BBC self-promotion should also face the facts

In the final episode of the recent BBC drama, The Hour, one of the major characters could be heard berating one of his journalists with fact, not opinion for proposing they run a story which couldn’t be verified.

The BBC World Service this week broadcast an extract-come-promotion for an upcoming documentary concerning the fate of a large number of Irish men who served in the British Army during World War II.

Being Irish, I took some notice of it, but didn’t listen to it in detail. Not long after I noticed a number of people sharing a link to the same story from the BBC website. Reading through the content, I was pretty certain it was reasonably close to a transcript from the radio piece. While on the whole the piece was factual, a number of issues stood out.

  • Firstly, the focus on the punishment meted out to the 5,000 or so soldiers who had deserted the Irish Army to join the British with barely a mention of the 30,000 or more other Irish nationals who also served in British forces during that war.
  • The presentation; neither supported nor contradicted, of a quote from a supposed History Professor at Trinity College in Dublin:

I’d estimate that 60% of the population expected or indeed hoped the Germans would win

In order to meet the requirements of its own title, no doubt the Face the Facts program, once broadcast in full, will correct these omissions and errors. There are plenty of Irish, British and other historians who can help them explore and explain to their listeners the reality of the time; such as the complex and confrontational relationship between Britain and Ireland in the years leading up to 1939. It’s such a pity that in the modern quest for instant gratification and self-promotion, headlines missing critical pronouns and questionable statistics are allowed to run.

The challenge of facts served without context and opinions presented as facts remains when you consider some of the commentary accompanying the sharing of this article on the internet. To the uninformed, it may seem as if the Irish Free State was in league with the Nazis, and that all Irish citizens who dared to fight Mr Hitler were punished severely upon their return.

We used to rely on journalists at the BBC, on programs like those represented in The Hour, to explore and present the portion of a story which wasn’t instantly obvious. For as with all, there is almost always more to a story than that which meets the eye.

While it’s clear The Hour is just a drama, you have to believe the script was influenced in some way by the policies which existed at the BBC at the time of the Suez crisis. 55 years on some of the same policies could be well used at their online news site.

Unfortunately, it seems the venerable BBC has succumbed to the Murdochian need to promote its upcoming investments rather than ensure both the story, and indeed the bait of the headline, are factual; or at least where opinions are presented they are backed up or contradicted so as not to be confused with facts.

In the case of today’s example, that’s more than unfortunate. Ireland has come a long way from the days of de Valera and his comely maidens dancing at the cross roads. It didn’t shoot them in the head, but its treatment of those deserters from its army who chose the bigger picture over Ireland’s own interests does need examining. I look forward to the documentary in anticipation it faces the facts rather than continuing to present them in a way which suits its narrative.