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Tuesday, November 30, 2010 

Scum-watch: Taking the Fifa line on Panorama.

There's something almost wearingly inevitable about the Sun criticising the BBC for daring to broadcast last night's Panorama on corruption within Fifa, coming as it did only 3 days before the body decides on the host of the 2018 World Cup. After all, this is the same paper that back in March claimed Basil Brush was biased against the Conservatives, in one of its most insane outbursts since the days of the attacks on the "loony left" in the 80s.

As only a paper owned by an Australian-American can be, the Sun is nothing if not cynically patriotic. It doesn't then matter much if our bid never had much of a chance in the first place, the idea that even the possibility of "bringing football home" could be put in jeopardy by an outbreak of investigative journalism is wholly repugnant. At least, this would be the position the paper would take if it could; unfortunately, the Sun's sister the Sunday Times only 6 weeks ago exposed two members of the committee that will decide on which country hosts the tournament as either agreeing to take money in return for a vote or asking for a payment which would influence it.

Not even the Sun could be brazen enough to ignore entirely the actions of their fellow prisoners in Wapping, and so this puts the paper in a rather difficult position. How to criticise the BBC without coming across as completely and utterly hypocritical? Well, it's easy as it happens. Just misrepresent the programme broadcast entirely, as the Sun's article does. Both in the main body of the text and the "explainer" panel it claims that Panorama's accusations were either "re-hashed" or contained "few fresh allegations". While the programme did deal with previously aired claims of corruption within Fifa, Issa Hayatou's name had not been raised before in connection with what is known as the International Sports and Leisure affair. Likewise, while Jack Warner previously donated $1 million to charity after Panorama showed he had sold 2006 World Cup tickets to touts, the claim that he tried to do exactly the same thing again this year, only for the deal to fall through, was new. Both Hayatou and Warner will be among the 23-strong committee voting on the various bids. Worth noting is that through portraying Panorama in such a way, the paper is taking exactly the same line on the programme as Fifa themselves.

The paper's leader doesn't even bother to suggest that Panorama's allegations were a unnecessary dredging up of the past, or even that as the claims don't involve specific accusations of vote buying that they're irrelevant to the bidding process. Instead it just concentrates on the timing (temporary link, leader is quoted in full below):

WELL, that should do our chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup a power of good.

The BBC chose last night of all nights to accuse FIFA members of corruption - as they gathered in Zurich for Thursday's vote.

Don't the Beeb want England to win?

The timing of last night's Panorama TV investigation, targeting the very officials deciding England's fate, seemed calculated to inflict maximum damage on our bid.

Legitimate inquiries earlier by The Sunday Times, a sister paper of The Sun, have already revealed dodgy dealings involving FIFA members, for which two were suspended.

The BBC could have shown its film any time. Why pick the worst possible moment for English football?

Dismayed England bid chiefs fear our prospects could be wrecked.

Is this what we pay our licence fee for?

The reason for the timing is simple, as Tom Giles explains over on the BBC Editors blog. The key information behind the new allegations was only obtained in the last month. As for the argument the Sun appears to be making without actually setting it out, that the BBC should have delayed it until after the vote, if we ignore the risible claim that the corporation has deliberately set out to sabotage the English bid, isn't this exactly the time that such revelations should be made? It might not be exactly earth-shattering to learn that individuals within Fifa may well be corrupt, yet the very fact that those on the body which decides whom to award the tournament to have been alleged to have either taken back-handers or tried to sell tickets on the black market should cast into doubt their ability to make a decision based on the merits of the respective bids. Also of note is how the host country has to enact special legislation for the duration of the tournament, protecting the chosen sponsors, who also have to be given tax exempt status along with Fifa. Then again, seeing as Rupert Murdoch has in the past tried to avoid paying his fair share of tax in this country it's not surprising that his papers make nary a peep about such demands. The public, as the likes of the Sun would normally doubtless protest, have a right to know such details ahead of the decision being made, rather than after it.

In any case, the idea that the Sunday Times investigation, denounced by Fifa's "ethics committee"
for sensationalism and twisting the facts has been forgotten because it happened more than 3 days before the bid is made is nonsense. Also worth remembering is the Mail on Sunday's truly unnecessary publication of an indiscreet conversation the then FA chairman had, which involved unprovable claims that the Russians had been bribing referees for the Spanish, who in return would vote for their bid for the 2018 cup. The Mail, strangely, came in for very little actual criticism from its rivals who instead focused on "rescuing" the bid. Dog doesn't always not eat dog in what used to be known as Fleet Street, but what is clear is that the right-wing press always bites the BBC, regardless of how it would never allow such concerns expressed in the Sun's editorial, even patriotic ones, to influence when and what they decide to publish.

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And what a nice arse-licking, begging front page too.


It is pathetic, isn't it? This proud paper, the one that wants to put the Great back into Great Britain, going down on bended knee and begging a bunch of crooks to give us the kind of piss-poor spectacular South Africa saw this year. The Sun's deference towards certain kinds of power remains astonishing.

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