Apologies Not Enough from the BBC

Apologies Not Enough from the BBC
April 21, 2009 Paul Tomkins

It’s all very well the BBC’s Radio One Newsbeat team offering an on-air apology for their awful mistake about Hillsborough, in which they claimed that the official report blamed Liverpool fans for the tragedy. But that won’t correct the mistruth in the minds of all those who only heard the original broadcast, and who missed the retraction.

They could be like Sun readers who have only encountered scurrilous lies, and one very belated, half-arsed ‘apology’ that was more about scoring points over Trinity Mirror and easing the outrage aimed at Wayne Rooney. Liverpool fans may know the truth, but it seems clear that plenty of other people do not.

My days of belonging in the Radio One demographic are long-since past (and I wouldn’t wipe my arse with The Sun, even had it not printed the most offensive front page in history), but perhaps that makes it even more irresponsible. Radio One has broadcast an awful lie to a new generation of Britons, and, at that, one given to spouting ill-informed nonsense on the internet, will only lead to more ignorance.

Saying sorry is all very well and good, but it cannot take back what was said, which is now in the public consciousness; in the way that a canny lawyer will say something highly contentious that will be struck from the record, but not struck from the minds of those who heard it.

Repeat lies often enough, and they take on the appearance of truth. The saying goes that ‘history is written by the winners’, but these days it’s written by the mass media.

Of course, it will never be written by the losers, and in this case, Liverpool fans are the losers; at least until enough pressure if put on organisations and the government to right some wrongs. The promised full disclosure of documents from 1989 is a promising start, but it’s also been undermined in the very reporting of this fact by the BBC.

It is grossly negligent of the BBC to make such a mistake. We all get our facts wrong from time to time, but not all of us are at news organisations with the gravitas of the BBC; and in my case, most of the facts I get wrong will be something like being a few percent out with rotation figures.

I don’t broadcast ludicrously untrue ‘facts’ like the Munich air crash was caused by Manchester United players, or that the Zebrugge ferry disaster was the fault of passengers rocking the boat.

The victims of other tragedies don’t get blamed, to compound the pain of families and friends, but it still seems acceptable to do with to those at Hillsborough twenty years ago.

However, having said all this, if I was to make a report about events of which I had no first-hand knowledge, I’d at least do some basic research into what took place. If I was quoting the official report, I’d make it my job to know what the thing said, not broadcast the wrong conclusion.

Steven Cohen, co-host of the World Soccer Daily radio show in the U.S., is another who has been propogating lies. Last week he claimed that Liverpool fans failed to take responsibility for Hillsborough, as well as stating that if 6,000-8,000 ticketless fans had not shown up, the disaster would never have happened.

Was he there? Did he read the official report? No, and clearly no.

His logic seems to be that because no other tragedy had occurred at the ground, it was the fault of Liverpool fans; never mind that plenty of Sheffield Wednesday supporters knew the risks at Leppings Lane, or that there were previous problems at the ground, albeit ones that didn’t lead to deaths.

Cohen is the apotheosis of ‘big gob’ broadcasters, who spout their mouths off for the sake of ‘colourful’ shows, never minding the fact that they are totally ignorant.

These people wouldn’t be so glib if the same things happened to them: gross inacuracies about their personal lives smeared across other news media, from which they would struggle to recover; lies that blackened their names, and ruined their reputations.

Then again, some such people don’t have much of a reputation to lose in the first place.

After all, sewer rats aren’t too bothered by shit.