The BBC likes to say that, when a really big story breaks, the nation turns to the corporation for its take on the news.
Not now it doesn’t. Not when #piggate has dominated social media all day, not to mention the front page of the Daily Mail, which is serialising Lord Ashcroft’s account of David Cameron’s alleged excesses as an Oxford student.
BBC News has just published its version of the story, leading on Lord Ashcroft’s claims that the book is “not about settling scores”, even though it so obviously seems to be. But search the BBC story for “pig” and you’ll find nothing.
The public service broadcaster hates this kind of territory. It’s too squeamish to even mention the anecdote, referred to by Lord Ashcroft and co-author Isabel Oakeshott as “an outrageous initiation ceremony… involving a dead pig” at Oxford’s Piers Gaveston dining society. The two authors report the claim that “the future PM inserted a private part of his anatomy into the animal’s mouth”.
Yes, of course it’s icky and you can understand the BBC’s reluctance to carry anything so revolting on its home page or bulletins. But it is the pig part which is the story here, not the wider and well-known fallout between Cameron and Ashcroft. Piggate is just the kind of disgusting dirt that the right-wing tabloids would love to unearth as they snuffle around in the past of Jeremy Corbyn.
They’ve already run with the Labour leader’s ancient dalliance with Diane Abbott and hazy anecdotes of naked romps in a Cotswold field. The Sun had to apologise after publishing a historic allegation that Corbyn paid £45 to an IRA man, a tale that was revealed to be false nearly three decades ago.
So there’s the BBC’s dilemma. At a moment when it is being lumped together with the newspapers as being part of a broad media conspiracy to wreck Corbyn’s chances before he has even got started, it seems to be turning its nose up at a grubby tale supposedly about the Tory leader.
The decision is further complicated by the hesitance of other news broadcasters, particularly Sky News, which has also avoided the story. But ITV News, which refers to “salacious” allegations that involve “a dead pig” and LBC have been bolder.
Corbyn supporters have already rallied over 80,000 people to sign an online petition calling for the BBC to refer to Mr Cameron as “the right-wing Prime Minister”, in the way that it talks of the “left-wing Labour leader”. These tales of alleged debauchery will only add to that sense of Mr Cameron being a long way further from the middle ground that he often claims to occupy. And the BBC’s failure to specify them will bring further claims of bias.
The BBC’s coverage of the Middle East and the Scottish Independence referendum have also recently drawn accusations of partiality.
Despite a recent softening of tone on the BBC by the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, the broadcaster’s future remains in the balance and it is extremely conscious of its relationship with Government.
But the most-important part of the BBC’s publicly-funded output is news and it’s unacceptable for it to dodge the big political story of the day. No matter how mucky.
David Cameron's biggest controversies
David Cameron's biggest controversies
A book released by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft alleged that an MP and Oxford contemporary of David Cameron had allegedly seen a photograph of Mr Cameron performing a sex act on a pig while at university. Downing Street did not comment on the allegations and the peer said they could have been a case of mistaken identity
David Hartley/REX Shutterstock
2/8 ‘Swarm’ of migrants
In July 2015 David Cameron referred to refugees coming into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa as a “swarm”. He was criticised for using the language, which critics said was dehumanising
3/8 Child tax credits
In April 2015 David Cameron was asked whether he’d cut child tax credits. “No, I don’t want to do that,” he said, saying that he rejected reports that he would. Shortly after the election the Government unveiled cuts to child tax credits
4/8 Cycling to work
As leader of the opposition David Cameron was regularly photographed cycling to work. In early 2006 he was photographed cycling but with a driver in a car carrying his belongings. It was suggested at the time the cycling was just for show and that having two vehicles on the road instead of one was wasteful
5/8 Andy Coulson
David Cameron employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as government communications director from 2010. After stepping down from the post due to coverage of the phone hacking affairs, Mr Coulson was later found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemails. He served a short prison sentence
6/8 His personal windmill
Early in his leadership of the Conservative David Cameron made an effort to change the party’s image by making eco-friendly gesures. As one of these gestures, the future PM put a wind turbine on his house. However, the turbine later had to be removed after neighbours condemned it as an eyesore and the council’s planning committee said it had been put in the wrong place
7/8 Funeral selfie
David Cameron was pictured posing for a ‘selfie’ with Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Barack Obama at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Some in the press criticised the prime minister for showing in an inappropriately low level of respect for the gravity of the occasion
8/8 Eating a hotdog with a knife and fork
The Prime Minister was pictured eating a hotdog with a knife and fork in the run up to the 2015 general election. He was accused of being “posh”. “I had a very privileged upbringing... I've never tried to hide that,” he said
- More about:
- David Cameron