The BBC did not “donate” money to the Conservative party

Published: 30th Nov 2019

In brief

Claim

The BBC made donations to the Conservative party.

Conclusion

These weren’t donations, they were appearance fees paid to individual MPs. Many media outlets pay fees to politicians from across the political spectrum.

In the past few days claims have circulated on social media that the BBC donated money to the Conservative party. This seems to be based on a website post referring to a now-offline website listing the declarations of financial interest made by Conservative MPs.

This is wrong. The sums of money in question are not “donations” to the Conservative party. They appear to be fees paid directly to the individual MPs for appearing on BBC programmes. 

Similar fees are also paid by other major broadcasters and national newspapers, and they are paid to politicians from many parties.

What’s the story behind the claims?

The data comes from a website called searchthemoney.com, which is no longer online (although the Twitter account still exists and some of its pages have been archived on the Wayback Machine). 

The original post says that this website was “created” by the Conservatives themselves; however, according to reports at the time it was actually set up by left-wing activists. It took data from sources like the Electoral Commission and the parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests to show sources of money going to Conservative MPs.

The archived pages for the BBC from March 2016 show a total of £19,324.95 being paid to 17 Conservative MPs (it’s not clear from the archived page what time period this covers, although other evidence suggests it is taken from some point in 2014). The highest paid is Rory Stewart MP, who is recorded as having received almost £10,000 from the BBC. 

But if you look at Mr Stewart’s actual pages on the register of financial interests, the reason for this becomes clear. For example, he recorded two sums of £4,100 in January 2014—these were listed as “Payments from BBC for documentary”. Mr Stewart presented the BBC Two documentary “Border Country: The Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland” in 2014 (one of several documentaries he has fronted for the broadcaster).

If you look through the declared interests of other listed MPs, you can also see that they list appearance fees for programmes, from Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appearances on “Any Questions?” to Glyn Davies’s appearances on the BBC Welsh Language programme “Pawb a’i Farn”.

Such payments aren’t limited to the BBC. The original post links to a PDF from 2014 listing all the “donors” recorded on the website, which again shows the BBC as having paid over £19,000. But the same document also records ITV as having paid over £31,000, and Sky News as having paid £1,700.

Newspapers were also listed, including payments to Conservative MPs totalling over £10,000 from the Guardian, and over £2,000 from the Mirror, neither of which has traditionally been seen as a Conservative-supporting outlet.

And the BBC’s payments to politicians aren’t limited to Conservative MPs. For example, during the same period Diane Abbott lists several thousand pounds in fees from the corporation due to her role co-presenting the BBC political show “This Week”.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because the BBC did not donate money to the Conservative party.

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