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Monday 27 February 2017

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What is the establishment media on? The BBC, TUSC, and the DUP's 'mystery funders'

Last week it was revealed that the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland had spent £282,000 to pay for a pro-Leave newspaper cover-wrap advert in June's EU referendum - for papers distributed, not in Northern Ireland, but in London and elsewhere in Britain.

This apparently bizarre move seems to have been an attempt by wealthy individuals to intervene in the EU debate while keeping their anonymity - by exploiting the fact that, unlike elsewhere in the UK, political parties in Northern Ireland can receive large donations (of more than £7,500) without details being published by the Electoral Commission.

Under pressure the DUP are now claiming that the money came from the 'Constitutional Research Council', headed by the businessman and former vice-chair of the Scottish Tories, Richard Cook. But not before BBC journalists got it into their heads that TUSC were the mystery funders of the DUP!

Was it TUSC?

The secret funding story moved from rumour to headline news on February 16th when, in a BBC interview, the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, confirmed that the party had received money to advertise outside of Northern Ireland during the EU referendum but refused to identify the donors.

The next day the TUSC office received a 'high importance' e-mail from a BBC Northern Ireland broadcast journalist, informing us that they were doing a story on the issue and "were wondering if the money used to pay for the advert was provided by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition".

The TUSC national agent, Clive Heemskerk, immediately responded, after checking it wasn't April 1st, "categorically assuring" the BBC that no TUSC funds were provided for a DUP advert!

TUSC "did campaign for a Leave vote in the EU referendum", he explained, "because we oppose the EU as a driver of pro-austerity, pro-privatisation policies - Thatcherism on a continental scale - reasons that were not those motivating the DUP (or UKIP or the Tory Brexiteers)".

He invited the BBC to look at "further information about TUSC's principled Leave campaign, which made no compromises with reactionary Leavers like the DUP, by checking out our post-referendum report, available at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/382.pdf". That, hopefully, was that.

Fake news, or just dumb?

But broader questions remain. What is the level of political understanding at the BBC? How could such a basic mistake have been made by alleged 'journalists'?

TUSC was one of the three organisations that applied to be the official Leave campaign in the run-up to last year's referendum, a fact reported by the BBC at the time (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-35941945). So how could they conceivably imagine that, if we had had a 'spare' £280,000, we would not have used it for our own adverts and instead have given it to the DUP?

If the BBC cannot be trusted to tell the difference between, on the one hand, a reactionary right-wing party, and on the other, a left-wing coalition of socialists and trade unionists including the high-profile RMT transport workers' union, can they be trusted on anything else?