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It's not 'unpatriotic' to report the news

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Adrian Warner | 09:57 UK time, Thursday, 18 November 2010

St George flag. Getty Images

All the recent accusations about the BBC's planned Panorama programme being "unpatriotic" towards England's 2018 World Cup bid reminds me of a moment during the 2012 Olympic bid campaign which I will never forget.

A few months after London's campaign had been hit by a similar Panorama investigation into alleged corruption in the International Olympic Committee, I was talking to a French TV journalist during a visit to rivals Paris.

"We've got all the same stuff that Panorama had, " he told me over a glass or red wine and brie. "But we were told not to use it because it would hamper the Paris bid."

"And you've just accepted that?" I asked. He shrugged his shoulders.

When we went to Singapore for the vote in July 2005, I will never forget the face of the same journalist just a few minutes after London beat Paris in the vote. He looked completely dejected and he couldn't look me in the eye.

He had sacrificed his journalistic principles for the "greater good" and it hadn't even worked.

When you've had your home phone tapped (as a foreign correspondent in Europe!), and had the Chinese secret police on your tail when reporting on the Beijing Olympics, you respect some of the wider freedoms we have as reporters in Britain.

I'm not saying the UK is perfect but in 24 years as a journalist, I've never been told not to write or broadcast something for the organisations I've worked for - even when I was at Associated Newspapers (Daily Mail owners), writing for the formidable former Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley.

Maybe Veronica recognised me as being as stubborn as she was but it is the duty of all journalists to report on what they see.

And please don't tell me everything has to be exclusive because all reporters use some information which has been published or broadcast before in order to communicate.

The ones who annoy me are the people who label old stuff with the word "exclusive".

The day we agree not to report what we see is the day we need to give up the job.


  • Comment number 1.

    What journalists often seem to forget is that there is a difference between having the freedom to publish whatever you want and having to deal with the consquences. Sometimes exercise of the freedom of speech is just plain stupid. Look at the leak that Prince Harry was in Afghanistan. What was gained by publishing that information, except to put the lives of those around him at still greatest risk than they were already. Often journalists are like the bad drivers who never have an accident but see a lot of them in their rear view mirrors!

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes dangnabbit, in a few exceptional circumstances the press shouldn't report on what they know, and in such circumstances I believe they are legally bound not to. If an irresponsible news outlet breaks such an embargo they should suffer the consequences. But corruption in FIFA is not a story which risks lives if reported.

    Also, don't get me wrong, I certainly think there are times when "news" stories (and I use that words quite wrongly) are not in the public interest and are nasty breaches of individual privacy with the sole aim of selling newspapers. The Triessman story is one such example and the Daily Mail rightly received a huge backlash from it.

    But allegations against FIFA, an organisation known for years to be corrupt, especially if they are new allegations, ARE in the public interest and SHOULD be reported. The IOC *chose* not to let the BBC investigation in 2004 harm London's bid, and FIFA can choose to act in a similarly mature manner (though I'm not holding my breath). That doesn't necessarily mean choosing England 2018, but it does mean judging the bid on its merits, not looking for petit retribution.

  • Comment number 3.

    My comments were aimed more at the last line of the article than at the revelations concerning FIFA. The day a journalist loses the ability balance revelation of information against the damage it may cause to those not directly involved is the day to quit. The information concerning Prince Harry could have been releaved after he returned thereby securing the same coverage for the issue and promoting thesame debate but without presenting any additional danger to his colleagues. A similar argument could be made about Panorama - is it right to reveal the information at all and is it right to reveal it at that time? They are separate questions and need separate consideration.

  • Comment number 4.

    Depends largely what revelations the BBC has. If England lose and it turns out the BBC has information which they should have made public before the vote, then the planned timing is certainly correct. If, on the other hand, the documentary is merely raking over old allegations then you start questioning the Beeb's wisdom. I don't know which it is, I haven't seen the documentary.

  • Comment number 5.

    Mr Warner

    If you think for one moment that phone tapping, electronic bugging and malware monitoring of your PC doesn't go on in this country, you're deluded.

    I can name 6 prominent organisations which bugged mine over the last 8 years. That excludes MI5/6, the police but does include the BBC, leading Premier League clubs, at least one registered charity and some major public sector organisations.

    None of them have a right to do it. All of them see it as 'part of the job'. So I wouldn't get too prissy about all this you know. Sure, the EU, the CIA and the Russians aren't too discriminating about who they say hello to electronically, but then again nor are the Aussies, the Chinese or the Arabs.

    There aren't any human rights to privacy in the modern world Mr Warner.

    And the sooner the BBC came clean about all of that, the better........

    I'd be most interested if I could also stipulate what 'part of their job was', as I'd like to see their faces when I said what it was live on national television..........

  • Comment number 6.

    No, the broadcasting of information relevant to the bid, damaging or otherwise, is not unpatriotic.

    What _is_ unpatriotic, however, is timing the release of that information so that it causes the maximum amount of possible damage to the bid and leaves very little time to rectify that damage. And I speak as a non-native, looking aghast as the BBC makes a decision on timing that is extremely regrettable, and wholly not understandable given that the revelations have been available for a long time (or so it seems).


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