The BBC has failed to respond to allegations of spreading fake news on its new disinformation division’s flagship podcast Marianna in Conspiracyland.
The BBC was given several opportunities to respond to allegations of fake news but, at the time of writing, has not. The claims concern alleged fake news spread by Disinformation and Social Media correspondent Marianna Spring about former UKIP MEP candidate and host of the Lotus Eaters podcast, Carl Benjamin.
In the very first instalment of BBC Radio 4’s Marianna in Conspiracyland podcast, which detailed the supposed radicalisation of people in the sleepy town of Totnes in Western England, Spring falsely claimed that Benjamin’s YouTube channel Sargon of Akkad is currently suspended by the platform. Although the British conservative political commentator is currently more active on his Lotus Eaters channel, his original YouTube channel is not blocked and is still occasionally used by Benjamin. The channel was reportedly demonetised by YouTube in 2019.
Spring then claimed that Mr Benjamin had travelled to Totnes as a part of his campaign for the European Parliament in 2019 with former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Although Yiannopoulos did appear with Benjamin in the town of Truro during the campaign, a four-hour live stream of the event in Totnes filmed by Benjamin does not show Yiannopoulos at the event in question.
The BBC’s disinformation correspondent went on to interview a Green Party councillor in Totnes, Georgina Allen, who claimed that “a year after the pandemic” Mr Benjamin returned to Totnes, at which point, she claims, half of the people who previously protested against him during his UKIP campaign “were now with him because they had been recruited into his way of thinking”.
However, Mr Benjamin firmly denies that he has ever returned to Totnes and there does not appear to be any corroborating evidence online of him making a second appearance in the small town.
I am disappointed to learn that that @mariannaspring is actively promoting disinformation about me on her podcast, at about 11:50 onwards. Here is a list of the demonstrable lies she has said about me.
1. My Youtube channel is not suspended. You can view it here:…
— Carl Benjamin (@Sargon_of_Akkad) June 12, 2023
The former UKIP candidate also denied allegations made by Spring that he had made “rape threats”, which as he noted on his Lotus Eaters podcast this week, is a criminal offence in England and therefore would have resulted in criminal charges if police determined that he had made such a threat.
It is likely that Spring was referencing a controversial joke made by Benjamin about Labour MP Jess Phillips, whom he said he “wouldn’t even rape”. Tactless as the joke may have been, there was a police investigation and no charges were ever brought forward.
Benjamin also refuted claims made by the BBC Verify correspondent of “engagement with white supremacists”, an assertion which she did not support with evidence in her podcast.
The Lotus Eaters host said that in response to the alleged disinformation spread about him, he had filed complaints with broadcasting regulator Ofcom and the BBC.
Ministry of Truth: BBC Unveils Disinformation Unit to Monitor ‘Conspiracy Theories’ and Alt Mediahttps://t.co/y1DkAAqAhW
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 23, 2023
In a statement provided to Breitbart London, Mr Benjamin said: “I’m rather shocked about all of this, to be honest. Not that the BBC would lie about me or anyone else, but about the scale and brazenness of the lie. Usually, they lie by omission, which allows them to use literal truths to tell an untrue story by excluding key facts which change the character of the tale. This allows for a degree of plausible deniability.
“However, in this case, they have completely fabricated an event for which there is no evidence. When I was on my MEP tour in Totnes, there were hours of video evidence. The protesters acted disgracefully, while the regular folk engaged in rigorous debate.
“The BBC claimed I had since returned to Totnes and had succeeded in radicalising half the town. This second visit never occurred; I have not been to Totnes since and there was no mass demonstration there in my favour. Nor would they be radicals if there had been.
“The BBC has invented a boogeyman to sustain a fever dream narrative on a subject about which many reasonable people have many reasonable concerns.
“I think they’re doing this deliberately to invalidate these reasonable concerns by unfairly painting anyone who holds them as some kind of extremist. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
Overwhelmed by how many are listening to Radio 4’s Marianna in Conspiracyland! Brilliant to see its a hit (including with trolls)
I expose radicalisation of UK conspiracy movement, investigating a conspiracy theory paper & exposing connections and harm. https://t.co/oWTj1hj59Q
— Marianna Spring (@mariannaspring) June 15, 2023
Despite being accused of spreading disinformation on the very podcast meant to dispel disinformation, the BBC and Marianna Spring have failed to respond to multiple emails from Breitbart London. Rather than engage on social media with the allegations from Mr Benjamin, Spring apparently blocked him on Twitter and claimed that her podcast had gained the attention of “trolls“.
Spring, whose upcoming book is entitled Among the Trolls: Notes From the Disinformation Wars, previously broke down in tears during an interview with the BBC about her experiences with being trolled on the internet, including allegedly by Twitter boss Elon Musk.
The millennial BBC correspondent, who cut her teeth on supposedly exposing anti-vaccine content, has seen a quick rise through the ranks of the legacy media. Spring was listed on Forbes’s ‘30 under 30‘ media list for Europe in 2021 and is now the face of the BBC’s “Verify’ disinformation unit.
The trolling in response to this – including misogynistic slurs, threatening and hateful messages – are just more proof of why investigating this is so important.
Welcome trolls and stay tuned for my latest Radio 4 podcast, more upcoming investigations – and Undercover Voters. https://t.co/mtMl46TT7B
— Marianna Spring (@mariannaspring) May 22, 2023
Following the launch of the division, the public broadcaster received heavy criticism, with many questioning if the left-liberal public broadcaster had the credibility to run such a fact-checking project. Spring responded to the backlash by blaming it on “trolls” and saying that comments on social media demonstrated the need for the BBC’s disinformation division.
In comments to Breitbart London, the head of Britain’s oldest conservative think tank, Bow Group Chairman Ben Harris-Quinney said: “Using criticism to justify publicly-funded investigations reads like a parody of a totalitarian regime.”
“The fact that Spring and the BBC appear to have done this with no sense of irony or self-awareness of how inappropriate these approaches are, for what is supposed to be an unbiased publicly funded media institution, shows how deep the rot is.”
‘Parody of a Totalitarian Regime’ BBC Disinfo Tsar Says Getting Trolled Justifies Investigating Public https://t.co/NiYJ9EZinD
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 26, 2023
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