Question Time, BBC One, 17 January 2019: Finding by the Executive Complaints Unit

The ECU received 22 complaints about the treatment of Diane Abbott MP during and immediately before the recording of this edition of the programme. 15 of them complained that a misleading impression about the standing of the Labour and Conservative Parties in the opinion polls, though subsequently acknowledged by the BBC, had not been properly corrected.

The ECU found no grounds for the suggestion that the presenter, Fiona Bruce, had referred to Ms Abbott during the preliminaries to the recording in terms which were discriminatory or likely to prejudice the studio audience against her, and nothing to support the view that Ms Bruce’s conduct of the discussion was less than even-handed. There was, however, a misleading impression arising from an exchange in which another panellist said Labour was “way behind”, “miles behind” and “six points behind” in the polls.  Ms Abbott replied “Just as a point of information, currently we’re kind of, in the polls overall, we’er kind of level pegging”, at which point Ms Bruce interjected “But you’re behind, Diane…Definitely”.  Subsequent corrections on social media and on the BBC website “Corrections and Clarifications” page made clear that Ms Bruce had in mind a poll published on the morning of the programme which showed a Conservative lead (of 5%), while saying Ms Abbott was “also right” with reference to recent polling as a whole, and a correction by Ms Bruce in the 24 January edition of the programme echoed this.  The ECU, while acknowledging these extensive efforts to set the record straight, took the view that the effect of Ms Bruce’s intervention went beyond generating confusion between different sets of polling data, suggesting that, contrary to what Ms Abbott had said, the overall data then current showed a definite Conservative lead, and that the corrections did not entirely rectify that impression.
Partly upheld

Further action
The Editorial Director of BBC News has discussed the finding with the programme team, and the posting on the BBC Corrections and Clarifications page has been emended to reflect the finding’s terms.