The BBC Fails To Provide Context If It Detracts From Their Narrative

The recent BBC coverage of the indictment and pending extradition of Richard O’Dwyer for abetting internet piracy has been pretty overtly biased in favor of the defendant.

The main thrust of O’Dwyer’s story, the way the BBC tells it, is that the young man is facing serious consequences from a foreign legal system for “simply linking” to illegal content. The legal question was, until yesterday’s court decision, whether or not what he’d done was a crime under UK law. In his  live reports from outside the courthouse on the BBC News Channel yesterday (Jan. 13), BBC correspondent constantly sanitized O’Dwyer’s alleged act by saying the he “simply linked” to illegal content. At one point the reporter clearly stressed the words “simply linking”, raising his voice to emphasize the point.

The legal charges against O’Dwyer do not refer to his actions as “simply” anything. That’s a BBC editorial decision, revealing the report’s personal opinion of the legal issue at hand. He did it over and over again, so it must be condoned by BBC News bosses.

The BBC News Online article is less overtly opinionated, but does give plenty of space to the defendant’s complaints. The article also relates the pure speculation from O’Dwyer and his lawyer that he’s being used as a “guinea pig” by US authorities in their efforts expand their powers to enforce copyright law. Then there’s the sympathy from Victoria Derbyshire.

Essentially, the BBC is presenting O’Dwyer as an innocent student, who did nothing wrong, and is being treated unfairly by a grasping US. But there’s some important background context which the BBC curiously fails to provide, and which makes a lot of difference in how the audience might understand the story.  Here’s what the BBC doesn’t want you to know (h/t pounce for the extra info):
After the authorities originally shut down O’Dwyer’s website in June 2010, he started up a mirror site. This lovable little innocent student included “F*ck the Police” in the title. He also put up a photo of the police-hating old rap group, NWA. This is not the behavior of someone who doesn’t realize he’s done anything illegal. O’Dwyer knew perfectly well what he was doing the entire time: deliberately abetting criminal acts.

That bit of context might have made the reader view things a bit differently back in November, when the BBC was fretting that the poor dear would be “at risk” if extradited, a lost little lamb amongst hardened criminals in the US justice system. At least in that article, the phrasing I’ve been complaining about was presented as the words of O’Dwyer’s lawyer, rather than a BBC reporter’s explanation:

Mr Cooper argued the site did not store copyright material but merely pointed users to other sites where they could download films and TV shows.

 “Merely”, “simply”, what’s a few million acts of media piracy among friends, eh? So why does the BBC allow O’Dwyer to play all innocent, that he was “surprised” when the cops showed up on his doorstep in November, five months after his original site was shut down and he started it up again with an anti-police taunt?

We heard the same BS, unquestioned by the BBC, in Friday’s coverage. The BBC has been very sympathetic to this criminal, going out of their way to portray him not only as someone who should not be extradited to the US, but who really hasn’t even done anything wrong. Even though the facts show that he knew perfectly well what he was doing, and kept doing it even after being told it was illegal.

I wonder how the BBC would spin things if a US citizen was extradited to the UK for helping people around the world pirate BBC content?