If the BBC thinks Novak Djokovic’s antivax nonsense is more important than war, it’s finally lost the plot

According to reports at the weekend, Russia planned to invade Ukraine on Wednesday. So on Tuesday morning we rushed to turn on the news, fearing we were just 24 hours from armed conflict. The BBC, however, was focusing on a story it considered even more urgent than the looming outbreak of World War Three.

A tennis player had spoken to Amol Rajan.

News of Mr Rajan’s interview with Novak Djokovic led BBC bulletins on TV and radio. Of the five most prominent stories on the BBC News website, meanwhile, four were about the interview. And, judging from their headlines, all four were more or less identical. Headline of story one: “Djokovic Breaks Silence Over Vaccine Refusal”. Headline of story two: “Djokovic Willing to Miss Wimbledon to Avoid Jab.” Headline of story three: “Djokovic: I Would Miss Tournaments Rather Than Get Jab.”

Thanks, BBC. I think we just about got the picture. The latest word on Russia, meanwhile, only just squeaked in, as the fourth item from the top of the page. 

It was bizarre. It wasn’t even as if Djokovic had said anything new. He was simply reiterating his refusal to have a Covid jab. But we already knew he didn’t want to have a Covid jab, because he’d been forced to miss the Australian Open as a result. This story had originally broken more than a month earlier. It was reasonably widely covered at the time. So it seems unlikely that many viewers, listeners or readers had forgotten.

But to the BBC, that didn’t matter. What made his comments important – in the BBC’s eyes, at least – was that it was the BBC he’d made them to. Had he made the same comments to ITV, Sky News, Channel 4 or anyone else, the BBC would never have given them greater prominence than the threat of an actual world war.

So, on the BBC’s part, this decision was pure vanity. Pure ego. Of course, every media organisation on Earth loves to make a big song and dance of its scoops. And as the BBC a) gets so few of them, and b) is currently even more desperate than usual to justify the licence fee, it’s bound to make a bigger song and dance than most. 

But to prioritise an interview with a tennis player on a day like Tuesday, when most licence fee payers were slightly more concerned about the possibility of thermonuclear apocalypse, was frankly bewildering. Even insulting.

Imagine if the BBC had behaved like this in September 1939.

“I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is…”

“We interrupt this message from Mr Chamberlain to broadcast a world-exclusive interview with Mr Fred Perry on why he refuses to use Smedley’s Patented Cough Syrup.”

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