The Times of London has made another play for a Pulitzer prize, this time running a scoop that RT hired a studio for an interview, that belonged to the BBC. Just like any other broadcaster does. Yep, that’s the whole story.
The headline reads “BBC hires out studio to Kremlin channel.” At first, I thought it might be the beginning of a fun weekly feature looking at who the BBC is hiring out its facilities to. The reason I thought that is because it’s absolutely standard practice for the BBC to hire out studios to broadcasters from around the world.
As the BBC itself says: “Like other international broadcasters, we hire our studios to other media outlets, at a standard rate, if we have spare capacity; the revenue generated goes back into the BBC public service budget.”
It’s clear this story is a wet dream for a Times journalist on a slow-news day. RT and the BBC together, who could resist? Forget that the actual facts of the story are mundane, it has all the keywords that are presumably needed to successfully pitch a story at the Murdoch paper.
A brief aside… I wonder if The Times gets as bored writing stories about RT, as I get bored writing stories about The Times writing stories about RT, if you follow me.
Anyway, it's getting even easier for Murdoch’s people now, because Damian Collins MP, the head of the Commons media select committee, is on the scene, and he’ll always find time to throw a few cliched criticisms of RT to hungry journalists.
The Tory MP can currently be found in the US, where his committee has taken its failure to find evidence of Russian interference in Brexit on a brief international tour.
Collins is quoted here saying: “RT is an organization backed by the Kremlin that has a record of breaching Ofcom’s guidelines. The BBC has a responsibility to the license-fee payer that includes ensuring that its brand is associated with the high standards and ethics that the British public would expect.”
For the record, the BBC has been sanctioned by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom far more times than RT, so we can look forward no doubt to Collins suggesting the BBC can no longer use its own studios after falling below its “high standards.”
RT has been told off by Ofcom (not recently), freely admits it and has apologized. RT has also been cleared by Ofcom at least as many times, that's rarely mentioned though. I would suggest there are few broadcasters trying to adhere to Ofcom’s rules as hard as RT.
A good example is the interview in question, which used the BBC studio to host a debate between two sides of an argument over a hijab ban in a London school. It was the actual definition of a balanced fair debate. One of the speakers was in Yorkshire, so that’s why the BBC Yorkshire studio was hired.
In the world of The Times and Damian Collins though, RT should not have access to the facilities which allows it to hold a balanced debate. It’s a bizarre position to take, considering the moral high ground they’re attempting to hold, and might make you wonder whether these critics ever even watch the channel.
If you ever wanted proof that organizations like RT may actually be useful to provide an alternative view of the world, well, ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the group-think of the British journalistic establishment.
Ahead of The Times running its story, it sent RT an email asking these questions:
“How regularly to you hire studio space from established British broadcasters like the BBC, ITN and Sky News?
“Specifically, how many times have you hired studio space from the BBC?
“More generally, how do you respond to claims that RT's growing presence in the UK is negative development given its ties to the Russian state?”
Ok, fair enough, thanks for getting in touch. The next day, the venerable Daily Mail sends an email, and these are the questions:
“We are running a story tomorrow based on a story which appeared today in The Times newspaper, which has reported that RT has been paying money to the BBC to hire studio space and facilities.
“We are running exactly the same story, along with concerns that have been raised recently by UK politicians about the closeness of RT to the Russian government.
“We note that you did give a statement to The Times, but I wondered if there was any further statement RT wished to add for our article please?
“Specifically, is there any response about how many times RT has hired studios and facilities from the BBC over the last few years and how much money has been paid to the BBC for doing so?”
Seriously?! Are you guys working together, in some kind of concerted campaign against… Oh I see!