They did it again the other day, when they had Ed Davey on to talk about the new EDF nuclear power plant at Hinckley Point. He was introduced as a former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, but BBC journalists strangely failed to have mentioned that Davey now works for a PR firm that includes EDF among its clients.
Ben Pile sent a complaint to the BBC:
Ed Davey was interviewed on the Today programme this morning. He was introduced as a former SoS for Energy and Climate Change, and was asked to defend the economics of the planned EDF nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, which he was responsible for arranging while in office. The deal between the government and EDF is extraordinary on any analysis, and the project has consequently been called 'the most expensive power station in the world'. Your interviewer rightly brought up the fact of this expense being a burden that the bill payer and tax payer would have to shoulder for decades to come.
However, since being removed from office by the voting public, Davey has taken a position at MHP Communications -- EDF's PR firm -- as was revealed by The Times. Davey was given the opportunity to speak to your listeners to defend the deal he was responsible for, and his function as an interested party in EDF's business was not brought up in the discussion.
While it is conceivable that Davey's role at EDF's PR and public affairs firm is a coincidence, I believe the fact that Davey is engaged by the company which is in turn engaged by EDF to defend the very project Davey negotiated -- seemingly on the public's behalf -- would be of interest to most listeners, and would influence their understanding of the discussion on the programme. Davey now being a position to benefit financially from the decisions he made in office, one could reasonably argue that Davey's recent appointment may have been a reward for the deal that he secured for the benefit of EDF, at the public's expense. I believe therefore that the Today programme failed to introduce Davey properly, as an interested party, and has let the audience down.
The response from the BBC was rather extraordinary, even by their normal dismal standards:
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 24 March 2016 at 13:26
Subject: BBC Complaints - Case number CAS-3742272-YHTBLK
To: Ben Pile
Dear Mr Pile
Thanks for getting in touch. Apologies for the delay in replying. We do very much regret that we've not been able to get back to you as quickly as we, and you, would have liked. We raised your concerns about the Ed Davey interview with the Today programme. They explained that the programme was aware that Sir Ed Davey is an employee of MHP but it took note of the agreement he reached with the Government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments which agreed that “…he would not have any involvement with EDF whatsoever in relation to their generating business prior to the announcement of a final investment decision in relation to Hinkley Point C.”
This deals with any issues of a potential conflict of interest in relation to MHP’s contract with EDF. It also means that questions about Sir Edward’s record regarding the commissioning process, for which he was responsible as the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, could be considered on the basis of his record in office not his current employment.
Accordingly, the programme did not refer to his employment with MHP.
Thanks for going to the trouble to let us know your thoughts on this. Your comments have been sent to the right people.
It's hard to avoid the impression that the BBC is giving its blessing to the revolving-door between politics and big business. It's very much part of the problem.