street off the Strand?
I could not have been more wrong. I was overwhelmed by how many families were there, abundant small children clambering up the bases of Landseer’s lions. There were a handful of Tory politicians some of whom spoke from the platform, but there was no other political presence whatsoever.
When I saw the BBC London news coverage, I was therefore appalled. I wasn’t too concerned about the claim that there were a few conspiracy theorists there – quite a few placard-holders were plainly ‘Team James’ – but “Far Right groups” seemed to me something for which there was no evidence at all. This appeared to be an attempt on the BBC’s part to suppress dissent towards the Ulez expansion by smearing opponents. This struck me as a sinister turn from the national broadcaster and so I complained.
On April 21st, the BBC responded to my complaint as follows:
BBC London had deployed a reporter to the protest and she witnessed, and documented, first hand, motifs on tabards and placards with explicit Nazi references, along with other epithets about world order and democracy.
I walked around the protest for about three hours on April 15th and I must have missed the explicit Nazi references, presumably displayed by the “Far Right groups”. I complained again, asking for evidence.
On May 12th the BBC rejected my additional complaint as follows:
We remain satisfied our BBC London reporter gave an honest account of what she witnessed that day.
At this point, I escalated the complaint to the ECU, one of 44 people to do so on the grounds of both accuracy and impartiality. Today the BBC acknowledged the following: