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Today's battle with the Beeb

I've written many times about my battles with the BBC.

The routine rarely changes.

An anti-smoking campaign or policy is reported with several supporting quotes but not a single opposing comment.

So I pick up the phone – sometimes late at night or early in the morning – and find myself speaking to a news editor who agrees to include a comment from Forest.

This is duly inserted, sometimes within an hour of the original report appearing, but it can take longer – several hours or, very recently, six days!

This morning I've had to fight on several fronts which I didn't expect because last night it was going so well.

Shortly before 10.00pm I got a call from a Five Live Breakfast producer. Sunday's programme was leading, he said, with a report about a campaign by Public Health England to ban smoking on all hospital sites.

They were interviewing Duncan Selbie, CEO of PHE, after the 8.00am news bulletin. Could they interview me on the back of that?

Yes, I said.

I was sent the PHE press release and told that BBC News online would probably be running the story after midnight.

I emailed our response to Five Live Breakfast thinking they might include a soundbite in the news bulletin.

The next step was to speak to the BBC News online newsdesk to ask if they too would quote Forest.

I spoke to an editor at 22:36. My quote was sent at 22:46 and acknowledged ("Many thanks, Simon – much appreciated") at 22:52.

This morning I got up at 6:30, made myself a coffee, and checked the BBC News website. There was no mention of the PHE campaign.

I turned on the radio to listen to Five Live Breakfast. The campaign for "tobacco-free" hospitals was the top story. It led the news bulletins but there was no opposing comment.

At 7:05 the programme interviewed a senior nurse from London's Maudsley Hospital who talked at length about the need for a comprehensive smoking ban.

At 8:05, as promised, the programme interviewed Duncan Selbie, CEO of Public Health England, who is driving the campaign.

A few minutes before I was due on air I got a call saying the programme no longer needed me. Apparently a nurse opposed to the policy had rung the programme and they were going with him instead.

I listened with interest and what I heard was an NHS employee who was clearly intimidated to find himself on national radio with the CEO of Public Health England.

PHE is doing a great job (or words to that effect) is all I heard him say before the red mist descended (on me, not him).

I rang the Five Live Breakfast office and complained.

"The editor can't speak to you now," I was told. "If you want to make an official complaint someone will call you back after ten."

I didn't have to wait that long. At 8:46 I got a call from another producer. He admitted the nurse had not said on air what they had expected him to say.

Would I come on the programme in the next few minutes? Yes, I said.

And so at 8:50 I found myself talking to presenter Sam Walker.

(To Walker's credit she had done her best throughout the programme to play devil's advocate with interviewees as well as reading out texts and emails from listeners opposed to a ban.)

But that wasn't the end of it. I had also complained about the news bulletins that had repeatedly promoted PHE's campaign without a word of opposition.

At 9:07 I got another call from the programme. The news bulletin was being amended, I was told, to include a clip from my interview with Sam Walker. The clip was duly broadcast at 10.00am – and then dropped.

But I'll leave the best till last.

At 9:15 this morning a report appeared on the BBC News website. It was headlined NHS 'tobacco free' campaign launched by Public Health England and, you've guessed, it contained not a single dissenting voice.

With a heavy heart I picked up the phone (again), spoke to the newsdesk and, lo and behold, an hour later the report was updated to include our response (which you can read here).

So that was my morning (and all before ten o'clock). What was yours like?

PS. I'll be discussing the same issue on Sky News (via Skype) at 1.30. Tune in!

Update: To be fair to the BBC they're not alone. The Sunday Times ran a report today (NHS seeks ban on smoking in hospital grounds).

That didn't include an opposing voice either.

The ST report was written by the health editor while the BBC News report is credited to the Health desk. Spot the connection?

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Reader Comments (4)

What was my morning like? Before July 2007 I'd go out for breakfast but now I am no longer allowed to mix with other customers, I stay home, save my money and spent it abroad where no one bullies me into quitting smoking.

This new measure is designed to force people to quit via harrassment, exclusion and intimidation. The NHS should not be used in this way and PHE should not be allowed to keep leeching money for political hate campaigns from the health budget which should be used, without prejudice, for the benefit of all, smoker and non smoker.

Thanks again Simon. I dread to think what we would do without you.

Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 12:05 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Good work Simon. More evidence that the mainstream media has largely been captured by antismokers who act as mouthpiece for the tobacco control movement.

These partisans have become mechanisms for disseminating propaganda and suppressing dissent. They betray the principles of a free press to promote their own biased viewpoints.

The only way to address this is to continue the active defuse and expand proactive efforts to advocate for the freedom to smoke.

I hope FOREST increases its advocacy and forges new partnerships to counter these overt steps toward suppression and prohibition.

Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 20:08 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Congratulations on your persistence, Simon. I think these plans are downright cruel, towards patients and their relatives, and maybe some of those caring for them, who are in extremis.

Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 21:42 | Unregistered CommenterNorman Brand

The BBC is fast approaching (or has it already reached?) the point at which can be considered “no longer fit for purpose.” It seems that these days it uses its historically “unbiased and impartial” reputation to hide behind rather than using it as a vital USP to be upheld, regardless of the subject area and no matter how much the folks at the top of the BBC tree would rather not.

As is so often the case in other areas of life, smoking is/was the guinea-pig; the first worrying indication that a vital principle was being moved away from, which few members of the public actually took note of, because “it’s only about smoking,” and they’d been brainwashed into thinking that anything about smoking will only ever be applied to smoking. How wrong they are. Even as all around them, the “tobacco template” is being applied to an increasing number of other activities, groups and areas of life - sometimes quite brazenly so - they cling tenaciously to the idea that there’s no connection. It’s an amazing sleight of hand which has been carried out right under their noses, and yet still most people won’t see it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said “Ha! Welcome to my world!” to non-smoking friends in the wake of the latest prohibitionist “proposal” from some campaign group or another and they genuinely think I’m joking, or they comfort themselves that “it’ll never happen.” Oh, I’d like a quid for the number of times I heard that about the smoking ban before it came in, but look where we are now. The fact is, once a single-issue campaign group has got its teeth into a bit of influence and gained the ear of a few compliant people in the corridors of power, particularly one with the influence and reputation of the BBC, there’s no stopping them. Logic, fairness, reasonability – all must be sacrificed for the “cause.” And that applies to any single-issue campaign group, not just the anti-smoking ones. Folks should bear that in mind next time they hear a certain celebrity Cockney chef batting on about “hidden sugar” and telling everyone how they should feed their children.

The question which people should be asking (but, of course, aren’t) is: if the BBC can so cavalierly toss aside impartiality with regard to smoking, what else do they think they can get away with ignoring impartiality over? Because, contrary to what the public likes to believe, what starts with smoking always and without fail spills over into other areas eventually.

Monday, February 27, 2017 at 2:20 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

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