The Times devotes page 3 of its print edition today to the Panorama/Primark affair, leaving it rather late in the story (paragraph 11 of 13) to point out that the journalist involved has emphatically denied the faking charge and is considering legal action. The paper also has a sidebar listing three other BBC apologies since 2004, under the headline “Sorry state of affairs”.
The paper should know a sorry state of affairs when it sees one. Rupert Murdoch’s British flagship is a very good newspaper these days, probably as good as it has been at any time since he bought it in 1981. It is particularly strong on crime and justice and has some great foreign coverage, but when it comes to media reporting it is a long way from the moral high ground.
The Primark affair is a significant news story and no doubt about it, but even the Mail put its report back at page 11 — and how many apologies has the Times had to make since 2004?
Worse than that, however, is that this latest act of anti-BBC Schadenfreude comes days after the Times ignored a story alleging something far worse at the News of the World, which is of course its Murdoch stablemate.
Rupert Murdoch has no opinion on the British family courts and probably doesn’t care much about Afghanistan either, so no doubt he is happy to let the Times go where it wants on those subjects. But when it comes to the BBC there is a deep hatred which stems partly from his relentless desire to dominate and partly from his personal loathing of the idea of publicly funded broadcasting.
Whatever the personal views of the editor of the Times, James Harding, (and indeed despite the views of Times readers, who are overwhelmingly lovers of the BBC), it is safe to guess that Harding does not have any latitude to depart from a house policy of BBC-baiting.
Meanwhile the Times’s failure to pick up or follow up the Guardian’s allegation of illegal information-gathering for the News of the World by Jonathan Rees was only the latest instance of it casting a Nelson eye over the outrageous activities of its sister paper.
Does James Harding really believe that this allegation, whether right or wrong in his view, is not newsworthy? Does he believe that it is so much less newsworthy than the BBC/Primark story that, while the one is a page 3 lead, the other does not merit any coverage at all in his print paper?
No, much more likely, in my view, is that the editor of the Times is being censored by the News International management. That is what I call a sorry state of affairs.
Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University London and tweets at @briancathcart