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Responding to big stories at Radio 4

Sunday 28 June 2009, 21:07

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

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Duck House by Circulating

We've thrown things up in the air in recent days in a bid to respond to two big stories - MPs' expenses and the disputed Iranian election.

Last Thursday evening John Simpson did 'The Report' - our new Current Affairs strand. He spoke about what it was like reporting from Iran this month before he was evicted - but went much further by providing the depth of political analysis that you cannot get anywhere else on the BBC - and certainly not at this speed. The joy of radio. John has been reporting on Iran on and off for 30 years - so when he spoke about ex President Rafsanjani's role there was most of a lifetime's work involved in reaching his conclusion.

Three weeks ago Nick Robinson and I were talking after one of his interviews on Today about the expenses story. We were just chewing the fat. Nick was being self-conscious about what it felt like reporting it - how adrenalised, important and difficult it had been. So we cooked up a plan to do a 30 minute documentary about it - and to do it quickly. Nick and his producer Martin Rosenbaum set about it - in between Nick doing his daily job - and produced quite one of the best programmes - titled 'Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem' - we've broadcast since I got the job. I leave you to make your own judgements - but I thought it brought real insight into the difficulty of political reporting and analysis - and also included an interview with The Telegraph's editor - Will Lewis. That's the first time he's spoken in public since the paper hit the journalistic jackpot.

And this week - more Iran. In 2006 we ran a season of programmes on Iran - 'Uncovering Iran' which had as its centrepiece a 3 part series by Sir John Tusa (former Director of BBC World Service and a great Newsnight presenter) about the history of Iran with a lot on how and why so many Iranians despise Britain. John and his production team have updated the series and we will be repeating this new version on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week at 1100. It's good.

These programmes exemplify what makes Radio 4 what it is. The best of BBC talent doing things they couldn't do elsewhere on big stories and doing it brilliantly and rapidly - backed up with talented producers. I felt perhaps a little unseemingly proprietorial - but very proud.

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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 2.

    "Nick and his producer Martin Rosenbaum set about it - in between Nick doing his daily job - and produced quite one of the best programmes - titled 'Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem' - we've broadcast since I got the job."

    If you really believe this, why was it put out on a sunny-ish Sunday arvo during the Glastonbury festival when, er, nobody would be listening ??

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    Comment number 3.

    #2. At 10:45am on 29 Jun 2009, lordBeddGelert wrote:

    "If you really believe this, why was it put out on a sunny-ish Sunday arvo during the Glastonbury festival when, er, nobody would be listening ??"

    I would suspect that most of those attending the Glastonbury festival would reply "Radio for what" when asked if they ever listen to Radio Four! :-o

    Clue, more people didn't attended or listen/watch the goings on at Glastonbury than did, never mind the fact that Radio Four will be repeating the programme or that it's currently available via the BBC's catch-up service, the programme fitted into the long established R4 Sunday scheduling very well...

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    Comment number 4.

    Dear LBG I fear you have not clicked on the link in Mark's blog which will tell you .Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem' is repeated tonight 29/6 at 20.00 and of course on the iPlayer.

    I even believe that transcripts are available for some programmes but whether this new strand will be included I don't know.

    However it is not necessary to spoil your Sunday lunch or you pleasures in the mud at Glasto

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    Comment number 5.

    cping500 - Aha - that is information that might usefully have been part of the 'main article'. I'm afraid I wasn't at Glasto, so I can't really rebut 'boilerplated's point, but I strongly suspect that in recent years there has actually been a rather large overlap in the venn diagram of Radio 4 listeners and 'Glastonbury' regulars, as alluded to in this post by Tanya Gold...

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/gallery/2009/jun/28/glastonbury-festival-tanya-gold?picture=349481705

    Although I will leave you to speculate which Radio 4 programmes the 'fairies' most enjoy.

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    Comment number 6.

    "..John and his production team have updated the series and we will be repeating this new version on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week at 1100. It's good."

    Ah good. I hope it will be covering the fact we wrecked a democracy for oil interests then kept a brutal dictator in power (the Shah) with the aid of his CIA-trained SAVAK secret police who tortured and murdered thousands of dissidents.

    I also certainly hope the BBC will own up to broadcasting the "go code" for the coup. It's pretty astounding that the BBC were so directly involved in such a despicable act, but perhaps not so astounding that no BBC reporter has mentioned the BBC's involvement during the current Iran crisis.

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    Comment number 7.

    Sorry, Mark, good blog, but I have to raise something slightly off kilter....
    "Last Thursday evening John Simpson did 'The Report'" Just what is it on R4 these days with all this 'doing'? I wouldn't normally raise it but it seems to happen so much. One can write or read or post or shred or broadcast or any number of things relating to a report, what is actually 'doing it'?
    This isn't to pick out Mark as number one offender, but keep your ear open to the Today programme and hear how many times people just 'do' things. It drives me mad.... which in turn drives my wife mad... and we don't want that, so can we go back to correct and expansive English, perhaps?
    Oh dear, you're going to think I'm mad. Mind you, that's the kind of bag of worms one opens with blogs and comments and the such ;o)

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    Comment number 8.

    Will Lewis, the kettle, representing the Conservatives versus Nick Robinson, the pot, standing up for the Labour Party.

    Nick, who says he fancies being questioned as he thinks he should be held to account, then goes on to pose his own questions. Despite some misgivings, Nicks like the answers he gives to his own questions.

    Well that's all right then.

    All is good with the world after all. Nick can carry on speculating, gossiping, forecasting, judging, pontificating and generally bringing down politics in his time honoured way.

    No, Nick, surely its not so much 'how did David Cameron get away with it', it is surely a case of how do you get away with it.

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    Comment number 9.

    It was disappointing that Will Lewis did not expatiate on his reported phone call from the Prime Minister lasting 45 minutes! I thought Nick Robinson was right to raise the matter of how David Cameron got an easy ride. It was also interesting to note the public's acceptance that an MP should receive an allowance for a second home without regard to the size or value of the property.

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    Comment number 10.

    Just heard the Shell Niger Delta story- is there any chance you can put Shell's response online?

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    Comment number 11.

    You are right to be proud of Radio 4's output in many respects. However I do think that your news and current affairs teams consistently fail to spot what is going on at the time only to pile in and enthusiastically bayonet the wounded once the facts have become plain for all to see. The expenses regime was hardly a secret although clearly each individual's claims were not public. Similarly, while the credit boom was in full swing I never heard a single word challenging the view that some new paradigm had been invented even though it was clear to many that growth built on credit is unsustainable. The most obvious equivalent issue now is the government deficit, the reduction of which is clearly going to cause major pain for all of us for many years when it is eventually tackled. I have over the last couple of days heard a number of interviews with government ministers where interviewers have simply failed to interrogate a series of really tendentious assertions in this area. I know you are all nervous about impartiality but I really think as licence payers we have a right to expect a little bit more rigour and indeed aggression when you interview government, as well as Opposition, spokesmen.

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    Comment number 12.

    I thought the most interesting comment on 'Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem' came from Michael Howard when he said it had long been known that MPs were receiving large allowances - indeed.

    Purely by chance I found a file on my computer which I had downloaded four years ago from a government website - it listed of all the monies paid out to MPs. No wonder other newspapers refused to buy the material the Telegraph bought - they thought they already knew it!

    Had I studied the list carefully I probably would have worked out there was a maximum amount MPs could claim and whilst many claimed this maximum many didn't. And had I worked that out it should, of course, have caused me to wonder why?

    The amounts MPs claimed wasn't the story - that was already known - it was how they milked the system.

    I can't say I've been that shocked because I rather think most people given the chance would have milked the system - just as most people nowadays, given the chance, put their feet on seats.

    What has not been explained, however, is how did this system come about. Who is deciding on the maximum allowance? Do MPs decide annually? Is it indexed linked? Does some committee decide?

    Most of all I'd like to know how and who decided MPs could claim a monthly £400 food allowance? I am somewhat scandalized by that perk.

    Mise le meas,

    Ned

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    Comment number 13.

    Dear,Mr.Mark,
    Your programmes on Radio4Blog is covering all important world events.
    Nicely to be watched.The interview with The Telegraph Editor,and note on Revolutionry canges in Iran also widely welcomed.
    Still,you can broadcast on big nations,India,China and Russia.
    I would like to know more Greek!s historical and philosophical personalities on more times.
    Happy going,happily analysing and putting goodness of your schedules to my head.

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    Comment number 14.

    Yesterdays Program had comments about the level of government borrowing.
    Did the figures include the values of PFI borrowing which are currently unseen but will have to be disclosed as government borrowing under the proposed EU new accounting regulations?

    If it didnt could we have the real picture of just how much debt the labour party have got us into.

    Thanks

    SFC

 

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