The BBC has published its findings after investigating the rather blatant knock at Jeremy Corbyn on Newsnight. Newsnight used an image of Corbyn in a Russian style hat set amongst Moscow images as the back lot for a critical news piece. The BBC writes:
BBC Two, 15 March 2018
Use of Jeremy Corbyn's image
Finding by the Executive Complaints Unit
This edition of Newsnight was broadcast at a time of
heightened interest in UK/Russian relations following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The programme focused on Jeremy Corbyn's position in the House of Commons on the previous day, and an image of him, set against a Moscow-inspired skyline, was used
as the backdrop for the introduction and a later studio discussion. 48 people complained to the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) that the backdrop had been deliberately contrived to convey an impression of pro-Russian sympathy on Mr Corbyn's part, on one
or more of the following grounds:
that the image had been manipulated to make Mr Corbyn look more Russian than in the photograph from which it had been taken, particularly by altering the appearance of his hat;that the
superimposition of the image on such a background compounded this;that the selection of a photograph in which he was wearing what some described as a Lenin-style cap was also intended to suggest a Russian association.
complained that the programme's choice of focus represented bias against Mr Corbyn.
After investigation, the ECU reached the following findings.
Manipulation of the image
complainants maintained that the image had been photo-shopped , in terms which reflected what the Guardian columnist Owen Jones said in the following evening's edition of Newsnight:
Yesterday, the background to your programme, you
have Jeremy Corbyn dressed up against the Kremlin skyline...dressed up as a Soviet stooge...you even photo-shopped his hat to look more Russian.
Some illustrated their complaints with copies of the original photograph next to a
screen-grab of the equivalent image in the programme, in which the hat did appear to be slightly taller. This, however, was not the result of photo-shopping or otherwise manipulating the image. It resulted from the fact that the screen onto which the
image was projected is curved, meaning that the image as a whole appeared higher in relation to its width than it would on a flat surface.
The BBC made clear from the outset that the photograph had not been photo-shopped or
manipulated to make Mr Corbyn seem more Russian, and some complainants understood this as a claim that it had been shown unaltered. However, it was immediately apparent from the backdrop that the source images had been modified in some respects. In fact,
the graphics team had increased the contrast to ensure enough definition on screen, and given the whole backdrop a colour wash for a stylised effect (as the then Acting Editor of Newsnight explained on Twitter). Newsnight's graphics team regularly treats
images of politicians from all parties, and other,s in this way, to create a strong studio backdrop for whichever story is being covered. As a result of this treatment, much of the detail of Mr Corbyn's hat visible in the original photograph was lost,
and the hat appeared in silhouette. This was the effect which suggested to some complainants a likeness to a Russian-style fur hat.
Superimposition of the image on a Moscow-inspired skyline
montage is a commonly-used device in TV programmes to highlight a story or theme. The use of the technique in news programmes such as Newsnight is intended to epitomise the story rather than to express or invite a particular attitude to it, and the
montage used in the item in question was no exception. The backdrop in the previous evening's edition of Newsnight , which focused on the current state of relations between Britain and Russia, also included a Moscow-related image. As the focus of the 15
March item was on Mr Corbyn's reaction to the claim that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent attack, it was entirely apt for the backdrop to combine his image with this backdrop.
Selection of the photograph
The photograph was chosen because it was a typical and readily recognisable image of Mr Corbyn, of a kind which has been used many times across the media without remark. Complaints about its use on this occasion focussed on the
supposedly Russian associations of the Lenin-style cap he was wearing, but this objection conflicts with the objections of those who maintained that it was the alleged photo-shopping of the hat which gave it a more Russian appearance. Neither objection
has any basis in fact.
Choice of focus
The reasons for Newsnight s choice of focus were made clear in the introduction to the item by the presenter, Emily Maitlis:
Corbyn misread the mood of his party in the Commons yesterday when he refused to point the finger at Russia? Last night a group of Labour backbenchers said it unequivocally accepts the Russian state's culpability for the spy poisoning. Overnight they
were joined by senior frontbenchers, who command the defence and foreign affairs briefs. Today, Corbyn clarified, stressing his condemnation of the attack and saying the evidence pointed towards Russia. But he reiterated the need not to rush ahead of
evidence in what he referred to as the fevered atmosphere of Westminster. Is he right to go slowly? Or is more cross-party solidarity called for at a time when a foreign agent appears to be targeting people on British soil?
is entirely in keeping with an editorial decision made on the basis of sound news judgement. The item which followed consisted of a report by David Grossman on the British left's current and historic attitudes towards Russia, and a studio discussion
whose two participants were both generally supportive of Mr Corbyn, though one of them believed he had missed an opportunity to be "crystal clear" in his condemnation. The ECU saw no grounds for regarding the contents of the item as less than
impartial or fair to Mr Corbyn.
The ECU has not upheld the complaints.