The BBC is to use disinformation specialists to vet potential Question Time audience members after the program called on unvaccinated members of the public to participate.
Next week’s episode of the current affairs talk show will feature unvaccinated people in the audience after a call out from presenter Fiona Bruce aired earlier this month.
Question Time’s decision to seek vaccine rejections follows BBC concern that the show has failed to represent the views of the 10 per cent of the adult UK population who have not received injection.
But one of the main social media channels used to organize an attempt by anti-vaxx activists to storm the offices of Britain’s medical regulator was also used to encourage people to apply for the BBC scheme, according to reports. Posts now deleted.
“Applied,” said one user on popular anti-vaccine activist Telegram, who posted a response he had received from the BBC confirming his application to appear in the hearing had been received. Others on the channel, used to organizing anti-lockdown campaigns and opposing vaccines, said they would apply.
Since Question Time returned with live hearings last year, he has asked about people’s vaccination status when they apply online to take part in the hearing. This appears to have deterred those who refused to be injected from applying to appear on the show – meaning there were rarely any questions from unvaccinated people.
“There are still a significant number of UK citizens who are unvaccinated, particularly in certain areas and communities,” a BBC spokesperson said. “We think this is an interesting part of the debate worth discussing. Question Time always strives to discuss both sides of every argument. It’s about listening and understanding members of our audience. The BBC has always made the scientific consensus on vaccination very clear.”
The problem facing the BBC is how to find unvaccinated ‘ordinary’ members of the public, rather than obsessive anti-vaxx campaigners, and whether it is possible to distinguish between the two groups. The BBC also runs the risk of spreading dangerous medical misinformation to millions of viewers.
In a bid to weed out the most obsessive campaigners, the BBC has decided to employ its in-house disinformation specialists to help vet potential audience members, although it is unclear what criteria will be used.
Next week’s episode is filmed at a location in London, which has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and medical experts will sit on the panel to answer questions about vaccination. Rather than devoting an entire show to the topic of vaccination, as Question Time has done in the past on certain key topics, the discussions on vaccines will be treated as part of a broader range of issues.
Asked about the health concerns of inviting unvaccinated people into the public at a time when there are still 100,000 new confirmed cases of Covid every day, a BBC spokesman said they should still show proof of a recent negative test to gain access.
The decision to search for the unvaccinated comes amid an ongoing debate over what BBC impartiality really means – and whether every view should be heard on the public broadcaster. This month, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, David Jordan, tried to hammer out which viewpoints should be aired on the BBC during a parliamentary hearing, saying he opposed “the cancellation culture” and remained “committed to ensuring that views are heard from all kinds of perspectives”.
Jordan said everyone should expect their views to be appropriately represented by the national broadcaster – even if they think the Earth is flat. “It is essential for the BBC that we represent all points of view and give them due weight. Flat Earths won’t have as much space as people who believe the Earth is round, but very occasionally it may be appropriate to interview a flat Earth. And if a lot of people believed in the flat Earth, we would need to care more about it. »