Thursday, 5 April 2012

Is the BBC getting 'revenge' on Andrew Lansley over abortion investigation?

Call me paranoid, but I couldn’t help feeling as I listened to the Today programme this morning that the BBC had decided to ‘go after’ Health Secretary Andrew Lansley precisely because he himself had ‘gone after’ abortion clinics that were breaking the law.
Readers may remember that on the 22nd February the Daily Telegraph broke a news story about abortion clinics doing ‘no questions asked’ abortions, including terminations on the basis of gender. They quoted Lansley at the time saying that, “Sex selection is illegal and is morally wrong,” and then adding, “I’ve asked my officials to investigate this as a matter of urgency.”
The urgency to which he referred was picked up in the Today report and also in today’s online story by the BBC, which quotes from a letter to the Department of Health, written by Dame Jo Williams, the chairwoman to the Care Quality Commission, who is reported as saying that ‘urgent inspections have had “a considerable impact on our capacity to deliver our annual targets”’.
The BBC report also acknowledges the reasons for the investigation, but only in a very brief paragraph towards the end.
The ‘story’, both online and on Radio 4, however, was the ‘cost’ of the investigation, the ‘disruption’ to the work of the CQC and the ‘interference’ with its independence by a government minister. The story is no longer lawbreaking by the clinics, but 'headline chasing' by the minister.
According to the BBC’s own story, reporter Sanchia Berg had put in a Freedom of Information request to discover “the impact of the investigations”. In reporting this, however, the BBC smooths over the initial reason these investigations were ordered urgently and at short notice, stating merely that,
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley ordered the CQC checks after concerns were raised about consent forms being pre-signed. (emphasis added)
Only 600 words later (out of a total 960 words!) does the BBC report finally get to the original substance of the demand for the investigation in the allegations about gender-based abortion.
The BBC also gives prominence to the response of the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, who, in their words,
... told the BBC he believed Mr Lansley had acted disproportionately and his actions gave the impression the health secretary was “chasing headlines” to put himself in a stronger position following criticism over his controversial changes to the NHS.
At the time that the original report appeared in the Telegraph, I offered the opinion that there would be “no shock, no horror” at the idea that illegal gender-based abortions are routinely carried out in this country. Rather, I suggested,
... the response [the news] will not be an outbreak of national self-questioning, so much as a ‘tut tut’ at the proclivities of some cultures and the selfishness of a few individuals.
It seems even this modest assessment was wrong. Rather there has been an organised backlash against the minister who dared challenge the abortion culture, paid for, incidentally, with public money.
It is a pity, in my view, that Andrew Lansley declined to be interviewed on Radio 4. I hope he may yet change his mind on this and give the BBC the kicking I think it royally deserves.
Interestingly, when the BBC reported on this same story a couple of weeks ago, it quoted Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service already criticizing Lansley’s actions:
“What I think is absolutely wrong is the way that the Secretary of State has instructed the Care Quality Commission this week.
“They have stopped doing their other work to do this - and at some of our clinics they have spent up to five hours going through paper work, when as far as I am aware there is nothing different about the way that doctors are practising now than the way that they were practising five years ago or 10 years ago.”
Is it too much to suggest that someone at the BBC rather agreed with her, and has made a point of following through on exactly these criticisms?
Listen to this four-and-a-half minute interview with Andrew Burnham online (headline "Lansely 'chasing headlines' on abortion clinic checks") which manages to make no mention of the actual initial reasons for the investigation and this later story (headline "Abortion clinic checks 'had considerable impact' on CQC) which similarly avoids mentioning gender-based abortions. Judge for yourselves who the BBC thinks is at most fault.
The thing to remember in all this is that when the law on abortion was changed it was not so that abortion could become a means of ‘birth control’, but so that the dangers of illegal abortions would be averted. That is why we have safeguards — which apparently up to one in six clinics may have been circumventing.
Imagine the horror we would have felt in 1967. Look at the reaction we get now, and ponder the difference.
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  1. Andrew Godsall5 April 2012 at 14:02

    I heard it and thought it was just proper journalism - so think I would have to call you paranoid John!

    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  2. Andrew, where have you been? I was beginning to worry!

  3. Andrew Godsall5 April 2012 at 15:17

    Ha! Just a very busy Lent running lots of CMD courses and so on. But lovely to be missed!
    Listen to that interview again and hear what Andy Burnham actually says. It's all about process and timing and NOT the moral issue for abortion.
    Likewise I think Sancha Berg's piece is good investigative stuff about process.
    The NHS reforms have not been good for the govt. It is not surpirsing they wanted better headlines is it?
    Andrew Godsall, Exeter

  4. Or to look at another way, Andrew, here was the shadow Health Secretary using any opportunity to attack his Conservative counterpart, regardless of the fact that immoral and illegal acts were being investigated, whilst the BBC managed to report the whole thing without hardly mentioning that fact.

    Would that Sancha Berg had used her journalistic skills to follow up the Telegraph's investigation, not support the BpAS complaint.

    But each to his own interpretation, I guess.

  5. Well said, John.

    In my opinion the BBC has become both corrupt and corrupting. It is unconscionable that such a matter should be handled this way.

    Until the Tories reform the BBC, they will never run a successful government.

  6. Your thoughts were my thoughts, John - I have pasted the relevant link on your Facebook page.

  7. A journalist very much saying the same as I did has written here in the Daily Mail.