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Talk about Newsnight

Newsnight

The James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture

  • Jeremy Paxman
  • 24 Aug 07, 07:30 PM

Never mind the scandals: what’s it all for?

paxo203.jpgOh dear. What a terrible trade we work in. Blue Peter is bent. Five is a faker. Richard and Judy’s competitions give a glorious new meaning to their slogan ‘You say, we pay.’ (They did, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.) Big Brother gets castigated for being an exploitative freak show. (Sorry, what’s the story there, then?) The ITV press office misrepresents a documentary. Channel Four’s Born Survivor Bear Grylls turns out to need Room Service. Even Children in Need, and Comic Relief, turn out to be guilty of something worse than insufferable smugness. The Prime Minister is mad at us. Even the Queen is cross. And that great Alpha Male, Gordon Ramsay can’t even catch his own fucking fish.

Now, some of these so-called scandals are just nonsense: the shock of discovering that Griff Rhys Jones isn’t standing on a mountaintop for the title sequence of his latest series is one example: I can exclusively reveal that Newsnight’s old backdrop of a London skyline was a painting and that the famous Panorama slogan about being ‘a window on the world’ didn’t mean it was a pane of glass with a metal handle. Other of the attacks will blow over. Some are wilful misunderstanding. And some are just part of the weather. We do not, for example, need to worry too much about being condemned by newspapers which reprint the foreign holiday snaps of a short-sighted nightclub bouncer to tell us there’s a Great White Shark lurking in the sea off Cornwall, and then providing useful tips on how to avoid being eaten (such as ‘don’t clap your hands and bark like a seal’.)

But this needs saying, and it needs saying quite clearly. There is a problem. Potentially, it is a very big problem. It has the capacity to change utterly what we do, and in the process to betray the people we ought to be serving. Once people start believing we’re playing fast and loose with them routinely, we’ve had it.

And the problem is not going to be addressed until senior people in this industry have the courage to come out and state quite clearly state what television is for. What I say tonight is my own ideas, not the views of the BBC. I don’t think it will do for senior figures in this industry to stay hunkered down, occasionally lashing out at young people in the business or setting up inquiries of one sort or another. What’s needed is a manifesto, a statement of belief.

Let me say right now that some of the things of which we stand accused are contemptible. I can see no circumstances at all under which you can justify defrauding the public on a premium rate phone line. In fact, I can’t quite see why there aren’t grounds for prosecution. And, frankly, I find it pretty hard to believe some of the television bosses when they say they had no idea what was going on. I know people who worked on ITV Play who told me the best part of a year before the scandal how bothered they were by what was happening. Whoever was responsible should be sacked.

But in a way, that’s the easy part. My worry is really about the bigger picture. And I have to say that it seems to me things haven’t been much helped by they way they’ve been handled. We’ve had the preposterous spectacle of some of the most senior figures in broadcasting running around like maiden aunts who’ve walked in on some teenage party, affecting shock and disbelief at what they’ve heard. It simply won’t wash for senior figures in the industry to blame our troubles on an influx of untrained young people: the ITV Alzheimer’s documentary and the trailer for the series about the Queen were made by a couple of the most venerable figures in the business.
The question we have to ask ourselves is, is there something rotten in the state of television, some systemic sickness, that renders it inherently dishonest? But the question behind that one is simply, What Is Television For?
To take the first question first: is television inherently dishonest? Of course it’s not. The question is like asking do cars kill people? It rather depends who’s driving. Right now the impression is being given that the only thing real on television is the cellulite on How to Look Good Naked.

We should start with some acknowledgements, the first of which is that all television is artifice to some degree. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. Even the news: when we see a reporter in waders broadcasting live from a flooded street, do we honestly think the whole town is underwater, and with it the OB truck? Every time you stick a noddy into an interview, that’s artifice. Even the live television interview itself is artifice.

The key thing is that the audience have to be able to have confidence in us to show them something which, while being manufactured, is a fair representation of the true state of affairs. That does not demand that things aren’t edited – or even that interviewees are not challenged or helped to express their views clearly. It demands that we can be trusted to handle the resulting material honestly. Lose that, allow the impression to get out that we can’t be trusted, and we’re throwing away the one commodity which makes our work worthwhile.

Now, apart from a brief and undistinguished stint on Radio Brighton and a less than stellar period as a newsroom sub, I have spent all my working life in television. I went into it because it was exciting, because it was as creative as I could manage once I realised I didn’t have the talent to write novels, because I conned myself that I wasn’t really starting work. And, in particular, because I got turned down for every other job I applied for.

I have never regretted it, for a number of reasons. Because I work with clever, talented and funny people. Because it never really seems like work. And, most of all, because I think this medium matters.

My point is this: if we allow the belief to take hold that the medium as a whole is guilty as charged, for it to be reduced to the abject, commercial amorality of much of the worldwide media, British television won’t be worth working in. We should all get out and do something more worthwhile, like selling timeshares or dumping toxic waste on poor countries in Africa. If we’re going to stay here, we have to rediscover the purpose of this medium.

I once asked Tim Gardam, when he was editor of Newsnight – before he went on to run Channel Four – what people like us did before television was invented.

“Oh that’s easy,” he said, “we went into the church.”

There’s something in this. In the old days the Church offered young people who weren’t going to inherit the family estate or go into the army the chance of a comfortable, if not particularly well-paid, occupation which didn’t oblige them to get their hands dirty and gave them an ‘access all areas’ pass through the land. Much the same awaits television producers and researchers now. We could go on: the skulduggery inside contemporary media organisations is every bit as pervasive as anything in Trollope. And there’s the uncomfortable sense that for some people events have no meaning unless they are somehow sanctified by the presence of television: how else are we to explain those people queueing for a DNA test to establish whether their sister may be their mother-in-law on confessionals like the Jeremy Kyle Show?

But the broader comparison is the way that the media have come to occupy a very similar role to that once performed by nineteenth century clergy. Edmund Burke is supposed to have coined the expression ‘the Fourth Estate’ when he talked of the three Estates in parliament; the aristocracy, the Church and the commoners, and then pointed out that the reporters in the Gallery had more power than all of them. This was an absurd exaggeration then but it is much less of one now. In twenty-first century political life the aristocracy counts for nothing, and the church not for much. In effect there are two estates that count, the popularly elected and the self-appointed.

When I was asked to give this lecture – and I realised I couldn’t wriggle out of it, as I’d wriggled out of it before, (PETER BARRON) I thought I knew what I wanted to talk about. It was about the relationship between those two estates, the media and political life. Broadcasting has utterly changed the way that politics is conducted in Britain. And then, a few weeks later, Tony Blair nicked my subject, in a speech at the Reuters Institute in Oxford in which he talked about us being a pack of feral beasts. His analysis is the most sustained, high-profile critique of what we’re about, and I’m going to deal with what he had to say – and what’s become of television news - later. Blair’s focus was on news, but what he identified as the cause of the trouble applies right across television. In a nutshell, he defined the source of the problem as hugely increased competition, which makes impact by far the most important consideration in broadcasting, because impact gives competitive edge. But no sooner had he made his speech than the series of scandals I mentioned earlier began going off, like a series of Bonfire Night fireworks.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that what links all the scandals – what is the defining problem of contemporary television – is trust: can you believe what you see on television, does television treat people fairly, is it healthy for society? There’s a real danger now either that we lose trust. Or that in attempting to regain it we retreat into such a mind-numbing literalism that we neutralise the imaginative capacity of the medium. I heard the other day of a production company which is sending its producers and researchers on a re-education course in which they’re instructed that if an interviewee does not say on camera what they have said in research, they may not be reminded or encouraged to repeat what they said previously. It would, they were told, be construed as coaching witnesses. This is ludicrous.

And I am not entirely convinced by the spectacle of senior figures in this industry walking around like some order of medieval self-flagellating monks offering pre-emptive cringes to all and sundry. What we need instead is a clear, unambiguous statement of ambition.

Before we can do that we need to recognise is how the world in which we operate has changed.
Firstly, I would modify what Tony Blair said about competition. As everyone knows, in the last quarter century we’ve gone from three television channels to hundreds. Goody, goody, lots of jobs. Lots more sponsors for tables at those self-regarding awards ceremonies. I’m afraid, though, that it comes at a price. The truth is this: the more television there is, the less any of it matters. Once upon a time people used to console each other after some gargantuan on-air shambles with the words ‘ah well, it’s only television’. It was supposed to give some sense of consolation – at least no-one was dead. But it wasn’t really meant. Nowadays you could say it and mean it. This is the key characteristic of the current climate: there is a vast amount of stuff out there. Ubiquity is the mother of indifference.

And as we all also know, in the digital age, that problem is going to get worse. We have already entered a world in which, though sites like Youtube, anyone can publish anything. It’s removed the magic from production. The more familiar people become with the medium – like the boy in the jam factory who didn’t eat the stuff because he knew what went into it – the more sceptical they’re likely to be.

As far as the big broadcasters are concerned, the sad truth is that, apart from soap-operas, there is now hardly a programme with which a broad audience has a regular date. Dr Who is a glorious exception, as is the cleverly produced new series of the X factor. But the reason beleaguered bosses at the BBC, for example, keep trotting out the example of Planet Earth as a reason for the organisation’s existence is precisely that it is so rare.

Secondly, once the audience is able to watch television at a time, and in a style of its own choosing, the authority of the broadcaster is immediately undermined. Things like the iPlayer, just as much as the file-sharing websites mean it is no longer some scheduler telling people when something is available, it is the viewer deciding what they want to watch when they want to watch it. It is a subtle but significant change in the balance of power.

Thirdly, the decline of almost all audiences means that no one programme, or organisation any longer has the natural authority of dominance. (And a company’s ability to produce a soap-opera which does well in the ratings does not enhance the authority of its current affairs programmes.)

Fourthly, television is now encountering something which politicians have had to live with for years. The weather has changed. We no longer live in a time when trust was axiomatic. The crisis of confidence in television reflects the crisis of trust in politics: the old ‘we know best’ culture – in which producers affected a patrician concern to enlighten the poor dumb creatures who were their viewers won’t wash any longer.

But the most important change, it seems to me, is the philosophy which underpins what we do.
Take one case. The biggest brouhaha of the summer was the fuss over the misleading editing of the trailer for RDF’s documentary for the BBC about the Queen. Let’s be realistic. Ten years or so ago the BBC wouldn’t have dreamed of farming out a documentary about a year in the life of the Queen to an independent best-known for such seminal works as Wife Swap. There’d have been a producer like Eddie Mirzoeff, a cameraman like Philip Bonham-Carter, and an immensely ponderous production process. The thing would have lumbered on through endless meetings with royal liaison people, aspired to a secret screening with a lady in waiting or two, and been generally badly up itself. But it was a clear, controllable operation. Instead of which, what happens? An independent negotiates access to Buckingham Palace and then sells the project to the BBC. The BBC insists upon another company exec producing the series, the thing is filmed by a young one-man band, RDF contract a more experienced producer to put together his mountain of rushes, the BBC changes it mind about how many programmes it wants, and then the production company re-edits a bit of tape for showing at a festival, to drum up foreign sales to make a turn on the whole project. You begin to see how things could have gone wrong.

I am, emphatically, not saying there was some Golden Age, because that’s pointless. After all, there are some people here old enough to remember the television of that time. Like the White Heather Club. But there was something qualitatively different about much of the medium. The useful thing about the example of the Queen is the way it demonstrates the changing imperatives, the variety of operators, the confused lines of accountability, the fact that money intrudes at every stage.

Now this is new. For most of the media, most of the time, the motivation has always been pretty simple: you grab as much of the potential audience as possible, in order that you can screw the maximum amount of money out of them. Television was different because those who made it had a different sense of intention. In those more innocent days – and it applied to both the BBC and the commercial sector, producers made programmes because they were passionately engaged with the world and wanted to communicate what they’d found out. Too much of the time now they simply pick things from the world which look as if they might make good television, regardless of whether they do anything other than meet the demands of a format. To put it simply, people at the top are less concerned with content and a lot more concerned with bottom lines. There are too many people in this industry whose answer to the question what is television for? is to say ‘to make money.’

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the restructuring of the industry which the Tories began and Labour has continued. The BBC was big and lumbering and arrogant, and plenty of the independents are lean, and quick and creative. But the dynamic shifted. Those reforms also removed from ITV obligations to produce all sorts of programming which was once deemed to be a public good. Instead of great regional companies with distinguished records – Granada Television being a case in point – we have one amorphous mass. Tonight with Trevor Macdonald is most definitely not World in Action. Then came the retreat from children’s programming. One by one the public service requirements are being abandoned. Given the chance, who seriously doubts that ITV would abandon much of its regional broadcasting? I’m not really blaming ITV: once you treat television as if it’s no different to running a fast-food empire, of course commercial judgements rule. But who has confidence that news and current affairs will survive even on Channel 4 in the digital age without a regulator’s enforcement? And the only way to stiffen the regulator’s backbone is to ask them to define what, precisely, is television for.

The difficulty is that I see precious little evidence that anyone is grappling with this question. In fact, I don’t see much evidence anyone knows which way is up. Or to put it another way, it’s not that the television industry doesn’t have a compass. It’s that too often it doesn’t even seem sure any longer that North exists.

There has been a catastrophic, collective loss of nerve.

To go back to the comparison with the Church, too often the medium seems like the Vatican in one of those periods of medieval complacency. The cardinals of our trade are more interested in selling indulgences and keeping the estate intact than they are in articulating qualitative judgements about what’s good, what’s bad, which programmes matter, and which don’t.

Instead we have television executives behaving like politicians. One of New Labour’s tricks was to commission polling evidence and focus groups to find out what people wanted. And then to offer it to them.
Television has gone much the same way. Too often it seems that the people at the top of this industry no longer ask themselves what they ought to be using this uniquely powerful medium for. Instead of seeking to enlighten the audience, they set out to second-guess them. It won’t be long before we discover what politicians have discovered: if you spend your time telling people what you think they want to hear, pretty soon you lose their respect.

Television and politics are facing the same challenge: how do you connect? Which brings me to the question of news.

News is the most important element in the overall ecology of television. It is the canary in the miner’s cage. If and when – and I sincerely hope it’s never – people begin to trust television news as much as they trust many of the newspapers, then we’re in trouble.

But I thought the way we responded to Tony Blair’s speech was pretty pathetic. Again, let’s be frank. These two trades, politics and media have a great deal in common. Both deal in words and images, both involve a contract with the public based upon fairly explicit promises. And both are trades best practised by people who aren’t over-encumbered with a sense of their own frailty. We are also, of course, both down there with estate agents and car dealers when it comes to public affection and trust. Look at the charts: producers do rank just above paedophiles. Just.

By and large, the response to Blair’s attack just pressed the F12 key. Yah booh. You’re a politician. We’re media yahoos. Get over it.

Of course, the attack all seemed a bit rich, coming from a government which took the media more seriously – and tried to control it more effectively – than any previous administration. I remember once being in Number Eleven Downing Street waiting to do an interview with Gordon Brown, and a side door from Number 12 opening. In previous governments, Number Twelve was where the Chief Whip had his office. Now, as it swung back I was astonished to see the place had been taken over by what seemed to be a fibre-optic version of a Victorian counting house - a squad of young people sitting at rows of desks, on the phone bending the ears of journalists. At the top – can he really have been sitting at a higher desk? - that’s certainly how I think I remember it – sat the brooding figure of Alastair Campbell. The scene showed how thoroughly priorities had changed: where once government used the room to control and discipline its MP’s in parliament it now used it to try something similar with the media. If you read Alastair Campbell’s diaries – which will turn out to be such a gold mine for future…. psychiatrists – you get the first hand version. This was an administration so obsessed with its own PR that the man hired to handle it is even drafting the resignation letters of people who quit the government as a matter of principle. My own theory about why the diaries are only 789 pages long is that he ran out of expletives to use to describe the media. But the fact he came loathe the trade he had once practised shouldn’t blind us to the fact the may have a point or two.

In his speech, which managed to avoid the words wanker, prat, shit and the like – obviously not drafted by Alastair - Blair admitted that a vast amount of the work of his government – perhaps too much - had been devoted to handling the media. He justified it by claiming this was because we in the media pay little attention to what goes in places like parliament because we’re obsessed by impact. In a choice between impact and accuracy, he said, impact wins. Scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down. He went on to accuse us of using extravagant language: every problem’s a crisis, policies don’t run into difficulty, they end up in tatters. We see everything in black and white, and have given up separating fact from comment. “We are” – and this a direct quote “all being dragged down by the way that the media and public life interact.”

Now we could despatch some of these ideas quite quickly. We do not need to take seriously complaints about the marginalising of parliament from a Prime Minister who could hardly be bothered to turn up there much of the time. Nor need we concern ourselves with complaints about trivialisation of cabinet government from a man whose cabinet meetings could last less time than an edition of Ready Steady Cook. We do not need lectures about cynicism from an administration which employed people who believed that September 11th was a good day to bury bad news. Most of all, we do not need homilies about destroying people’s reputations from an administration on whose watch Dr David Kelly was driven to suicide.

But I found the media’s response – and particularly the response of the television industry - to the Blair challenge pretty depressing. Hardly anyone engaged with the substance of the criticisms – of our triviality, our short-sightedness, our preoccupation with conflict. The immediate and almost universal reaction was not to examine the charge sheet, but to utter a blanket plea of ‘not guilty’, usually followed by well, you misled us about WMD, as if that somehow entitles us to say whatever we like. Well, it won’t do.

There was plenty wrong with Tony Blair’s speech. To talk about the media being ‘feral beasts’ was weird, because, as we all know, feral either means untamed, or it means to run wild, as if they were once tamed. But surely we ought to be untamed? The alternative is to be some sort of poodle.

There’s a story in Simon Armitage’s All Points North, a memoir of his life in Yorkshire, where he was probation officer, of a home visit to see the mother of a young offender on a run-down housing estate. He found the tattered house, with an enormous half-wild Alsatian dog running around the overgrown front garden.

The mother answered the door, the Alsatian pushed past her into the house, and the probation officer and mother sat down to a cup of tea. Ten minutes into the conversation, the dog took itself off into the corner of the room and relieved itself. Copiously. The Probation Officer is first appalled, then decides to use the dog as a way into the question of the delinquent son. He plucks up the courage to ask the mother: isn’t there anything she could do to control the dog?

To which the woman replied. ‘But I thought it was your dog.’
You can imagine the story, if it were told in Downing Street, becoming some laboured metaphor about the relationship between Probation Officers and offenders being like that between spin doctors and the media. But to me the hero of the story’s quite clear. It’s the Alsatian.

What was wrong with Blair’s speech was that instead of attacking the Alsatian he went for the Independent. This was a pathetic target. If the problem’s a feral Alsatian, don’t kick the neighbour’s toy poodle instead. It was also foolish, because if any paper chooses not to be part of the pack, it’s the Indie.

But to suggest that just because he picked the wrong example the whole complaint is – as Alastair Campbell (how we miss him!) would put it – ‘bollocks’ or ‘crap’ or something similarly cerebral, won’t do. Something has changed - and changed profoundly - in the way that public life works.

Just look at this progression. Once radio and television reported speeches in parliament. Then we asked Cabinet ministers what they would like to say to the nation. Then we cross-examined them. Now the BBC political editor comes on after they’ve appeared, to pass judgement on whether their performance was convincing.
And yes, I do appreciate that people like me are seen by some of Tony Blair’s cheerleaders as part of the ruination of this relationship. I want to say three things about that. One, that I do genuinely believe there ought to be a chasm between journalists and politicians. I intend no criticism of colleagues in the lobby who’ve come to a different conclusion. But that’s what I think. (I do not, incidentally – and I am heartily sick of this quote of being attributed to me – think they’re all lying bastards. I never said it. And they’re not. Although I do think we should always be very sceptical.)

In fact I fear there’s a dreary tendency on all our parts whenever a story breaks to address it by asking for an interview with the minister responsible. I’ll give you an example. When we learned a few weeks ago that ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ meant that thousands of prisoners were going to be released early, it was an opportunity to have a sensible, grown-up discussion about why we lock so many people up in this country, what we do with them while they’re there, and whether releasing them a few weeks early makes any difference. That discussion might have involved people who know about penal policy, maybe a prison governor, and perhaps a thoughtful ex –con. Instead of which what did we end up with on Newsnight (and elsewhere)? The latest prison minister and his conservative shadow. Why do we do that? Because we’re too close to Westminster politics, and because when the production desk is being run ragged, looking for guests, the one thing you can be sure about is a politician’s willingness to spout confidently.

And secondly, on the subject of confrontational interviews, not every interview needs to be like that. In fact most of them aren’t – just the usual journalistic interrogatives: who, when, where, why, how. In the small proportion which are more contentious the way to avoid confrontation is pretty simple. You just answer the question.
But I’m not going to devote the rest of this lecture to attempting to justify what I do, because I want to engage with a slightly bigger picture.

I’d like you to imagine a Prime Minister who has more powers than any other in the entire twentieth century: powers to order his citizens to go into battle, to order industries to stop of start production, powers even to seize public property. He does this with little serious public opposition. And in his entire period in office he holds not a single news conference.

It is unimaginable. Yet it is true.

The Prime Minister was Winston Churchill. The only occasion on which he held a press conference was on December 23rd 1941. He was visiting Washington. Roosevelt belonged to a different political culture. He persuaded a baffled Churchill to undergo the ordeal. The transcript in the Roosevelt papers reads as follows:
“The President. ‘And so I will introduce the Prime Minister. I wish you’d stand up for one minute and let them see you.’” Churchill then stands on a chair and takes a dozen or so questions from the reptiles, almost all of whom address him as ‘sir’, and not one of whom follows up his original inquiry with any persistence or repetition. Occasionally, perhaps because he genuinely was going deaf, perhaps to give himself time to think, Churchill says he can’t hear the question, and it is repeated, slowly. At the end, the Prime Minister is thanked by the press corps.

That one occasion apart – and that was an event into which he’d been lured by his host – I can find scarcely any evidence that the greatest political leader of the last hundred years ever chose to talk directly to the media. Odd, really, when you think that he’d once been happy to put the word ‘journalist’ in his passport, and showed that steely mercenariness which is the pre-requisite of any successful freelance: he even tried to sell speeches he’d made in parliament to an American media organisation. What an example to us all. But underneath it all, he regarded us with disdain.

How very different to our own dear leaders today, who will play tennis or head footballs in their business suits, ride bicycles, kiss babies, say that today is not the day for sound-bites, but the hand of history is on their shoulder, and so on and so on.

In those days, the media knew their place. Even ten years ago in this country, if you were asked about the media, you thought of your own newspaper, or weekly magazine, or favourite television channel. But if you ask the question nowadays you get an entirely different answer: the media are – is - an entity in its own right, a collective being with its own distinct nervous system. It eats, it breathes, it excretes. It has distinct pleasure centres in its brain and it has an awful lot of problems with its eyesight.

Just look at the growth in news. In the year before Blair took office (1995-6), the BBC alone broadcast just over five thousand hours of news and current affairs (5,270). Ten years later, the figure had risen to twelve and a half thousand hours (12,485) In this environment, politics is increasingly played out in the media. Sometimes it seems that politics is only about the media. The media are certainly the amniotic fluid in which public life swims. For ten years we have seen ministers announcing policies on radio and television instead of in parliament, and watched them cross-examined about them on radio and television instead of in parliament. Gordon Brown says he’ll change this way of doing things. Let’s wait and see.

The basic charge sheet against us from Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell is as follows. Firstly, that we behave like a herd. Secondly that we have a trivial and collective judgement. Thirdly, that we prefer sensation to understanding. I’m sorry to say, but I think there’s something in all of these arguments. Takes the question of herd – or pack – like behaviour. This was not a criticism made when the Blair government began, when the herd collectively gave the impression he could do no wrong. He liked that. Before that, of course, we had collectively believed that the Major government was the Downing Street outpost of the Keystone Cops. In time, the worm turned for the Blair regime, too. Then the Blair government decided pack behaviour was a bad thing. Alastair Campbell tells me that he came to believe that, ‘News was only news if it was bad news for the government.’ So, he claims, the Olympic bid was consistently reported as something that was sure to fail. Government White Papers were discounted before they published – not surprising when we’d already been told was going to be in them – and news was the presentation of opinions about them. Reporting became increasingly more opinion and less analysis, as a consequence of which – another Campbell comment – ‘there is now more reporting of politics than there has ever been. And less understanding.’ The media as whole were smug and self-satisfied and believed they could do no wrong. The BBC in particular was incapable of ever admitting it makes mistakes.

Well, none of this comes as much of a surprise when you recall the Hutton Inquiry. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth examining. Are we instinctively oppositional? With the exception of honeymoons like the start of the Blair years, I think we are. Does it matter? Well, it would obviously be better if we always acted thoughtfully. But on the whole, I think the interests of democracy are better served than in a system where the media think it part of their duty to help the government get its way.

The big question here is the one of legitimacy. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wonder about what I do. It comes in the form of a question. ‘And who, precisely, do you presume to speak for?’ Who ever voted for you? It’s something we’d do well to remember.

The answer to the question of whether people like me have any special right to interrogate the powerful is no: I have just the same right as anyone else. The only difference between my position and that of any other citizen is not entitlement but opportunity. I’ve got the chance. But the justification is built on an intuitive understanding of what the function of the medium is. That we ask the questions the average reasonably intelligent member of the public would like to see asked. And if you ask a question, you owe it to the audience to get an answer. Even if you have to ask the question more than once. Or more than a dozen times.

The relationship between the media and politics is, Tony Blair tells us, increasingly fractious. I’m not really sure this is something we need to worry too much about: our responsibility is to the citizen. But we ought also to acknowledge one enormous blind spot. There is a tacit understanding between the two sides which does no-one any favours. There are three parties here: the politicians who govern, or want to govern, secondly, the media, and the thirdly, the public. It is a very odd characteristic of this relationship that while the media and politicians feel free to criticise each other, neither has the guts to criticise the public, who are presumed never to be wrong. It is not just that Sun readers are always right. The whole public is always right.

One very small example. Last April, GMTV tackled the case of a Yorkshire man who needed medical treatment to prevent the loss of an eye. The treatment was currently unavailable on the NHS. The man was interviewed down the line, at the end of which one presenter turned to the other and said, ‘It’s just wrong, it’s as simple as that. Sometimes you just have to say that.’ At which his co-presenter tutted ‘He’s an ex-serviceman too. He’s devoted most of his life to public service.’ The exchange ended ‘And even if he wasn’t, he’s paid his taxes. Anyway, coming up after 8 o’clock….’

Now, in an ideal world, everyone should get whatever treatment they need, regardless of the cost. So the presenters were only repeating what you could hear in any Starbucks across the land. What no-one ever says when covering these stories is that rationing is the inevitable consequence of the fact that people won’t pay more in taxes. Let none of us for a moment suggest the British people might be hypocritical or even thoughtless. No danger of that at GMTV. No danger, really, of it anywhere.

Would it not be a lot more sophisticated –and honest - to acknowledge sometimes that things may be more complicated than they appear?

Let’s not follow the tabloid newspapers on issues like that. And also, let’s not believe them when they say we’re all dishonest. Overall, I have to say that I think standards of probity on television are pretty high. I believe most of what I see on television, and when, in the heat of the moment, things turn out to be wrong, I’m willing to give those responsible the benefit of the doubt: it’s not easy getting things clear in the early stages of any moving story.
The problem, it seems to me, is less one of honesty than of attention span. The press of events now dictates that almost every story is best if it’s a moving story. In fact, if it’s not a moving story, it’s hardly a story at all.
The only radio news story which has made me sit up in bed in the morning this year was the Today programme’s revelation in March this year that Bob Woolmer had been murdered. Except, of course, he hadn’t. The next month I was in Egypt, when I switched on BBC World to have reporting of the Nigerian elections interrupted with the words

‘And we’re just getting some breaking news. It’s from Britain.’

Oh my god, I thought, that’s happened. More bombs? Blair assassinated? The newsreader continued.

“Prince William and Kate Middleton have split up.”

Actually, that is by no means the worst example this year. In early June a building collapsed in Westminster. For the best part of an hour, the news channels talked of little else. Aerial live shots were beamed back. Reporters are deployed, required to repeat endlessly the same minimal facts to fill the void. Eyewitnesses are interviewed. They talk about how when the top of a building collapses, bits of debris fall to the ground. And then, slowly it emerges that what has happened is what looks to have happened. Part of a building has collapsed.

Now, although it’s easy to poke fun at it, I would defend that coverage. Obviously, the fear in the back of everyone’s mind is that there’ll be another successful terrorist attack, and the only way to find out is to be present, reporting.

But the problem is that all news programmes need to make noise. The need’s got worse, the more crowded the market’s become. We clamour for the viewers’ attention: “Don’t switch over. Watch us! You won’t be disappointed!” (I confess that making this appeal in the dog days of August is peculiarly dispiriting. Sometimes you want to sit there and say, ‘Not much has happened today. I’d go to bed if I were you.’ But, no, the pretence must be maintained that forty-five minutes’ worth of discussable material exists.) So, we all shout. The difficulty is that it is one thing to do this shouting at periodic intervals during the day – at lunchtime, in the early evening, at nine or ten o’clock, or at bedtime. It’s quite another to have to do it every fifteen or thirty minutes.

Self respect – and the culture of the medium - demands that we try to make an impact. You want to write an intro that grabs the viewer. The problem is that a sort of expectation inflation sets in. The warnings are out there. Once it was enough that that great success of the Blair years, Big Brother locked a bunch of people up together and watched what happened. Now they have to be given things to do which are calculated to embarrass, humiliate or provoke them – the audience’s jaded palate needs to be constantly titillated.

The danger is that the same thing happens with news: if for no other reason than to save producers and presenters from more of that dead-eyed somnambulism you can already see too often, the story needs to be kept moving. So it needs to be constantly hyped. Making a lot of noise is one thing we’re all pretty good at.
So the pavement-standers in Downing Street or wherever must pretend to omniscience, even though they’ve spent so long on the end of a live-link that they’ve had no chance to discover anything much beyond where the nearest loo may be. In this context, the very slightest development which might give some sense of movement to a story is fallen upon as if it were a press release announcing the Second Coming.

Take, for example, the outbreak of bird flu in Suffolk this spring. The thing was contained and dealt with effectively. There was no panic, except in so far as it was generated by television news coverage. An expensively coiffed presenter is driven up to Suffolk to stand in a field in the vague vicinity. A helicopter is put up so a reporter can speak of the incident as if it was the scene of a major tank battle.

For me the nadir was an interview with a woman who owned a chicken coop. The reporter knew what was wanted. ‘We have a dead chicken over there,’ the woman wailed. ‘Whether that chicken was knocked down by a car, we don’t know.’

And that was it. There was a dead chicken in Suffolk. Cause of death unknown. What, precisely was this chicken’s owner interviewed for?

There are plenty of definitions of news. But whether you subscribe to the view that it is something out of the ordinary, or – my own favourite – that it is something someone doesn’t want you to know - the fact that a chicken has died in Suffolk, possibly after colliding with a car, doesn’t cut it. What’s happened is that we have a dynamic in news now that is less about uncovering things than it is about covering them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a war in Lebanon or floods in Doncaster, it doesn’t really exist until there’s a reporter there in flak jacket or wellingtons, going live.

Television has always been driven by technical feasibility as much as editorial judgement. When pictorial news came from newsreels, people in Stornoway learned of the battle of the Somme four weeks after the event. When the Americans were in Vietnam, reporters had to get their film back from the front and then often persuade someone to carry it on a plane to someplace they could get it processed and cut. Now, you go live, live, live, wherever you can. It’s happened because of the pressure to be fresh and urgent, because of the way the market works, and because, well, because it’s possible.

Of course, we ought also to recognise that 24 hour news itself may just be some intermediate technology, like analogue television, or VHS cassettes, or DVD’s. I don’t think I’m attacking the principle of 24 hour news. But I am saying that we all need to redefine what we think of as news. Sometimes I wonder whether there’s enough going on in Britain to sustain these channels at the level of portentous immediacy they require. Of course there’s enough going on to sustain 72 hour a day news coverage. God knows, just look at almost any regional news programme, with its tawdry catalogue of misfortune, recited in deadbeat vocabulary. You’d think that every child in the city was being sexually abused, every journey every day disrupted, resulting in ‘pure misery’, every teenager a drug-crazed psychopath. Does it alarm? Sure. Does it help us understand? You must be joking.

But in the very crowded world in which television lives, it won’t do to whisper, natter, cogitate or muse. You have to shout. The need is for constant sensation. The consequence is that reporting now prizes emotion over much else.

In this press of events there often isn’t the time to get out and find things out: you rely upon second-hand information – quotes from powerful vested interests, assessments from organisations which do the work we don’t have time for, even, god help us, press releases from public relations agencies. The consequence is that what follows isn’t analysis. It’s simply comment, because analysis takes time, and comment is free.
In news, as much as anywhere else in the industry, the question is no longer ‘what can we do?’ It’s ‘what can we afford?’ Finding things out takes time and money. Easier to stay in the warm fug of what everyone agrees is news. Which is, of course, why we behave as a herd of not-very-clever animals. It’s less risky than thinking for ourselves.

So no-one seems to question judgements. An obvious example is the decision to broadcast the deranged rantings of the young man who shot dead over thirty people at Virginia Tech. You’ll recall that before the killings he posted a tape he’d made of himself to NBC, who, when they got it, pondered the ethics of broadcasting the thing for all of five seconds before plastering it all over the network, on the ludicrous justification that it was as close as we’ll ever come to understanding the mind of a mass murderer. And then British broadcasters – including, I’m ashamed to say Newsnight - did pretty much the same thing.

Or what about Madeleine McCann, the three year old girl who disappeared in Portugal this spring? This provoked huge coverage, with reporters on twenty-four-hour-a day stakeouts, presenters flown out to stand on the pavement, attempting to parlay ignorance into authority. Everyone was there because everyone else was there. If you dared to ask what this circus was about you got the response “we’re there because the family want us to be there. We’ll stay as long as they want us to be there.” The McCann family are still in Portugal. The reporters went back and visited them a couple of weeks ago. Then they came home again.

At times like this, when the television hurricane hits a story, it too often sucks good sense and consideration out of the brains of those involved.

All this does – very effectively – make a lot of noise. But to what end? Of course, you still hear people saying ‘I don’t watch the news – it’s depressing.’ The answer to this is to invite them to imagine a world in which things which made you happy were so unusual they were newsworthy. No, much more nowadays, the problem is that news is determined not by its importance but by its availability. How else can we explain the decision to interrupt reporting of floods in Britain to go live to America breathlessly to cover Paris Hilton’s release from jail? Sorry, who? Why? What relevance is this to any of us?

If you’re not careful, eventually, you get to a point where you just think ‘what is the point of watching this stuff?’ I have been a television journalist for almost all my working life. And I have to confess to a gnawing anxiety. Does exposing people to this ceaseless torrent make them any better off? I have always believed passionately – and continue to believe – in the public’s right to know, that a well-informed democracy is a healthy democracy – but you do begin to wonder when this ceaseless tide of predigested stuff comes at you.

I feel uncomfortable saying this, because I know that some colleagues may take it as an attack upon them. So let me say that I think the young people entering television now are more technically able, more visually creative than at any time in the short history of the medium. I admire them, not least because I have no idea how they do half the things they do. My point about the vaccuousness of much news reporting is not to lay into them, but to plead for them to be given the time and the space to do a better job and for all of to stand back and ask what we’re using this medium for.

We need to recognise a key distinction. Visibility is not the same as understanding. Again, we need to ask: what is all this FOR?

My old friend Peter Weil – the only man to invent a daytime television show and receive letters from the audience demanding the return of the test card – thinks that at this stage what I should just come out and say ‘John Birt was right.’ Something like ‘Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, John Birt – the three most misunderstood men in recent times.’ But I can’t quite do it. He’s recalling the infamous article written by Birt and Peter Jay, which talked about a bias against understanding on television. It led to some very worthy and immensely dull television programmes, to an invasion of blokes in funny suits at the BBC, followed by enormous structural changes, most of which have been quietly forgotten. But you could at least say that Birt had a clear idea of what television was about.

I’m not talking about quite the same thing. For one thing, I find it too amusing to try to imagine how the pre-scripting of films and the careful pre-selection of congenial witnesses would survive the current hoo-ha about fakery.
My point is that there comes a point where the frenzy has to be put to one side, the rolling story halted, so that we can make sense of things. Television journalism’s justification should be the justification of journalism through the ages: to inquire, to explain and to hold to account. The news may have been dull, but it was respected because it made sense of the day. That involved people assessing, filtering, separating the froth from what mattered. It was, in short, the exercise of clear judgement. And in return, it demanded - and got - the trust of the audience. Right now we could do with less hyperventilating and more deep breathing.

We’re back, then , to the question of what television is for. All the recent scandals and so-called scandals have one element in common: money. When Roy Thompson described his Scottish ITV company as ‘a licence to print money’ he was sneered at, because by-and large the independent companies had to demonstrate that they had some higher purpose. Granada did not produce the most punchy current affairs programme on television, World in Action, to make money. We need to rediscover a sense of purpose. Deep down, I don’t think the objective has changed since that early summary as being to educate, inform and entertain. It’s a boring list, but it will do us as well now as ever. Right now, it seems to me that worry about engineering has driven out worry about content. We need to spend less time talking about how we deliver things, and a lot time talking about what we deliver.

We know what the dangers are. Left to its itself, the medium will achieve its potential to be no more than a giant electronic circus or freak-show. We know how bad it can get, whether it’s the Russian station which has its newsreaders read the news while performing a striptease, or the Brazilian audience show with its Deformity of the Week feature. In Britain, for the first several decades of its life, television has been something better than that. The presence of the BBC was obviously a big factor. Regulation had something to do with it. But most of all, I think, television has maintained high standards of creative excellence and honesty because the people who worked in it believed they were doing a job which mattered.

If we were merely running a timber-mill, we should be satisfied that we were cutting lengths of wood to the right length and width and depth. But we’re not. We are engaged in a trade which has the potential to do amazing things, to show people things they didn’t know existed, to give them the power to make informed decisions about how they see the world and how they want to be governed. We have the power to open their minds.
Why else do advertisers pay such enormous sums for access?

We aren’t dealing in lengths of wood: however much we may affect to claim that we are showing unvarnished reality, we are manufacturing something – as I say, all television – even the boring old vox pop - is artifice to some degree.

When Tony Blair made his attack on the news, a letter to one of the newspapers – I think it, unlikely as it sounds, the Daily Telegraph – defended us. Blair should back off, because, he suggested, the media were marginally less dishonest, even though he regarded us – and this is the lapidary phrase – ‘with genial contempt’.
I guess that sums up much public feeling about television. They’re no fools. They understand that interviewees are selected and films are edited. They still, I think, by and large trust us. They may not repose as much confidence in us as in their doctor – just as well, really. But they certainly trust us more than they trust many other sources of information.

I have always shuddered a bit when I heard television people talking about their profession. It’s not a profession – if it were, there would be a professional body able to enforce standards. No, we’re a trade. But a trade which earned the confidence of the public because it understood that the position of intermediary was a position of trust.
I did think about ending this lecture with a list of possible initiatives. The invention of a Viewers’ Commisioner, with his or her own investigative staff and the power to insist upon the right to insert themselves into television programmes to correct serious mistakes if programmes themselves are unwilling to do so. A professional body with a clear code of practice, membership of which would be a requirement of employment at any respectable company. And lots of subsidiary ideas, like, for example, a code of practice so we can put a stop to the unpleasant spectacle of companies getting rich on the back of the willingness of young people to work for nothing.
In the end, though, those things are secondary. They’re engineering, too, in a way. What’s really needed is a much clearer sense of leadership.

There is a clear anxiety that both parliament AND television are sliding into irrelevance, disappearing into the mists of history like the quill pen and the coffee house. The Web, we’re told, makes expensive, professional broadcasting a thing of the past. But the problem with blogs is the same as their strength: they don’t operate by conventional journalistic rules about checking facts, and they’re unencumbered by any thought that there might be more than one side to a story. The blogosphere is a place where everyone can scream and no-one needs to listen. Rather than making an attempt at fairness irrelevant, it seems to me it actually makes it more necessary.

The more profound problem is really about demographics. The audience is getting older and we don’t know what to do about it, so we have the spectacle of a bunch of middle-aged people in the grip of some comb-over compulsion. Youth. Where is it? Why doesn’t it watch us? How do we get hold of it? This is the great motive force in contemporary television. Why do they want to find it? The motive is the same everywhere. Money. Commercial television, because it is the market the advertisers crave. The BBC because it fears that if doesn’t get its nails into this age group, it’s going to succumb to Daily Express syndrome where the paperboy shoves the newspaper through the letterboxes of houses with the curtains drawn.

(It’s tempting to shout ‘Stop It! The truth is that television in Britain is commissioned by middle-aged people who rarely watch the box, attempting to reach young people who look at it even less, when it’s actually watched by old people. Twenty to twenty five year olds aren’t sitting goggle-eyed for one very good reason: they’ve got better things to do. The people who do watch it – and pay their licence fees and their other bills – are older people. Why don’t you give them what they want?)

The anxiety about irrelevance expresses itself in obsessions with the red button, with interactivity, fatuous opinion polls, podcasts, ‘multiplatform 360 degree programming’, etc, etc, we’ve all heard the jargon, even if we’re not entirely clear what some of it means. In the process, something’s gone wrong. We’ve got too interested in the way we deliver what we do, at the expense of what we deliver. We have become obsessed with how the copper wire is organised, and forgotten about the electricity.

But where is this restatement of what television is for to come from? Well, the obvious place is the BBC, precisely because of its privileged position. I know the BBC Trust hasn’t been in the job very long. But it does seem a big disappointment that it appears so far to consider its job to be more to do with chastising the senior management than with preaching a higher social purpose for the organisation.

Of course, the BBC’s got problems of its own, and they also come down to money. It was comprehensively outmanoeuvred by the Treasury in the last licence fee settlement, so that it is now committed to spending nearly one and a half billion on things – whether they be the cost of digital switchover, on-demand, building office blocks in Salford – which have nothing much to do with sole purpose of its existence, which is to produce worthwhile programmes.

Even so, quite how these obligations produce a budget crisis in an organisation with an assured income of three and a half billion pounds is still something of a mystery to me. A commercial organisation confronted with the need to make economies would probably say well, our meat pies aren’t selling well, but our soups are, so let’s get out of pies and make more soup. The BBC isn’t a commercial organisation, of course, so instead seems to want to stay in every television and radio channel and to maintain its internet presence, but to do so with fewer resources. The argument, I think, is that since society is more fragmented, it needs a multiplicity of outlets to serve it: why does no-one consider the alternative hypothesis that if social division is a bad thing perhaps a broadcaster’s function could be to build social cohesion? But no, everyone must do more for less.

On Newsnight, for example, over the last three years we’ve been required to make budget cuts of fifteen percent. We have lost producers, researchers and reporters. Nor can we make the films we once made. Now we’re told we likely to have to make more cuts: at least a further twenty percent over five years. It is unsustainable, and I cannot see how the programme can survive in anything like its current form if the cuts are implemented. To get a single – important - film transmitted last week involved surviving a sustained barrage of astonishingly threatening lawyers’ letters from Carter Ruck and ear-bending from one of the country’s most expensive PR firms. You can’t do that if you’re replacing grizzled output editors with people on work experience, no matter how enthusiastic they may be.

I’m sorry if this sounds like special pleading – after all, no show has a God-given right to continue indefinitely. But the bigger question is whether the BBC itself has a future. Working for it has always been a bit like living in Stalin’s Russia, with one five-year-plan, one resoundingly empty slogan after another. One BBC, Making it Happen, Creative Futures, they all blur into one great vacuous blur. I can’t even recall what the current one is. Rather like Stalin’s Russia, they express a belief that the system will go on forever.

I don’t want to be apocalyptic, on the basis of what may turn out to be short-term problems. But I think it foolish to be too confident on that score. I guess there’ll certainly be one more licence fee settlement. But can we really be certain there’ll be a fourth? Or a fifth?

The problem is, the anomalies are so enormous. The idea of a tax on the ownership of a television belongs in the 1950s. Why not tax people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil? And how do you justify a tax on television ownership to finance production of material which will never appear on television? And what about material intended for television which is viewed through an iPlayer, for which no licence is required? It is all too easy to imagine a future in which our grandchildren will talk of having had an ancestor who worked for the BBC in the same way as people nowadays mention having had a grandparent or great-grandparent who worked for the Sudanese Political Service, or was a District Officer in Bechuanaland.

It’s possible that good old British hypocrisy – or creative ambiguity - will get us over the contradictions inherent in the licence fee. I certainly hope so, because the alternatives aren’t appealing. But we have to move beyond the platitude tossed about that it is the best –or the least-worst - television service in the world. So it bloody well ought to be. And I speak as the presenter of programme which was obliged this spring to follow an hour devoted to celebrity dog-walking.

The BBC is going to have to justify its existence not by the way it broadcasts or the buildings out of which it works, but by what it broadcasts. We seem, far too often, to lose sight of this. Articulating a clear sense of purpose and expressing it through much better protection of the defining brands is more persuasive than producing the occasional piece of tea-towel television celebrating the glories of Britain.

There is a fight going on for the survival of quality television right across this industry. The recent skirmishes and scandals have not gone our way. As an industry we need to lay out much more clearly what we’re doing and why. Let’s spend less time measuring audiences and more time enlightening them.

Despite the last few months, I do not believe that this uniquely powerful medium has been taken over by charlatans. But we ought to acknowledge that parts of it are in danger of losing their redeeming virtues. We need to be open. We need to admit when we make mistakes. We need treat our viewers with respect, to be frank with them about how and why programmes were made, to be transparent.

We need, in short, to rediscover a sense of purpose.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 08:52 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

Well done Jeremy! Glad you can afford to speak out, but even more glad you felt the responsibility to do so. Send John Birt on a work experience course.

  • 2.
  • At 09:19 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Pat Beardmore wrote:

Such common sense is so rare these days. JP is one of our national treasures. Keep up the good work, more power to your elbow. Paris who?

  • 3.
  • At 09:59 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • KL wrote:

A thoughtful, interesting and encouraging read, with a bit of excoriation thrown in - very Paxman. If one viewer's view counts for anything, I'd say that you, collectively, really don't need to shout. The fatigue all the shouting engenders is probably as responsible for people switching off as anything else.
Catastrophic events are rare. Catastrophic language should be reserved for them, and them alone. Constantly amping up the rhetoric is a mistake.
Cutting back Newsnight, if it stops the programme delivering the content its contributors wish to deliver, would be dreadful. The variety, quality and depth of its reports is invariably interesting and at best, outstanding. If the BBC wishes to reaffirm its commitment to quality, it needs to play to these strengths, not hobble them. If you need to be subsidised by Horsie Hospital or Spouse Sulliers so be it. Surely the point of a flagship is to lead everyone in the same direction, not to make money? Keep us posted so we can raise a rumpus.

  • 4.
  • At 10:08 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Rich Voysey wrote:

Superb article Jeremy, ...the voice of reason! I have enormous respect for you as a real heavyweight broad caster who obviously feels obliged to ask questions and more importantly demand answers! You've 'touched' on all sorts of issues that certainly I've thought about and I suspect that most people also share. Enjoyed the humour and directness in your article, keep up the good work!

  • 5.
  • At 10:09 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Rich Voysey wrote:

Superb article Jeremy, ...the voice of reason! I have enormous respect for you as a real heavyweight broad caster who obviously feels obliged to ask questions and more importantly demand answers! You've 'touched' on all sorts of issues that certainly I've thought about and I suspect that most people also share. Enjoyed the humour and directness in your article, keep up the good work!

  • 6.
  • At 10:21 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Neil B wrote:

A stimulating and thought provoking transcript. Identifies the problems, but fails to put forward the radical solutions necessary if we are to preserve the BBC as a valued and worthwhile broadcaster.
Perhaps the BBC could start by pointing out that 'the unique way we are funded' has absolutely no impact on the quality of the output, and that the BBC should not waste licence money competing for viewing figures with commercially funded broadcasters.

  • 7.
  • At 10:21 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Neil B wrote:

A stimulating and thought provoking transcript. Identifies the problems, but fails to put forward the radical solutions necessary if we are to preserve the BBC as a valued and worthwhile broadcaster.
Perhaps the BBC could start by pointing out that 'the unique way we are funded' has absolutely no impact on the quality of the output, and that the BBC should not waste licence money competing for viewing figures with commercially funded broadcasters.

  • 8.
  • At 10:26 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Neil B wrote:

A stimulating and thought provoking transcript. Identifies the problems, but fails to put forward the radical solutions necessary if we are to preserve the BBC as a valued and worthwhile broadcaster.
Perhaps the BBC could start by pointing out that 'the unique way we are funded' has absolutely no impact on the quality of the output, and that the BBC should not waste licence money competing for viewing figures with commercially funded broadcasters.

  • 9.
  • At 10:34 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Ben Butterworth wrote:

Terrific! Well done Jeremy Paxman. This is such an important statement concerning the future purpose and direction of television. His belief in the truth and his earnest and sense of humour shine through! Great!

  • 10.
  • At 11:10 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Mike Hanson wrote:

The BBC's news coverage of this entertaining, complex and thoughtful lecture bears out JP's argument. The kind of broadcasting he seems to suggest would justify the licence fee and this idiosyncratic funding mechanism. Excellent lecture.

  • 11.
  • At 11:14 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Joe wrote:

I found myself nodding at pretty much everything Jeremy said in this speech. To extend one of his earlier metaphors, the medium does almost need to recapture a sense of ‘sacred duty’; some kind of Hippocratic pact to uphold certain standards of quality, intelligence and public service in the digital age.

With so much TV now available, the multi-channel scramble for audiences must not become a pursuit of the lowest common denominator. Faith is required that excellence will attract the biggest audience in the long run, and the BBC would do well to pin its colours to this.

My only quibble is that the idea of a viewers commissioner makes me a bit uneasy -- any body so empowered could be a potent tool for political censorship in the wrong hands -- but he is quite right to call for some measures to be taken to provide a bulwark against the growing pressure to dumb-down and cost-cut.

Thanks for making the timely and insightful speech, and for all the outstanding work on Newsnight.

  • 12.
  • At 11:16 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Nick Stewart wrote:

An excellent speech but I fear that the problem is beyond the power of the BBC to correct. It is only one cog in the bigger machine of society and it is the wider society that really drives all this. The BBC can only reflect the state of that society. It can't remain in some pure, unadulteraated zone beyond it. This will not be apparent until sufficient time has passed and someone looking back will go, "yes, that's how it was then", just like when we look back today at earlier times. You can struggle for a better ethos but if society is more corrupt, and corruptible, then that ultimately is what the BBC will be.

  • 13.
  • At 11:17 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • carol feenstra wrote:

JP for PM

  • 14.
  • At 11:20 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • David wrote:

Thank God there is someone who has the intelligence and the guts to speak out against the shallow, sometimes incomprehensible, standards of broadcasting today. look at the pathetic attempts to speak "live" on breaking news. Thanks Jeremy.

WE’RE STUFFED PAXO

Et tu Jeremy? Trying to cure a symptom? It’s our underlying culture you have to mend. Surely you have noticed that the only cultures able to endure (until we intrude) are what we would call “simple”? They are always contained by powerful taboos. Our culture (if that word any longer applies) espouses anything new, in all arenas, and everything aberrant. We have no taboos left.
Wisdom dictates that man is unable to survive excess applied cleverness. Media is “too clever by half” - writ large. But it is still only a symptom of “decline and fall” as with Rome or any other over-ripe over-complex culture.
If you stop your development at fire and minimal weaponry (blowpipe or bow-and-arrow or boomerang etc) your group, tribe, nation, can last many thousands of years. Too many revolutions – farming, industry, energy, weaponry, polymer chemistry, biology etc, and it all goes pear-shaped. Homo Sapiens is not fit for current purpose – “media” madness is just a side show.

  • 16.
  • At 11:42 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • R J Wilson wrote:

Jeremy Paxman is spot on with his well thought out speech but I doubt that he will change anything as it is all part of the downward slide of the UK in general which I am afraid to say is unstoppable, JP for PM.

  • 17.
  • At 11:45 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • John Turner wrote:

Well said, sir. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Newsnight is worth the licence fee on its own. It must be allowed to continue and to flourish. I just hope this doesn't become a bit of a Jerry Maguire moment for you...

  • 18.
  • At 11:45 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Iain Burns wrote:

Well done JP.. I have never been a great fan of yours but that speech said so much of what I have thought over the past few years. I stopped watching Sky 'News' on the basis that they had to run with bated breath to the next live feed from some dung heap just dropped by a cow! And then repeated that coverage every 15 minutes for 24 hours. Congratulations on your thoughts and having the courage to say them out loud.

  • 19.
  • At 11:48 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Daniel Bowden wrote:

I am please to discover that the freedom of speech can be so liberally expressed without fear of censorship or "careful editing" so therefore i commend the straight to the point opinions of Mr Paxman.
However, perhaps it is my cynical nature and mistrust of the media that has a led me to such a bleak outlook of human nature in the sense of media publication. I believe that it is the point of the media in particular to acquire information that is corroborated by FACTUAL EVIDENCE and not unfounded tips offs which is sensationalized to the point of an assault on the senses.
A good trip down memory lane was when the BBC reported about the fuel strikes and an interview was done with an HGV driver. The driver was about to come on to the subject of what the media had turned it into, a clear attempt to over dramatize a story when he was duly cut off.
Which comes to my point of trust, exactly as Jeremy was talking about, (i am feebly trying not to reiterate the same points made) without trust nothing meaningful will ever be watched and the days of Big Brother will continue to deprive this country of any sense of progression to something better.
"it is the unity of people that the media should fear and respect"

  • 20.
  • At 11:50 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Robin Willis wrote:

Good stuff. But much the same could be said not just of the BBC but also of other former "pillars of society" which politicans (especially NuLabour) have weakened in their pursuit of ever greater control.
But is this really an early manifesto for the next election with a view to Jeremy Paxman supplanting Jane Horrocks in the sequel ("The Amazing Mr Paxman")? Works for me.

  • 21.
  • At 11:52 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Aaron wrote:

Standard Paxman. Great at pointing out the problems but not so much at coming up with the solutions.

And Jeremy, let me fix that paragraph about blogs for you.

"But the problem with blogs is the same as their strength: they don’t operate by conventional journalistic rules about checking facts, and they’re unencumbered by any thought that there might be more than one side to a story. The blogosphere is a place where everyone can scream and no-one needs to listen. Rather than making an attempt at fairness irrelevant, it seems to me it actually makes it more necessary."

What you meant to say was.. (additions in italics)

"But the problem with blogs is the same as their strength: they don’t neccessarily operate by conventional journalistic rules about checking facts - though some do - , and they - well, some of them - are unencumbered by any thought that there might be more than one side to a story. A bit like the Daily Express, or Stephen Nolan on Radio Five Live. The blogosphere is a place where everyone can scream and no-one needs to listen. Rather than making an attempt at fairness irrelevant, it seems to me it actually makes it more necessary."

  • 22.
  • At 11:53 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Fai Lee wrote:

What Jeremy had to say just had to be said, his comments and opinions cut right to the core of the issue. Television has lost its way and it needs to get with the programme with the right programmes. Many of Jeremy's points are ones that I have been echoing for the past six months.

As for Newsnight budget cuts? Come on BBC, what are you thinking? It's the only decent news analysis programme around. I'll seriously consider selling off my TV sets and cancelling my licence fee if Newsnight (and Newsnight Review) become diluted in quality because some bean counter has slashed the budget once again.

  • 23.
  • At 11:53 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • V Tranfield wrote:

Thank you for the broadside Jeremy the BBC in particular has been deserving of a good blast for a long time. The BBC, a public service funded by the license fee, should not be concerned with ratings. If its role is to promote innovation, educate, inform and entertain then it is about time it got back to doing just that. Like many adult license fee paying members, I expect to at least have the opportunity to appreciate the occasional grown-up programme rather than the juvenile puerile dross served up as the main menu these days. The sooner those responsible for the demise of intelligent inspired programmes are got rid of the better.

  • 24.
  • At 11:53 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • EC Dumas wrote:

Very good, if a bit repetitive. I have long given up watching TV news, especially the BBC Ten O'Clock News, which is increasingly tabloid. In fact, I watch little on TV except Match of the Day, because much of it seems simply stupid. And why the BBC thinks it has to have this enormous empire doing everything is beyond me. And so much bloody real estate, built at huge expense! I mean, have you seen White City recently? And vastly overpaid 'stars' like Jonathan Ross, given bucketloads of fee-payers' money for fear he will go to 'the other side'... Ye gods - would the sky fall in if he did?

I've thought for some time now we are watching the long, slow inevitable death of UK television and Paxman has confirmed to me that I'm not alone.

  • 25.
  • At 11:53 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • Sean Kelly wrote:

We have turned into "consumers" of a product instead of the nation being "informed, educated and entertained" as JP quite rightly stated. It is down to those with the power and (god willing) the moral heart ,such as Jeremy, to stand up and re-direct the tools at hand for the good of the masses and not for the pockets of the few.
I for one was both suprised and delighted that such a figure head of the BBC would stand up and point out obvious flaws within television, not only in others but also within his own camp.
Refreshing, honest, hopefull and brilliant. Thank you Jeremy

  • 26.
  • At 11:57 PM on 24 Aug 2007,
  • John Pettinger wrote:

I have frequently seen this person and the prog he appears on as being part of the problem.

He seems to believe that his views are the only ones worth listening to (don't we all). His interviewing style is offensive to those he does not like or opose his views.

His political bias he wears like a badge of honour. I just wish he would treat all people the same and cut out the venom.

But do not change him too much - he is great - Britain needs people like him.

  • 27.
  • At 12:03 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Gordon from Ayr wrote:

Ironically Jeremy, if you weren't in the audience tonight the only way to fully appreciate both the tone and content of your speech is to read it in full - online!

Your critique will strike a chord with more discerning viewers who still believe in Lord Reith's trilogy, 'inform, educate and entertain'.

There's a lot wrong with the BBC but it's our BBC, and to paraprase Churchill, it's the worst broadcasting organisation in the world, with the exception of all the others!

  • 28.
  • At 12:04 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Roger Walker wrote:

Thank you J.P. About time somebody in the "industry" had the balls to say it how it is.

  • 29.
  • At 12:05 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Brett Handley wrote:

What an excellent piece of writing. Such common sense should be compulsory reading for all involved in the broadcast media. In the digital age, with the proliferation of channels, and of means of reaching an audience, the source of information will be inevitably diluted - and so-called 'scandals' are bound to surface whether related to the distortion of "real-life" images or the re-purposing of events to fit a particular objective. In such a world, we need to be able to find a source of information that we can trust, that is not affected by the political or philosophical aims of its publisher, and that can report on events independently of the affiliation of its masters. I'd like to think that the BBC will always be such a source, otherwise what is its point?

  • 30.
  • At 12:09 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Michael Roberts wrote:

Don't panic Jeremy. 90% of the population don't care. Most of them are illiterate, have attention spans akin to goldfish and prefer a good story about "Dicky the goldfish swims backwards." You've just reached middle-age... Only the middle-aged and the middle-class care. Welcome aboard.

  • 31.
  • At 12:13 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Clive London wrote:

Well spoken, Jeremy. I agree with almost all you have said. Lopping more expenditure off Newsnight doesn't bare thinking about. You will simply go the way of "Panorama", that once great investigative programme, now a poor and risible version of itself. For goodness sake, BBC, if you don't want us middle-aged viewers to switch off and resent paying the licence fee, make good use of the many excellent journalists you can still call on!

  • 32.
  • At 12:13 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • chiseller wrote:

Marvellous! Worth the licence fee on it's own!

  • 33.
  • At 12:14 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Alan Firminger wrote:

Well done.
The untouched problem is the simultaneous relation between educate, inform and entertain .

  • 34.
  • At 12:15 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • J. wrote:

I am glad that you are still so passionate about broadcasting! That's primary, the BBC is secondary.

  • 35.
  • At 12:18 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • pete clarke wrote:

Thank god for people like Paxman, who not only have a moral point of view,but who also have the courage to express it.Let us hope that he is not one of a dying breed in this increasingly PC society.

  • 36.
  • At 12:24 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • john gittos wrote:

The only thing missing from this lecture was failing to say the problems the BBC have is because it is spread too thinly , it cannot carry on being all things to all people , too many fingers in too many pies .The BBC is not this sacred cow that cannot be critised , and it stems from the top. When problems arise set up an enquiry , and by the time that enquiry reports everyone forgets what the problem was .Ofcom has no teeth , punitive fines do nothing , even worse when the fine is directed at the BBC .

This proto-manifesto by Mr Paxman contains many exciting and important ideas. Truly, a breath of fresh air. Reading it, I just kept shouting Yes! and Yes! But the problem is huge and cultural. If I am correct, most of Mr Paxman's critique could equally be levelled at our University sector (market share, delivery styles over intellectual rigour, consultancy earnings etc). It's all very very frustrating. But at least Mr Paxman has the eloquence and notoriety that might start to make a difference. Thank you.

  • 38.
  • At 12:27 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Norman Strauss wrote:

What is the BBC for is in fact a multidimensional question requiring pluralist (departmental bandwidth, skills and organisation must match the task) answers to determine its role(s) in cultural, societal, historical, technological, political, philosophical, local, national and world affairs. These multiple roles will perforce change reactively over time and in response to events. A proactive BBC would seek to identify people, movements, cultures and ideas that might develop, debate, accept or reject such answers during their formation and inform the public about them as they evolve. Entertainment cannot be its major state-funded purpose if it diminishes the best achievement of serious purposes. The ethos of the BBC must match its public service purposes and roles. The BBC is itself formed and reformed by this continuous unfolding process and modified as the answers change whilst history happens; perhaps as current affairs analysed and synthesised quarterly. Everything else that is secondary to its serious purposes should be self-financed. Pop, sport and entertainment are now available elsewhere.

  • 39.
  • At 12:30 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Neil Sands wrote:

Did you see how the BBC website handled your criticism of news coverage leaving the floods to cover Paris Hilton's release? They showed a picture of her in the margin.

Excellent, Mr. Paxman!

I once worked with Peter Hobday in a training session of a deputy union leader. (Many readers may not realise that high profile businessmen, union men and the like are often trained in how to survive a media onslaught by the very people who will be behind the onslaught when it happens!)

In the course of the training we had conspired to demonstrate to this luckless trainee how a sharp witted reporter (and a recording engineer with an equally sharp razor blade) could take a 5 minute fairly innocent interview and turn it into a hard hitting news story. We put a time limit on ourselves to make it more interesting.

Peter duly recorded a pleasant little chat with the man while I wrote some copious notes. Hobday has the memory of an Elephant, and by the time he came back in the control room he knew exactly what he wanted. In 5 minutes we had chopped together 3 little segments and Peter had scribbled a short script to link them together. He then went into the studio and we went “Live”

As Peter read his script and I played in the carefully selected segments the man’s face fell to a look of near panic; I thought he was going to cry. After, we asked him some pertinent questions:

Had we misquoted him? No.
Had we taken things completely out of context? No.
Had we done any dodgy editing? No.
What would happen if the union heard this? He would lose his job.

The point we were making was simple – said in the context of a friendly, fireside chat, something that is even quite important can seem discursive, academic even, but hardly news.

But by the time we had finished with it, it was the top of the hour headline.

News media has always had this ability, and it is what makes it untrustworthy in the eyes of the public. When a journalist writes, he writes not an essay but a “story,” and in the words of the editors of old, the story is everything. This want to tell a story, unfortunately, can change the nature and feel of a subject and make it more than it really is.

But there is another property to news gathering, one that is not new, but is perhaps getting more prevalent: Arrogance.

Andrew Neil has said several times on his programmes that it is his duty to speak for the public when interviewing a politician. I beg to differ. It is his job to offer the interview for my consumption, but as nothing more than the employee of a broadcaster he certainly does not have my permission to speak for me.

This arrogance, the arrogance that the journalist has the upper hand, has the knowledge, has the only truly defined grasp on a situation, is making inroads into television news in a way that was previously only for the inner columns of the press, not only can be an irritant, but, unfortunately, is affecting the way that “news” is presented; the very editorial decisions that are vital to true news gathering and reporting.

You speak of standards and probity. In the film All the Presidents Men, the two reporters are famously sent back for more and more substantiation before the bosses are prepared to put their necks on the line and publish. This seems to be sadly lacking in modern journalism. As a viewer, nothing irritates me more than a senior political editor telling me that something is true because an unnamed senior source (wink, wink) has said it is so.

That is no good to me. If the journalist was writing for Wikipedia there would be warnings flashing all over the place about not trusting this piece as it has a lack of references and evidence.

But time and time again, we, the viewer, are asked to trust the integrity of the journalist over that of the politician. And yet to trust there must be a good reason to trust; television has forgotten that.

Lastly, on the small matter of your budget. In case you are wondering where is went, it is being spent on the two repeat channels of BBC 3 and 4. Stop the ridiculous number of repeats (and repeat fees to those involved) and chuck away all the admin associated with them and you will find that you no longer actually need those channels at all – you can fit it all onto the existing ones.

Et voila! A return of Newsnight’s small but very important budget!

  • 41.
  • At 12:45 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • William Dickens wrote:

Thankyou thankyou thankyou Jeremy.
I can't express myself very well but I give thanks for the BBC and you

  • 42.
  • At 12:46 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Mark Groen wrote:

The quality of television has reached such a low point that I no longer watch anything, other than Newsnight and This Week - obviously downloaded from the respective websites, I wouldn't dream of buying a TV, paying a license fee and subsidising the torrent of cleb/reality and sports programming which seems to take the BBC by storm.
Not to mention the idiotic idea of different channels for different groups of people (i.e. the Asian Channel).

I don't agree with the idea that Newsnight should not expect to continue to exist - it is in my opinion the only serious current affairs programme on British television. Without it, many politicians and others who hold positions of authority would be free to do as they please without challenge.

As one would expect from Jeremy Paxman the piece above is wonderfully well-written, to the point, and I really hope it will make some TV execs think again about what they're actually doing.

Now, being one of the 25 year olds Paxman spoke about, I have other things to do.

  • 43.
  • At 12:46 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Rex Ward wrote:

O.K. you have identified the problems, what now? It seems to me that your noting the lack of a professional body pinpoints the direction that should be taken very seriously in the long term. Don't leave it here, now you have started keep on trucking.

  • 44.
  • At 12:48 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Realist wrote:

Unfortunately the BBC has rules which apply only to themselves, Mr Paxman should be lauded for expressing his outspoken views.
Look over your shoulder Jeremy, the knives are being sharpened. Your life could be in jeapordy once the Gods read your article.
Untouchables springs to mind when debating the BBC, as they take the view that they are the elected Government. Help us poor TV licence payers Jeremy, give us back the proper BBC, the BBC which was honest.

Well said, Jeremy Paxman. It is saddening to witness the fast-developing technologies of broadcasting becoming fodder for commercial gain, rather than the wonderful tools for cultural and social development they should be. Much damage was done when the BBC was obliged to buy in programmes rather than to go on making them in-house. The process undermined commitment to public service and sprung a damaging leak in the pool of creative talent which until then had been filled with such care.

  • 46.
  • At 12:54 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Chris Jones wrote:

A superb lecture. I wish I could have been there to see Jeremy present it.This is not being sycophantic.It is just good to read such a well structured balanced presentation and its rare to see such erudition in essays in the media these days.I understand Blairs remonstration about media exageration.This approach can also be seen in the newspaper media and pervades all the "red tops". In their world an attractive lady with fair hair and a well proportioned figure is transformed into a "busty blonde stunner".A mildly amusing incident is always "hilarious". Nobody is ever mildly upset but rather "gobsmacked and absolutely furious"
Trouble is we the general public buy the newspapers and watch the dross we are presented with.I think we should all seriously consider making a stand against ready brek t.v (warm mushy and easily digestible) and indeed you'll here many people say the same thing.But we still won't hit that button!

  • 47.
  • At 12:55 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Stewart wrote:

An excellent piece. Ironic, however, that it should be linked from the BBC News website with "Paxman fears for Newsnight."

  • 48.
  • At 12:56 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

You made a very elegant argument Paxman, especially the ethics of news-making and the BBC failure to stick to its responsibility as a public broadcaster. Now, I don’t watch TV unless I look at the TV guide in an attempt to avoid all those cloned programmes about properties and cookery shows. Every time I go home after a long day at work and all I want is something informative or intellectually entertaining to unwind, instead I am confused with people who speaks in a weird way, wearing weird glasses and rainbow outfits waiting for people to give them sample of their poo so they can tell us how it smells and how it should smell and look. It makes me feel sad when I think that my tax is paid for this mockery. I would rather finish work one hour earlier.

  • 49.
  • At 12:56 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Chris Jones wrote:

A superb lecture. I wish I could have been there to see Jeremy present it.This is not being sycophantic.It is just good to read such a well structured balanced presentation and its rare to see such erudition in essays in the media these days.I understand Blairs remonstration about media exageration.This approach can also be seen in the newspaper media and pervades all the "red tops". In their world an attractive lady with fair hair and a well proportioned figure is transformed into a "busty blonde stunner".A mildly amusing incident is always "hilarious". Nobody is ever mildly upset but rather "gobsmacked and absolutely furious"
Trouble is we the general public buy the newspapers and watch the dross we are presented with.I think we should all seriously consider making a stand against ready brek t.v (warm mushy and easily digestible) and indeed you'll hear many people say the same thing.But we still won't hit that button!

Well said, Jeremy Paxman. It is saddening to witness the fast-developing technologies of broadcasting becoming fodder for commercial gain, rather than the wonderful tools for cultural and social development they should be. Much damage was done when the BBC was obliged to buy in programmes rather than to go on making them in-house. The process undermined commitment to public service and sprung a damaging leak in the pool of creative talent which until then had been filled with such care.

  • 51.
  • At 01:06 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

You made a very elegant argument Paxman, especially the ethics of news-making and the BBC failure to stick to its responsibility as a public broadcaster. Now, I don’t watch TV unless I look at the TV guide in an attempt to avoid all those cloned programmes about properties and cookery shows. Every time I go home after a long day at work and all I want is something informative or intellectually entertaining to unwind, instead I am confused with people who speaks in a weird way, wearing weird glasses and rainbow outfits waiting for people to give them sample of their poo so they can tell us how it smells and how it should smell and look. It makes me feel sad when I think that my tax is paid for this mockery. I would rather finish work one hour earlier.

  • 52.
  • At 01:17 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Chris Woodman wrote:

Paxman, naturally, speaks authoritatively about the BBC. But when all the fuss was made about a bit of dishonesty over premium rate phone calls, I couldn't help thinking of the much more serious offence of another channel broadcasting seriously misleading material, in the guise of a documentary, about the very important subject of climate change. Yes, aspire to balance and thoughtfulness, but don't forget to excoriate blatant dishonesty and the abuse of power by some producers.

  • 53.
  • At 01:19 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Craig wrote:

Spot on. I wonder how many news journalists would read this lecture properly if presented with it in written form (it is quite long and requires a degree of concentration.)

So what changes would be needed to make TV news, for example, relevant again? How could it be done?

Whenever I watch it, I end up shouting at the box in frustration because the blindingly obvious question which would actually illuminate the issue is often not asked - it would only hold up the relentless conveyor belt of stories and disturb the smooth flow of pre-formatted information. It being the flow, the information and the format which seem to be regarded as the most important thing, rather than any form of understanding.

Get some real people with some perspective into those newsrooms, and don't allow them to associate with any press officers, PRs or other pre-packagers of information. Force them to think for themselves so that they can think for us. Because, as Mr Paxman says, the truly frustrating thing is that we don't have the oportunity to ask the questions, so we have to rely on the judgement, curiosity and comprehension of those who do. Too often, I feel, news journalists do a pretty poor job of holding onto an idea of WHY they are doing what they are doing.

It always strikes me as utterly bizarre when some random aspect of a complex story is reported on the news, but the omission of any context or explanation renders it totally irrelevant to almost the entire audience. The bare facts are given, but anything else would just take too long and prevent the conveyor from moving on to the next thing, so you end up with a pointless snippet which you might as well not have bothered to report because it doesn't really tell anybody anything.

To take an example which has long bugged me: hopefully, somebody out there knows by what mysterious mechanism Britain supposedly pays too much to the EU and therefore gets a (now reduced) rebate, but you can bet your life they didn't find the answer out from the TV news, despite the repeated coverage of the story over how many years. The mechanism is absolutely fundamental to the understanding of the story, but not a word about it is ever uttered whenever a political fight breaks out on the topic. I promise you it isn't too complicated or too uninteresting just because it takes longer than 30 seconds to explain. But for some reason, the news people seem to think the fight is more important or interesting than the reason for it. Dur! Well who cares about the fight? Politicians are always fighting. They are good at it. Ours will defend our interests and others' will defend theirs. The important thing is WHY!

On the other hand, I must say that explanations of the current world credit problems have been quite good. There is still something of a tendancy to simply repeat the words "sub-prime" a lot and hope that that will suffice, but on the whole the coverage has been better than average.

Maybe it is just that financial journalists know what they are talking about, but NOBODY really unsderstands the EU!

  • 54.
  • At 01:27 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Matt Hardy wrote:

Thanks Jeremy. I've been iching to hear this said for ages. You put it perfectly. But why wasn't this speech on newsnight in its entirety? Did the BBC prehaps foresee the amusing irony by showing it through their 'engineering' investment program ../bbc.co.uk .

  • 55.
  • At 01:31 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Hamayoon wrote:

Well done JP, I believe that BBC has great stars. Comments as such should be treated with respect and fairness. This kind of critical comments must bring more goods than harm to BBC.

BBC is one of the world leading news network. I think its time for BBC to stand up to the challenge of 21st century. Building trust and strong relationship among BBC's customers are vital through open and frank discussion. Success only comes if one accepted and admitted its mistakes and learns through this. Good luck BBC.

  • 56.
  • At 01:31 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • John Kecsmar wrote:

Well, the fact my first comments were rejected just echos JPs comments. I just concurred with JP and the fact i now live in Japan and see even more sensationlistic news on my satellite TV. The BBC is copying thier formats, and news, real news is secondary.
The BBC needs JP to be in charge of all editorial news, this would put the BBC back on the map of being the best in the world and impartial.

  • 57.
  • At 01:31 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • David Watts D.Sc. wrote:

I have read this lecture through only once. It presents some sound, if repetitive criticism of the media. The relationship between the media and politics is, I feel, too superficial. The problem arises partly from the shortage he mentions of sufficient real news to sustain a round the clock service. In consequence the media is pushed into generating criticism with the purpose of eliciting a response. He could have made clear that the initial support for the Blair govenment could not be sustained, irrespective of its achievements, partly because it would attract the criticism of political bias and partly because the BBC inevitably has need to generate news from controversy.

As a (retired) scientist I always considered the high regard presented by the media over Dr.David Kelly, mentioned by Jeremy, showed a remarkable lack of investigative journalism. There was never any enquiry into how he became an expert on nerve gasses. The answer could have revealed some very unpalatable experiments that would not have gone down well with the desired public image. Porton Down, where he worked, even had a reputation (not factually substantiated as far as I know) for experimenting on National Service soldiers of which I might have been one had I not been warned off. The basis of this media presentation of Dr Kelly was surely only to embarass the government in the interest of deflecting attention from the BBC. Distortion of the truth by omission is one of the biggest sins of the media, including the BBC.

Jeremy made a strong point about competition which translates into the art of survival in a hostile commercial world. I also agree that there is too much so-called analysis, first predicting what might happen before an event (presumably to awaken interest) and then why it didn't turn out as anticipated after the event. The details of the event itself often being given only the slighted coverage. It enabled unjustified criticism to dominate in what might become a worst state scenario. I suspect this is partly what Blair was getting at in his attack on the media. Today, on News 24 we endlessly get government ministers telling some so-called expert that he has got his facts wrong or rebuffing claims by other political parties made only to score points.

The problem of this immediacy is that contention that should have been sorted out before broadcasting (as in earlier times) is thrashed out on our TV screens to nobody's enlightenment. It goes in one ear and out the other.

Finally, I thought that the two media heads interviewed on tonight's(actually now last night) Newsnight strongly defended their good points and achievements but failed utterly to respond to the underlying problem of dishonesty that is creeping insidiously into some programs. The BBC cannot be accused of doing it to make money (at least I hope not) but it might bend the rules to improve its listener ratings. Listener ratings should be banned; they are only estimates anyway.

Jeremy has disturbed a good few sacred cows but he is unlikely to get back more than the odd moo from his superiors, or perhaps a cow-pat on the back!

PS. Apologies for the undue length of this comment but a long speech deserves at least something of a considered reply, even if only on a few points, rather than just an eulogy.

  • 58.
  • At 01:31 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • David Watts D.Sc. wrote:

I have read this lecture through only once. It presents some sound, if repetitive criticism of the media. The relationship between the media and politics is, I feel, too superficial. The problem arises partly from the shortage he mentions of sufficient real news to sustain a round the clock service. In consequence the media is pushed into generating criticism with the purpose of eliciting a response. He could have made clear that the initial support for the Blair govenment could not be sustained, irrespective of its achievements, partly because it would attract the criticism of political bias and partly because the BBC inevitably has need to generate news from controversy.

As a (retired) scientist I always considered the high regard presented by the media over Dr.David Kelly, mentioned by Jeremy, showed a remarkable lack of investigative journalism. There was never any enquiry into how he became an expert on nerve gasses. The answer could have revealed some very unpalatable experiments that would not have gone down well with the desired public image. Porton Down, where he worked, even had a reputation (not factually substantiated as far as I know) for experimenting on National Service soldiers of which I might have been one had I not been warned off. The basis of this media presentation of Dr Kelly was surely only to embarass the government in the interest of deflecting attention from the BBC. Distortion of the truth by omission is one of the biggest sins of the media, including the BBC.

Jeremy made a strong point about competition which translates into the art of survival in a hostile commercial world. I also agree that there is too much so-called analysis, first predicting what might happen before an event (presumably to awaken interest) and then why it didn't turn out as anticipated after the event. The details of the event itself often being given only the slighted coverage. It enabled unjustified criticism to dominate in what might become a worst state scenario. I suspect this is partly what Blair was getting at in his attack on the media. Today, on News 24 we endlessly get government ministers telling some so-called expert that he has got his facts wrong or rebuffing claims by other political parties made only to score points.

The problem of this immediacy is that contention that should have been sorted out before broadcasting (as in earlier times) is thrashed out on our TV screens to nobody's enlightenment. It goes in one ear and out the other.

Finally, I thought that the two media heads interviewed on tonight's(actually now last night) Newsnight strongly defended their good points and achievements but failed utterly to respond to the underlying problem of dishonesty that is creeping insidiously into some programs. The BBC cannot be accused of doing it to make money (at least I hope not) but it might bend the rules to improve its listener ratings. Listener ratings should be banned; they are only estimates anyway.

Jeremy has disturbed a good few sacred cows but he is unlikely to get back more than the odd moo from his superiors, or perhaps a cow-pat on the back!

PS. Apologies for the undue length of this comment but a long speech deserves at least something of a considered reply, even if only on a few points, rather than just an eulogy.

  • 59.
  • At 01:33 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • puzzled wrote:

Mr Paxman's lecture was very timely. Useful to hear the criticism from within.
The BBC wasn't set up as a competitive entity but as an example of thoughtfulness and decency. It certainly didn't have to have so many irons in the fire as now but it did produce entertainment, news (much less quantity during WW2 than nowadays) and discussion that seemed to interest all ages some of the time - and was noted for its parsimony. Commercial pressures in society have divided us into tradeable packages with predictable watching habits. We have no recognisable national identity or culture, by which I mean one that represents all the present inhabitants of whatever origin nor have we a common sense of values. That could be nurtured by a public broadcaster that wasn't scared of being sneered at as elitist if it encouraged discussion of issues rather than setting up Aunt Sallies (any government representative, for example) to be knocked down by an opposition or any spokesman with a clever style. David Aaronovitch made a contribution on R4 with Voter on the Couch to indicate the mysteries of those sometimes incompatible demands we make. It might now be an idea to try to follow one of these demands and look at the implication and possible consequences. The vote may have become an entitlement but it includes a responsibility to understand as far as we can what we're actually voting for with the help of as unbiased a media as we can achieve.

  • 60.
  • At 01:39 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Mike Fraser wrote:

Agreed.

But why are you telling us in a grand speech. This message should have been delivered every morning to your co-workers, every day that you have been with the BBC.

How long has that been?

  • 61.
  • At 01:54 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Congratulations to Jeremy Paxman for pointing out the disturbing lack of understanding which is engulfing British society. Perhaps it was always there, but if that were the case then why do we seem to be evolving in reverse? As we become less receptive to the real world, we neglect the paradox of waiting for politicians to solve all our problems whilst being cajoled by the media into allowing them absolutely no time to do so. Almost as though the media have appointed themselves the task of explaining politics to the public and vice-versa. Round and round we go with every new wave of politicians (David Cameron and George Galloway as examples) competing for the utterly vacuous glare of the media spotlight. The BBC should be strengthening, rather than watering down the importance of Newsnight as British television would be a more barren place without Jeremy Paxman.

  • 62.
  • At 02:20 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Dermot Carter wrote:

All very well Jeremy. But when the "industry" is saturated with middle class southerners who's main interest is profit over public interest, where do we start?

For an example. Granada used to hav strong community ties in the north-west, but now since the ITV rebranding it seems as though our community means nothing.

Sounds stupid - but unfortunately true.

A higher sense of purpose is what we all need - whether internet, tv, radio or mobile.

You're right. Capitalism has taken over the main stream and we're a lot less educated in the long run.

  • 63.
  • At 02:54 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Leandra wrote:

"E. C. Dumas writes: I've thought for some time now we are watching the long, slow inevitable death of UK television and Paxman has confirmed to me that I'm not alone."

Agreed! And I would LOVE to see JP, in one of his battering-ram political interviews, simply ask the interviewee, "Is it true?" And see what reaction he gets!

  • 64.
  • At 04:08 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • george wrote:

Yawn. Comment after comment of pompous public sector parasites trumpeting Paxman's stupid speech. We don't want the BBC. It is entirely unethical that we are forced to finance it. Why must the tax payer be under legal obligation to sustain an institution with an overt left wing bias, that has entirely discarded the fundamental principle of journalistic objectivity? Most of you are well aware of this but to bloody arrogant to admit it because you are held accountable to nobody. In fact what's the point of writing this paragraph? It's highly unlikely it will ever be published. Hey Paxman you’re great..publish that!

  • 65.
  • At 05:36 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Peter HJ wrote:

I worked for the BBC for twenty years. At times it excited me, stimulated me, made me feel important, even. At other times it was deeply infuriating, frustrating, and angered me beyond words. Over the years it was doing more of the latter than the former, and so last year, I had to get out.

The cause of most of my ennui - as perfectly described by Jeremy Paxman here - was the way the BBC became obsessed with process, administration and policy, rather than with simply making good programmes. Jeremy hits the nail on the head when he talks of the incessant 'five-year-plans'. I refused to attend most of the staff meetings, training courses and 'group discussions' which accompanied the launch of each increasingly overblown policy. I was very nearly disciplined for doing so. But my view was that each of these grand plans, however important they were hailed to be at the time, were merely a transient manifestation of the latest senior managers' whim. I also thought I would be serving the public better if I just stayed at my desk and made better programmes.

Sadly, too few senior managers in the BBC share this view. Jeremy's 'maiden aunts' metaphor is perfect. A columnist - I don't remember who - recently talked accurately about a whole level of BBC managers who spend their days digging holes, just so they can be seen to be filling them in again. How true. Right now there will be dozens or even hundreds of BBC managers positively salivating at the problems the Corporation currently finds itself in. This is the biggest hole imaginable - what a lot of filling in it's going to take! Something to occupy them for months or even years if it's spun out properly. So let's send all 17,000 staff on an Ethics Training Course! It's a policy wonk's wet dream, and highlights everything that's wrong with the BBC.

Here's an idea: let's NOT send everyone on a course and NOT set up a comittee and NOT formulate a new policy with a new slogan and NOT hold conferences and training days and group discussions....let's just make better programmes.

Jeremy, if I had one criticsm of your lecture, it is that you should have run with your first instinct to conclude the speech by providing some solutions to these problems. The people - the senior managers - who ought to be providing those solutions are either incapable or unwilling to do so. It's going to take people like you, Jeremy, to save the BBC from itself.

Sadly I, after twenty years, felt it was a lost cause.

Content over format. Exactly.

PS As an aside... National Public Radio in the USA is a perhaps surprising, excellent example to emulate. In a nation where TV/radio is the worst of the unbelievably worst of all trash... NPR makes John Humphreys sound like an hysteric. It is so quiet, yet has as much depth as NewsNight, if not more on occasion. Google it.

PPS. One reason people are turning to the internet is that, albeit imperfectly, people are searching for those who also feel it should be content over format.

As a UK-expat now in the USA... we miss and love you man!

  • 67.
  • At 06:47 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Manohar wrote:

Good speech. It high time we stop paying TV Licensing fee. If BBC wants to work as Commercial Channel - let it be. Why on earth we have to pay ever-growing license fee.

  • 68.
  • At 07:04 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Great speech but why did the news item feature a picture of Paris Hilton? You just don't get it do you?

  • 69.
  • At 08:17 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • N Robertson wrote:

Well done just what the majority of us think,its not rocket science but our leaders dont get it that includes the Gov.its all about bottom lines and pc image
Paxman is worth his weight in gold

  • 70.
  • At 08:22 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Bob Margolis wrote:

A great speech with many good points.

The 'washing machine tax' analogy is catchy but fatally flawed, however. Public service broadcasting is a public good which is a reasonable recipient of tax revenue. The production of Persil almost certainly isn't a public good.

The licence fee is a government tax on spectrum use (most spectrum use attracts a licence fee) which the government currently hands over to the BBC for (supposedly) carrying out certain tasks. It is not permanently hypothecated for BBC use.

  • 71.
  • At 08:29 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Tom wrote:

Really good speech that makes some excellent points.
Unfortunately I then turn to the blog on the BBC Website about the Festival to read this written by a BBC reporter in a blog,

"As well as warning that Newsnight's future was under threat owing to BBC cutbacks, the presenter responded to Tony Blair's speech in June, when the former prime minister said the media could operate as "a feral beast".
Paxman said: We do not need to take seriously complaints about the marginalisation of Parliament from a prime minister who could hardly be bothered to turn up there much of the time, Paxman said.
Nor need we concern ourselves with complaints about the trivialisation of Cabinet government from a man whose Cabinet meetings could last less time than an edition of Ready Steady Cook.
We do not need lectures about cynicism from an administration which employed people who believed that September 11th was a good day to bury bad news.
He added: Most of all, we do not need homilies about destroying people's reputations from an administration on whose watch [government scientist] Dr David Kelly was driven to suicide."

Jeremy's point proved to the full there. This reporter has completely edited the speech and unashamedly changed the meaning of the point. Yet again the media refuses to engage with the problems and isues it is facing. Slightly ironic I think!!

  • 72.
  • At 09:09 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Simon Kitson wrote:

Any truth contained in this speech is undermined by the fact that the person delivering it is Jeremy Paxton. This man has made his career out of ridiculous interviews where he becomes more important than the person being interviewed and which put style (his arrogant interviewing technique) before substance (the interviewee is never in a position to answer his questions in a meaningful way). It is ludicrous to take this man seriously.

  • 73.
  • At 09:14 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Alisdair wrote:

Echoing many other comments - the BBC seems to be attempting to deliver what they think is demanded by the infantile society we live in, rather than what is needed - promoting education, debate etc.

Too much 'comment' by insufferable reporters. Too much celebrity (including highly paid celebrity presenters). Too many stations.

Focus on qualiy programming - have faith in your own standards - leave the dross to the commercial producers - treat the viewer as an adult.

  • 74.
  • At 09:16 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • steve wrote:

Sir Well done Jeremy. If anyone was going to say it then it could only be you . I hope it starts a debate. My first sounds were the radio docter, a Mr Hill and the JB Priestley talks so I go back a bit and if Newsnight went then I would follow it. It is the one period of sanity that puts the world into perspective rather than the madness of other broardcast media. Did we really need an OB truck in Portugal for weeks covering the McCann story? The reputation of Paxman is beyond question, he is me, he is you asking Blair what I have been itching to say for years and he says it for me....no other intervewer does that or even come close. Blair refused time after time to come on Newsnight for year after year, doesn't that say it all about Newsnight and Jeremy. Great stuff. Steven Calrow

  • 75.
  • At 09:21 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Robert Harradine wrote:

Time for TV licence to go. Why should we pay to own a telly, we must be the only country in the world having to pay a licence.
doing away with BBC would save me £120.00 per year

  • 76.
  • At 09:33 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

Just be thankful we're not forced to subsist on Fox News et al. Although we're going that way - perhaps we could have "The Paxman Factor" as a counterpart to Bill O'Reilly's "show" on Murdoch's "news" channel.

  • 77.
  • At 09:58 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • malcolm goulding wrote:

Not a bad speech but Paxman cannot have it both ways, he laments of the demise of ITV, in terms of its public sector requirements but then perversely, puts forwards the idea that the BBC should be funded in the same way.

It would not work and there would be no BBC, end of story.

I do not want that but sadly one day in the not too distant future anti-license fee protagonists may well get their way.

I can only add my voice to the "well done" comments above and my support for Jeremy Paxman becoming the next Director General. I am particularly encouraged by his highlighting of the ageism that pervades all areas of our society and the havoc it leads to when you replace maturity and experience with young people (Blair and Campbell in 1997 spring to mind) who really don't have a clue. Yes, it is cheaper for organisations but think about it next time you are on a fly by wire passenger jet.

  • 79.
  • At 10:27 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • lewis wrote:

hello

I'm afraid that I did not read all of the speech and, so I might have missed it. However assumming that I didn,t it seems to me that jeremy missed the point. In capitalist countries neither governments or journalists control events and, therefore govern us. The creaters of capitalisme are the ones pulling the strings, the rest of us are merely the puppets

  • 80.
  • At 10:34 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • n katan wrote:

Absolutely brilliant.
You hit the nail on the head. Perhaps you should become chairman of the BBC or even better priminister and rid this country of this cancer.
Well done!!

  • 81.
  • At 10:52 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Graham wrote:

Perhaps the reason that TV executives feel unable to enter a mature debate about the purpose of televeision and the special role of the BBC, is because they may want (need?) to get a job with the 'competitor' service provider? How can we protect the independent voice who says what we need to hear, even when we don't want to hear it?

  • 82.
  • At 11:01 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Michael Daly wrote:

JP has made the points that I and many others constantly make through this site and other avenues such as Newswatch. The usual response of the BBC is to have the Head of BBC News, Head of Daytime News, Chief Head Of Head News etc to tell us that we are wrong and they are right and the BBC is almost perfect but in the heat of battle they might have got the emphasis wrong, or similar excuse. No one will take responsibility. Everyone looks after each other. Would a BBC reporter make an undercover investigation of what really happens in the BBC? That would be interesting TV!

  • 83.
  • At 11:08 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Bill Elliott wrote:

Can't wait for the sequel.

  • 84.
  • At 11:17 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Damon Lewis wrote:

Did Jeremy meet Jerry Maguire on the Road to Damascus? Or should I say Jeremy Maguire!
The BBC does not stand for Bring Back Carbolic...in the 21st century its bottom line not golden age!

  • 85.
  • At 11:37 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Mick Ferris wrote:

At last someone in my profession is talking sense!

  • 86.
  • At 11:48 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Alexander Bannerman wrote:

Congratulations Mr.Paxman,you have said what a lot of people of my age,65,think of television today.It does not matter how much or how often we complain we are ignored.Please keep on expressing your opinions,it matters to a large section of the viewing public.Well done.Sandy Bannerman

  • 87.
  • At 11:58 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Damon Lewis wrote:

Mr KITSON- post 72

What is ludicrous is to slate Paxo when you can't even get his name right! Any truth contained therein is undermined by your clear ignorance of the subject matter.

  • 88.
  • At 11:58 AM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Martin Liddament wrote:

I enjoyed reading the speech.

For me, there's very lttle to be gained from owning a TV (and paying a tax on it to fund an increasingly self-congratulatory BBC). I can get entertainment and information from other sources, when I want and in the format I want. TV's time came - and is now going.

The problems of news values getting in the way of intelligent analysis and of competition eroding accuracy will always be there while the media run businesses and while their approach and mind set are passed on via unique forms of apprenticeship. Jeremy is right to highlight the problems, but I don't see much hope of changing the situation through intervention.

The political/media/celebrity mix ("Polmebrity"?) that characterises much of the broadcast and printed media is unhealthy. It thrives because of expediency, the erosion of solid education and - in this country - the severing of our links with culture and our heritage. But much in the same way that people worked out that drinking water contaminated with effluent is bad for you, so society will eventually work out that the deals cut between the media and the government and fantasy games of celebrity worship are all aspects of a single cynical, manipulative and untrustworthy axis that has formed over the past thirty years.

There's always something better that we can find. At the end of the day, we have the power to turn away. Or to turn off.

  • 89.
  • At 12:04 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Amal Basu wrote:

Jeremy Paxman's rebuke was timely, though his analogy with washing machine was a bit far fetched. Washing machine's programme we control at home, TV programmes are provided by the media mafia; we can only control them through the fees and ratings. Sadly, the ratings stem from the audience of questionable taste.That is the reason why programmes like Big Brother, or DanceX or celebrety dance programmes are prolific in the media industry presented by the second rate performers who would have hard time to maintain a job in a respectable industry. Our media personalities are like our footballers, seduced by high salary without having equivalent qualities. Take for example the lady who represented BBC at the last night debate on the Newsnight. She stumbled with the words, and had a job to articulate her answer. Cannel4 representative should be made aware of that all Channel4 worthwhile investigative journalisms have been marred by its association with programme like Big Brother and other rubbish. I think the media should concentrate more to cerebral products, and less on LifeStyle. Through pervaded sense of priority the fotballers,hairdresses, chefs,interior decorators and their ilks get prominence than they have ever been because of media. Our medeia induster has lost its way in the process.

  • 90.
  • At 12:18 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • ASH COTIER wrote:

There were some good points in J Paxman's speech about television as all impact and sensation. What he omits is that Newsnight over the 17 years I have been watching it, though primarily in the last 2-3, has fallen foul of exactly the same failings. I almost can't watch it now for the hysterical nature of every opening, Kirsty Wark barking at you like a BBC attack dog. There are endless examples of the hysteria and shallowness in the last year or two, but the clincher was the farcical use of a videophone (I can't recall what the programme was about, some minor hysteria) in a quite literal victory of style over substance - you couldn't hear or see the person, and there was no need to use a videophone; I sensed a desperate director hipster trying to engage 'yoof'. And lest I forget, I mean really, contrast Michael Crick and Michael Buerk for a second; one serious, sane, and authoritative, the other well, a complete berk...The man should be jettisoned if Newsnight wants to retain any credibility at all. A once serious programme gone utterly to pot. (Said with genuine sadness, though life of course goes on.)

  • 91.
  • At 12:20 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Bryn wrote:

Well done Paxman! You've finally had the guts to stand up and say what you (and many of us) feel are the problems of an increasingly tabloid and sensationalist news media (Newsnight being one of the exceptions!). More journalists should speak out about this and I for one are glad that you did.

  • 92.
  • At 12:28 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Paul Hancocks wrote:

I could hardly believe it when I heard this last night. I've been a fan of Newsnight since I was a teen, and Mr Paxman is a legend in his own lifetime. A superbly delivered argument (and the interview on R4 with John Humphreys was excellent also).

I can't stand rolling news, long live a healthy and well nourished Newsnight! Stick with it JP, you are so full of common sense and intellect.

Paul

Excellent article Jeremy, it's nice to see someone stand up and say what needs to be said about modern television.

I would say there have been some great factual programmes recently exploring the lake district and stuff such as that, places I never get to see usually.

This is the stuff I like: informative, inspiring and thought-provoking. Without Panorama and Newsnight we would live in a lesser democracy.

As for the person in these comments who slates Paxman for "political bias" that is quite hiliarious. Have you even read any of his books? - I'd assume not. Exactly what party do you think he has "political bias" towards? That charge is perhaps the most ridiculous comment on this entire blog.

  • 94.
  • At 12:47 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Phil wrote:

Excellent speech, and the amount of comments posted on it show it's certainly roused debate.

To other posters - I believe ( please correct me if otherwise ) that Mr. Paxman wasn't simply advocating the end of the licence fee.

JP's not arguing that the BBC should no longer be funded by public money, just that the licence fee structure is faintly ridiculous. Many people receive the benefits of the BBC abroad or through media other than TV - i.e. BBC.co.uk - hence without paying licence fee. Charging a tax on TV ownership then does become a bit of a joke.

The service should be funded by government to ensure it can avoid the traps of commercialism. However, another mechanism could be considered.

Selling the rights to the highly respected journalism and documentaries abroad would be one funding model. Another would be a slice of national taxes ( sunk in with all the others, the per-person tax would be minimal ).

It would be nice to be able to charge non-UK taxpayers for use of BBC material separately and directly, but that not only sends a distinct message about the stinginess of 'us Brits', but would also downplay the excellent work the BBC does in representing our nation abroad.

I for one laud the BBC, but agree with the speech that pursuit of commercial audience share may well result in nothing more than a 'race to the bottom'...

Oh, and is the reference to 'Comment is Free' give a backhanded plug to the Guardian's CiF? *8-)

P.S. Rupert Murdoch *is* the antichrist.

  • 95.
  • At 01:31 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Alan Bishop wrote:

Well done Paxperson! A glittering speech. I read it all. Every sentence was passionate but balanced. Of course, it will make no difference. They are not listening. They are too busy chasing audiences and trying to be all things to all people. They have no time to see the long picture. All we will see and hear will be off topic, slanted denials and irrelevant explanations. It will be quietly suppressed like all careful intellectual criticism of the media. Perhaps they should all take up fly fishing! Again - wonderful. Thank you.

  • 96.
  • At 01:40 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Martin Lancs. wrote:

Paxman for DG.

  • 97.
  • At 01:52 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • godricbj wrote:

About that Licence Fee

Its like having to buy a copy of Pravda before you are allow to read another newspaper.

Imagine having to buy a copy of the Guardian before you are allowed to the the Times... scandelous I hear you cry... but what's the difference?

To watch another channel... sky for example you have to pay about £260... £130 for a licence and then another £130 for the other channel.

This is censorship by wallet.

Lets change it... NOW.

  • 98.
  • At 02:33 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Lesley Boatwright wrote:

An excellent lecture - and a very interesting point about Winston Churchill not holding press conferences or giving interviews to the media. Imagine it today: 'I can only promise you blood, sweat, toil and tears ...' but before he reaches the word 'tears' the interviewer has already jumped in to ask 'surely it is the government's job to ensure that the bloodshed is minimal?'
The media in Churchill's day may well have 'known their place', but they now are like the Old Man of Thermopylae - they never do anything properly.

  • 99.
  • At 02:45 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Mike Silvey wrote:

Oh so Brilliant.

This needs to be said so badly.

We cried in sadness for the BBC when "The Hutton Scam" occured.

We have felt so unprotected by the Blair & Bush Marketing Machines.

Jeremy Paxman proves once again that he stands out with real Balls of Steel.

Thank you Thank you Thank you.

Someone Cares. Someone can speak with the people, for the people.

Let's have the balls to produce a real service for the public.

P.S. Please, someone tell Australian and US television!!!

Oh, and BBC - keep the Podcasts of EVERYTHING available - we love you globally

Mike

  • 100.
  • At 02:48 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Gareth wrote:

Paxman for DG? Paxman for PM more like!

  • 101.
  • At 02:57 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • rob beeston wrote:

there was a time when you'd only think much of what paxman says while watching itv news (because you'd missed the others'). now there's only channel four (whose lapses into caricature we can perhaps forgive).

chris morris obviously based much of his "the day today" anchorman on paxman. now, at long last, paxman articulates everything chris morris parodied back in the early nineties.

"THIS IS THE NEWWWWWS! BECAUSE FACT INTO DOUBT WON'T GO!"

"NEWS! FROM TELLY, TO BELLY!"

"THIS...IS OUR WAR!"

not that any of it'll make the blindest bit of difference though. such is the machine.

I am a current resident of the United States, where the media (especially the news media) has degraded to a point where everything is a commodity: networks will promote news stories on their own series, for example, news is sensationalized all the time and very little mainstream media is geared towards actually informing the public. I was delighted first to hear Tony Blair's 'pack of dogs' speech and now Jeremy Paxman's account of the state of public programming. Remember the opening scene from 'Good Night and Good Luck':

"Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box." E. R. Murrow.

I feel that the British media will proceed with wild abandon down the same commercialized, commodity-driven avenue provided by the US example unless we demand to be treated like adults and insist that the people entrusted to educate and entertain us do so with our best interests at heart, not just in order to sell us things.

  • 103.
  • At 04:32 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

I think Jeremy has grasped the nettle - now this realisation must spread throughout the rest of the BBC and beyond.

If there is a video recording of his speech then please can you upload it?

In fact, can you please just broadcast it on BBC2?

  • 104.
  • At 04:39 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • DAllan wrote:

The great master plan is broken or rather was Flawed from the start Jeremy, The pendulum is about swing the other way or is it the executioners axe. There will be a few tears at bedtime but not for me and a great deal of other people you included. Keep Attacking the Day and Night mate.

  • 105.
  • At 05:30 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • paul embleton wrote:

Very well said - and about time too. Most of my perceptions and fears have been eloquently echoed; it's a sad day indeed when I switch off either BBC news or Newsnight, or other current affairs content, owing to over-simplifications, bizarre weighting or content, or even some editor's personal bias' being portrayed rather than simple depiction of relevant facts along with an even measure of informed and well-balanced comment.

And as for some of the attire - well it looks dumbed-down even if the presenter isn't such mentally ... but appearances do set a tone and the scene after all.

Many thanks, keep up the good work Jeremy.

  • 106.
  • At 05:33 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Bill Taylor in England wrote:

Thanks. Just what was needed to hear!
I find TV poor. There are some good things to see, but how to find them. Personal Video Recorders help.
I waited with bated breath for the availability of Digital TV offering a quantum leap in picture and audio quality. I hoped with the programming BBC produced this would change the viewing experience for the better.
What has happened is that, with exceptions that demonstrate what is possible, the norm is that the BBC chooses to use the additional bandwidth to broadcast parallel programming at the detriment of the technical quality. I have complained, but so far no one with Technical responsibility will even accept this is what they are doing.
This lecture is timely – Well Done,

  • 107.
  • At 06:02 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Jill Starr wrote:

I agree with Jeremy!

  • 108.
  • At 06:48 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • HM wrote:

Long live JP - and Newsnight!

  • 109.
  • At 06:51 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Tim Clarke wrote:

Full marks Jeremy. Senior tv execs need be reminded of the legacy they're creating - ie., a dumbing down process the extent of which we've never seen before. God if Newsnight goes the same way, then we will have crossed the line. Wake up tv execs & please do something about it quickly.

  • 110.
  • At 06:52 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Stephen Fox wrote:

Jeremy,

I agree with what you say as far as it goes, but I would have liked to hear more like this:
"People who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that [global warming] is the consequence of our own behaviour. I assume that this is why the BBC's coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago", Jeremy Paxman, Media Guardian, Jan 31st, 2007.
It seems to me that the same criticism applies to other difficult issues, for example the BBC coverage of the Middle East, where the guilt of Israel and the USA, and the corresponding innocence of the Palestinians and the wider Arab world is taken for granted in much the same way.
Whatever conclusion one might come to about these issues, I do not accept the BBC's right to direct us to what it collectively thinks is the right one, and then charge £120 a year for the privilege.

  • 111.
  • At 09:19 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • csharp wrote:

'Mutiny on the Bounty Mr Christian?'

Tv is irrelevant these days which is why we are discussing this on the net? Television would never show the talks at this meeting. This paper might only be read by say 1000 people but what if those 1000 people were among the high level decision makers of society? Then its long term impact on society may be greater than the 10 million who watched eastenders three times a week?

Television is just now an old technology that has run its course like 78 records.

i want to watch what i want when i want and will go where i need to to get it. One method that seems to work on internet radio is that if you want to stop the adverts you pay a subscription.

I get a lot of my programming from net videos these days from talks by eminent speakers on philosophy to how to repair a toaster. They don't come across as bogus, fake or second rate and if they are it become clear pretty quickly on the net. I challenge anyone to leave a false fact no matter how obscure on the major news boards and see how long before they are corrected. This is why the old BBC Great Debate Board was the most stunning public service success ever to be decapitated [because it wasn't linked to a program but an idea of debate]. It used to break news. We heard about american troops landing in russia as part of the build up of the Iraq war before the official news did. Often it was two or three days ahead of the official news agencies? Why? because informed people love telling the truth they know and will put it where they believe they can have maxim impact. There is a pleasure in it and it is this we should trust that public service now means open broadcasting.

How could a modern World in Action compete with a blogger from the police telling you what it is really like day to day. Could any television programme no matter how expensive or thorough or how well combed the presenters hair tell you how the military are feeling about iraq when all you need do is go to the Army Rumour website and view the messages or watch their mobile phone movies? People want to tell their story. People love to tell their story because there is a pleasure in sharing knowledge.


Like the Aral sea television is drying up. its too expensive and could end up like Opera heavily subsidised and run by big egos for their own clique.

Like the European constitution we will never get a referendum on the tv licence fee because we all know what the result would be.

Actually there is more worth in a public service newspaper and website as the two main ways of providing not only a trusted place for a cadre of skilled journalists to learn and grow but as the way to bind the country and society together.

  • 112.
  • At 10:36 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • Geoffrey Pickess wrote:

Jeremey Paxman has articulated, in a way I could never achieve, the reasons why I spend less and less time watching television.

I hope that his wide ranging and carefully thought out review of the current state of broadcasting will not be dismissed as a rant, aimed at to many targets.

Broadcasters cannot on the one hand boast of their importance to society and on the other, deny that their actions have any impact on society.

A case in point is the way that the BBC lambasts the young for their antisocial behaviour, while at the same time advertising a programme with scenes of 'adults' throwing food at each other.

We need standards, but I feel we need to sink much, much further into the gutter before the voice of the 'silent' majority drowns out the smart set that has dragged this country down for the past 40 years.

  • 113.
  • At 10:57 PM on 25 Aug 2007,
  • jon dean wrote:

Totally agree with JP but it come too late for some of us, the idiots lantern has failed to provide intellectual stimulation or entertainment for some considerable time and has already been consigned to yesterdays technology.

  • 114.
  • At 12:07 AM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • William T Jackson wrote:

I decided not to renew my TV licence when it was due for renewal at the end of May. It wasn't really about the money, or just the BBC, for the real reason may I refer you to Mr Paxman's thoughts above!

  • 115.
  • At 12:16 AM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • gmf wrote:

Well said Mr. Paxman! 10 out of 10, 100% correct! Tv's being going downhill for a long time, especially the BBC, & seems to be reaching terminal velocity. Soaps, reality shows, GAH!

Marshall McLuhan famously said, "The medium is the message." I thought at the time he had overstated his case a bit, perhaps seeking the impact that would make his point more memorable, but as time wears on, my view has shifted.

He might just as accurately have said "The medium is the massage."

For massaging is exactly what TV does to reality. Content is selected, edited, and slanted for impact, as Mr. Paxman said in his rambling way.

In the process, our understanding of reality is not augmented, but distorted and lost. This conclusion is one you may hear only faintly from an insider like Mr. Paxman; after all, he is looking for a way forward for a medium in which he is heavily invested. He is not looking for a reason to dismantle it. But the evidence for this degree of distortion is pretty much incontrovertible.

Television dulls our minds. The relentless progression of hyperbole lulls us into an hypnotic, suggestible trance. Make no mistake, that is the reason for the high sums paid by advertisers. By contrast, truly interactive media can be a conversation, engaging and switching on minds of participants.

The public is increasingly demanding interactivity. The public is also fragmenting according to its particular interests, paying attention to blogs and channels which cater to narrow segments. It's a zero-sum game; as these new information channels gain participants (lets not call them viewers, that's passe), old-style broadcast TV is suffering from a diminishing audience, especially among the young.

Internet audiences are not so easily hypnotized. When a medium is two-way, when minds are actively engaged and responding, they are less suggestible. This will have significant social, economic and political ramifications as we advance into the Information Age.

The entry costs for production of content on the internet are so low, anyone can do it. The low cost of content-generation on the web guarantees there will be plenty of it, and if most of it fails to achieve what high-budget productions can achieve in terms of gloss, it's never-the-less true that some of it is very good, indeed. (See the lectures at www.ted.com for examples.)

If you have visited the Weather Channel web site recently, you may have noticed that you can now see weather, updated every 5 minutes, on a zoomable map furnished by Microsoft. You can actually zoom in enough to see your own house. How can broadcast TV ever match that for relevance?

That's just the start. Every year these technologies become more startling. The web is still in its infancy; as it matures it will explode with creative, irresistible ways for humans to obtain information.

Imagine a world in which hundreds of millions of people have a wearable web-connected camera, tied together by a social network like Digg which brings to the forefront of public attention those channels most deserving of interest. The requisite technology is just around the corner. None of it will require a vast and expensive bureaucracy of producers and content generators at established media companies.

The public has begun to inform itself. Broadcasters are no longer just competing against each other. They are competing with everyone.

It's more challenging to furnish context, of course. But context is exactly what TV has been moving away from for many years, as it dashes from hyped crisis to hyped crisis in search of an ever-diminishing base of viewers.

Old-style television is not about to be resuscitated by Mr. Paxman's come-to-Jesus call for soul-searching or creed-manufacturing. If it survives at all, it must make the transition to interactivity. It must be furnished on-demand. It must address the audience's fragmented interests. It must compete with or tap into increasingly effective amateurs.

And it must come to terms with this bold new paradigm: an audience that is awake. The old money pot that was a vast, uncritical, hypnotized audience is starting to run dry.

  • 117.
  • At 09:35 AM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Kath O'Reilly wrote:

An excellent beginning to what I hope will be a debate.

As a member of 'Joe-public', I can only hope that the media listen to what Jeremy has said. I agree that television journalism desperately needs to change, and identify why it exists. And tell me what I need to know, rather than what I don't!

There is too much time spent on small, insignificant 'news'. I was shocked and appalled when G Brown was visiting W Bush, and the story was the interaction and body languague between the two World leaders. Surely they spoke about something? News on the (BBC) radio is currently far more informative, but only just.

  • 118.
  • At 10:26 AM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

What has been expressed by Jeremy Paxman is long overdue and really sums up the state of television broadcasting today.

News reporting has become so simplistic and focussed on the trivial that bulletins are rapidly losing the trust of its audience. Too much time is spent on speculation, exploitation and dramatic effect at the expense of simply reporting the facts.

Perhaps it's time for some of the senior executives at the BBC to step aside and make way for new blood.

JP to run the BBC!

I’d love to have seen Jeremy’s brilliant speech live too! He’s the only journalist who’s got the guts to come out and say it like it is. Jeremy is more than worth the licence fee alone, and it would be disastrous to make funding cuts to Newsnight. Where else do we get the same level of discussion or in-depth analysis on the news? Answer – nowhere. Yes I do watch Sky News/CNN/Al-Jazeera/ Fox News for up to the minute coverage, but I chose to watch Newsnight, as there still isn’t a programme out there faintly resembling it. (and Gareth @ post 100, how cool would it be to have Jeremy as PM?). Love it!!!!!

  • 120.
  • At 12:04 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Bravo Jeremy !!

Great to hear some 'home truths' from Paxo.

A fantastic speech which confirms that you need to be the next DG of the BBC as only you can now save this once great broadcasting institution.

Actually, cars do kill people whoeveris driving: The polluting poisenous fumes are inherent and not dependant on whose driving.

Perhaps other media and devices have inherent qualities too.

  • 122.
  • At 12:31 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Graham wrote:

Well done at least someone had the wit to say it

  • 123.
  • At 01:01 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Peter S wrote:

George wrote: "Yawn. Comment after comment of pompous public sector parasites trumpeting Paxman's stupid speech. We don't want the BBC. It is entirely unethical that we are forced to finance it. Why must the tax payer be under legal obligation to sustain an institution with an overt left wing bias, that has entirely discarded the fundamental principle of journalistic objectivity? Most of you are well aware of this but to bloody arrogant to admit it because you are held accountable to nobody. In fact what's the point of writing this paragraph? It's highly unlikely it will ever be published. Hey Paxman you’re great..publish that!"

I think you have missed the point. If the BBC was completely commercial, or scapped, TV would be even more dire.

Also, are you George Galloway? You have that streak of paranoia and attitude to suggest so! ;-)

  • 124.
  • At 01:41 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Mr Quick wrote:

The modern western human is different from previous generations in one important way. This difference is vastly greater than any other, and no religion, philosphy, political movement or anything else has yet grasped this - and because they have not grasped this they aren't really getting anywhere in this millenium (especially the religions). The difference is that the modern western human walks around with far more stories, pictures, and other information in his head than his ancestors. It used to be a question of finding things out, getting the answers. Now it's a 'finding a needle in a haystack' paradigm. News isn't news in the same way it once was because of this, and I am so grateful that minds like Paxman's (with his love of truth) are getting stuck into these issues.

  • 125.
  • At 03:49 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Brian Bamforth wrote:

Well done Jeremy, Please continue to ask the questions and be independent.

  • 126.
  • At 04:57 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Silkstone wrote:

Paxman's diagnosis of what is undoubtedly a National malaise is long overdue, but welcome nonetheless.

19century American essayist, Ralph W.Emerson opined...."The mind and the mood of the masses is the soil of the policy".

Undoubtedly an admirable and profound statement in itself at any time, but had he been alive today to witness the results of the effects of television on society, he would have had to add after 'the mind and the mood of the masses'..."as massaged, moulded and manipulated by the media".

Obviously, the medium of television per-se can neither manipulate, massage nor mould anyone, but tragically it rapidly evolved into the ideal vehicle, facility, call it what you will, for many with diverse and often sinister agendas to exploit whatever broadcasting privileges they might have gained so as to achieve exactly that.

The social fabric of many parts of our once tightly-knit, solid and sensible Nation, is now unquestionably in an advanced and cancerous state of degeneration, fragmentation and disintegration; and in the majority of those parts you could even add 'decomposition'.

PROGNOSIS - extremely dire, but this is one cancer that CAN be cured, although it will require major surgery - with all the risks that that entails.

Question is - who is capable of wielding the scalpel?

  • 127.
  • At 07:20 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • John Nicholl wrote:

Well done Jeremy!! I can't believe that someone of his stature has at last said what so many people - including me - have thoght for the last three or four years. Namely - if I hear one more newsreader asking me to press a red button I will etc etc or when watching a golf tournament the presenter at some time will remind the winner just how 'emotional' it was out there etc etc., Will Mr Paxman's plea come to anything? Regretfully, I rather doubt it - but one can hold much hope. It is a start.

  • 128.
  • At 08:49 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Carol Chapman wrote:

Jeremy,

At last, someone stood up and spoke for me.

Thank you.

  • 129.
  • At 10:50 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Yiorgos Nikiteas wrote:

All too late JP, for me and my family.
We decided not to renew the TV licence last May.
Problem solved, - we are free!!!!

  • 130.
  • At 11:11 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Roni wrote:

*claps* well said Jeremy the BBC needs more people like you, don't ever change.

There is one sentence in JP's speech I really don't get at all. Maybe it is mortifyingly plain for others, but what does he mean by this:

"By and large, the response to Blair’s attack just pressed the F12 key."

The F12 key? Alt+F4, yes. Esc, surely. But what does the proverbial F12 do? Explanation, please!

  • 132.
  • At 11:16 PM on 26 Aug 2007,
  • Jel wrote:

Just because Paxman dissents doesn't make him right. The idea of the Estates was feudal, to keep each in his place, "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, He made them high and lowly, and ordered their Estate". This is no longer a viable model, and it's time the BBC got off its high horse and realised it has lost the game.
Let's firstly correct Paxman's Fourth Estate: not only has the Media replaced the Church in dictating creed to the "noddies", but Parliament has replaced the Nobility in Leader-ship (or spin, if you prefer). Dunbar's original analysis was written in a time when it was physically dangerous to dissent, and we have won that battle - or at any rate, the BBC certainly has no power to burn us at the stake, thankfully.
Paxman calls for a new Nicean Council, in effect, to decide what should be dictated to the mindless mob. The mob isn't, however, as mindless a bunch of "noddies" as Paxman thinks, this is why the loss of identification both with Parliamentary "democracy" and with the media is so marked: our population holds a range of creeds, from capitalist to socialist, from free-market to green, from conservative to anarchist. It is no longer possible to fool all of the people all of the time: we measure news against our experience, and when major news items are not reported on the BBC which are presented elsewhere, we see the spin and cease to believe in Auntie's objectivity.
The role of the Fourth Estate was to audit the relationship between the others, to act as the Court Jester to reveal the hidden truths: it would seen that the Internet has taken on that role, and that the BBC wants to be our new Religion instead. Unfortunately, as Paxman rightly says, it is no better than a bunch of clerical usurers selling Indulgences (or in this case, TV Licences) for hot air, and having lost its way, is particularly ill-placed to preach moral lessons to the rest of us, particularly when we can see this King has no clothes.
It is a sad comment that objective truth has gone by the board as a result, replaced by a form of popular socialist urban mythology: yet this is much as it has always been, whether under Paxman, Pius or Luther.

  • 133.
  • At 12:42 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • the cookie ducker wrote:

what a great speech..a very candid and heavy weight lecture that i hope will have some resonance within the industry.

  • 134.
  • At 01:16 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Henry wrote:

One aspect of the BBC that is important to remember is that it is so heterogeneous, few of us manage to avoid it altogether. Although I don't watch television, I am a huge fan of BBC radio and website.

Could the BBC be 'all things to all people'? Any specific statement of intent is unlikely to capture the valuable and various ways that the BBC contributes to the lives of people in the UK and beyond.

My suggestion would be that this statement of intent would be 'modular': different rules would apply for Newsnight than Saturday evening TV and Radio One. Unhappy licence fee payers could focus on the modules that they are most interested in/concerned about. Common themes could influence all the modules.

I felt the speech was quite introspective: JP questioning whether he is doing a good job, perhaps in the face of a reducing audience and ambivalence from management. I believe Newsnight is a credit to the BBC: perhaps there would be a BBC 'module' that JP could take more responsibility for, including designing their statement of intent?

  • 135.
  • At 07:58 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • D Allan wrote:

OOPS TEARS OF JOY FOR US.

So perhaps the internet is the way forward (at the moment). However, the BBC has also worked at the forefront of the transition from TV to Web..... and presumably, did this (largely) with public funding.

Pioneering such socially important transitions would have been more difficult (and probably impossible) if left to pure market forces -which often need publicly provided infrastructure to survive. I still see BBC world as inferior -simply because of its commercial, lifestyle, bias (putting news(and business) first -when background (and understanding)is more important).

In Holland the license fee was replaced by general taxation as a way of funding public broadcasting -but this simply hides the issue -and perhaps makes the debate over levels of funding and content in public broadcasting even more obscure within the general political debate.


Perhaps specialized audiences (and interest groups) do find each other on the net (or via specialized TV channels) -but how "enlightening" is it for the general public who have other interests and so swim in other waters outside these areas? How much do specialized channels simply reinforce existing prejudices? The "democratic" nature of the internet can drown out wisdom through popular clamour just as easily on the net as on TV or in politics. I still prefer "mailing lists" to web based discussions -but it seems that the web is (unfortunately) becoming increasingly the only form of "computer" known within the dominant culture. "Information" wins over "process" (except in violent video games) it seems. Few seem to understand the relationship between "information" and "process".


However, commercialization is also killing the internet -which is indeed apparently becoming the new political and commercial battleground for hearts and minds.

So what about the hidden world that has little or no access to internet: In many (poor) homes (around the world) TV is the cheapest and most efficient baby sitter and source of comfort in a world that apparently cares only for money.

Perhaps radio is even more important than TV or internet for some (impoverished) social groups. Which reminds me: Why is there no World Service radio in the Philippines?

  • 137.
  • At 01:01 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • David Ireland wrote:

Thank you Jeremy for a cracking read.
You have articulated with intelligence,insight and humour many thoughts which have been buzzing out of control around my head as I watched with helpless horror as the BBC' credibility steadily declines to dumbed down irrellevance.I note the scathing criticism of your speech from a former editor of the Sun....so you have surely got it absolutely right!.
My concern is particularly with news coverage because I want to know what is happening in the world, and being of a "certain age" the BBC always has been the most trustworthy reporter.
I also want, objective,perceptive and thoughtful analysis about what is behind the headlines to aid my understanding of a changing world.I stopped watching the BBC's Main News long ago as it became more and more superficial,trivial,self indulgent and tabloid.Why are two studio presenters (one male,one female)needed?. Only one can read the autocue at a time ! These programmes are relentlessly and successfully chasing the standards shown by Midlands Today which I think is truly awful.
I agree that commercial competition (for viewer numbers) is most likely to be at the root of all this.Why so? The BBC is a public service, not a commercial organisation,something which seems to have been forgotten by those who make the decisions.
I hope your speech my act as a wake-up call to the "movers and shakers" in the corporation but I fear their priorities are to preserve the "organisation" and it will be quietly ignored.I wonder if the only way that standards can be regained and preserved is if the BBC's budget was drastically cut so it is absolutely impossible to compete in the ratings game,and therefore has no choice but to prioritise quality.

  • 138.
  • At 01:06 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Marian Boddy wrote:

We used to mark the TV and Radio Guide with programmes which we wanted to watch -- there used to be one or two every day. Sometimes, in the days before home recording equipment, we would have to miss a programme because it clashed with another. Not so now -- most days there is nothing worth watching. Endless soaps, cookery programmes, house-buying in this or that country -- vacuous! The news is a farce no matter which channel you watch. Hysteria on the part of journalists and presenters is the norm, and not enough real news about what is happening in what some thinking people regard as areas of national and international interest. For example, what is really happening in Afghanistan or Iraq -- apart that is from the only news we're given about soliders' deaths or explosions aimed at the long-suffering population. How are soldiers feeling about progress (if there is any)? How are the Afghans or Iraqis coping? No one in the newsrooms seems to get to grips with this. If it isn't hysterically dramatic don't talk about it seems to be the overwhelming criterion. Another example -- during the albeit awful floods around Tewkesbury and other areas, the Japanese were also experiencing widespread floods, but it took days for the newsrooms to even comment about this -- shameful. How much other international news gets buried is unknown because the news editors can't see beyond the end of their noses.

Well done Paxman -- I wish I could believe that your stand would lead to better and more representative television -- in that there are many people who wish to be informed and entertained in the way television once managed to achieve (Bronowski, Sagan, Clarke, Attenborough).

  • 139.
  • At 03:02 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Elizabeth wrote:

This is very good interesting script by Jeremy Paxman. I know most of us love BBC and if there could be ways of diagnosing "problems" that may threaten BBC's justification for existence early as discussed in this article then preventative action need be taken in time.

I think that this write up could be very useful and may form the starting point for a baseline survey ( desk top and field) so that BBC is well adapted strategically in severely competitive media operating environment. Well done!

  • 140.
  • At 04:06 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

TV and film entertainment would be so much better if people like Jezza were head of the BBC. And ITV, and C4, and Hollywood,....

  • 141.
  • At 04:06 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Ed wrote:

I thought this was a really good speech until reading the bit about the television tax. I don't know what he was trying to say: that we should get rid of the BBC license fee?
I respect Jeremy Paxman a lot but this part of the speech was not good, in my view: I mean he compares working for the Sudanese Political Service as something comparable to working for the BBC now. The BBC is, always has been, and always should be, about putting out decent programmes. Working for the colonial services, might have had its interesting moments, but it could also be pretty awful. And it was about, ultimately, serving Queen and Empire - Duty.
The BBC is, ultimately, about being creative, innovative and so on (for arts documentaries, comedy, drama, children's programmes, at least - these making up the bulk about what the BBC is really about).
My point, here, is not that J. P. has an over-romantic idea of the colonial services (who cares), but doesn't fully appreciate that the BBC should be about creativity and innovation (he might be an expert on BBC news and current affairs, but, clearly not an expert on BBC arts, drama and so on).
So what I really object to is how this speech could dull the imagination, as well as the enthusiasm and boldness, of those in the BBC who want to make great programmes. An alternative, commercial answer to a publically-funded BBC would not be about great programmes ('great' in terms of long-term appeal based on creativuty, innovation etc .., as opposed to short-term popularity based on sensationalism etc..)
Does the tax system need reforming? Yes, probably. I don't work, and have never worked, in television but I want a decent public broadcaster. And I think most people realize - from one degree to another - that the BBC plays an important part in stopping Britain becoming a dumber place. We have all seen American and continental TV - and just how banal it is. We all have some idea of the negative effects of bad television on viewers (especially children). And most people appreciate that the BBC has made some great programmes over the years that could never, possibly have got made on commercial TV.
O.K. The license fee isn't 100% fair. But you could argue that television and society would be much worse off without it. In a perfect world there would be no taxes. The BBC has proven its value over the years. If you get rid of public funding for the BBC, to be consistent, do you also do the same, for example, for art galleries and museums? We tax people who send their children to private schools - their money going towards the education of publically-funded schools. I don't think that any tax system is 100% fair. But I would hate to see a tax system that crimped on publically-funded arts and education.
Jeremy undermines television tax but doesn't even attempt to go on to offer what would replace it, and what would be the consequences of this?
He rightly, criticizes the BBC for the way it has fallen short of what it is meant to do. But 'what it is meant to do' - the blueprint for what the BBC is all about, and what makes it different to others, wouldn't exist if there wasn't the television tax in the first place.


  • 142.
  • At 04:30 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Z Rizvi wrote:

Mr Paxman, I agree with some of your comments, and your diagnosis of the role of media as simply a diversion is spot on. The purpose of the BBC is now like junk food, low quality fodder passed off as wholesome and nourishing and too easily available. It’s making us all very sick!
I watch less and less tv. Nowadays I watch Newsnight, often wincing, not because of what appears but, more importantly, what never appears. Why do we get the same people wheeled into the studio for the same stories time after time as though these people are the only individuals with anything to say? It’s a sign that the media is rotten and populated by sycophants.
The corruption of the BBC is not unique. Management in every sector is incompetent. Fools have been recruited into well-paid jobs by other fools whose only interest is to cover their backs when things, inevitably, go wrong. I could make a series of documentaries on just this one fact.
There's plenty of material for excellent programmes, but how does a nation loosen the stranglehold of an arrogant class who enter this profession as though it’s only for second sons of the landed gentry?
As far as I can see, it’s probably by no longer paying a licence fee.

Not bad. And not before time.

But such as the following are no more than many have already mentioned, I do wonder if it will get beyond just being floated as yet another wheeze: 'I don’t think it will do for senior figures in this industry to stay hunkered down, occasionally lashing out at young people in the business or setting up inquiries of one sort or another.' Certainly not when those at the top who have presided over where we are now remain there. Maybe it's the Chas Clarke School of 'The best person to resolve the cock up is the cocker-upper in chief' way of thinking. Not that that worked for him.

'Whoever was responsible should be sacked.' 'Should' is one the funniest words in the English language in this regard.

But other worries remain. For instance I paused at this: 'I heard the other day of a production company which is sending its producers and researchers on a re-education course in which they’re instructed that if an interviewee does not say on camera what they have said in research, they may not be reminded or encouraged to repeat what they said previously. It would, they were told, be construed as coaching witnesses. This is ludicrous.'

Er... why? There's a lot in those words 'reminded' or 'encouraged'. And to me any attempt to get onscreen, or justify, what the broadcaster wants as opposed to what the interviewee says strikes me as not blooming well on.

And there is a slight whiff of 'who let them into the club?' to the critique of such as YouTube and blogs. I agree it's all totally Wild West out there, but then that's what happens when those in 'mainstream media' decided to play fast and loose with what was shared, and how it was shared, themselves. At least with a blog you do have a fair idea of where they are coming from, over time you can establish trust (especially that they are not bowing to commercial, political or 'career' pressures) and, more often than not you get a bunch of links to the source material (often diverse 'facts' where there is contention) to help you make your own mind up and not have it made for you. And a page on screen can run as far as required to cover all that's necessary, and not be constrained by 'that's all we have time for' (which is usually to either make time for the skateboarding tortoise or to avoid delving beyond the unqualified soundbite that will ensure journalistic immortality).

There are key admissions, if not exactly startling in their insights: 'To put it simply, people at the top are less concerned with content and a lot more concerned with bottom lines. There are too many people in this industry whose answer to the question what is television for? is to say ‘to make money.’' Let's not forget, A BBC salary is 'money'. And you make a bigger one by delivering the measure by which those above (and bestow career enhancements) make more money or gain power: ratings.

Plus the corporate bottom line ' ..analysis takes time, and comment is free'. It's a reason. Not a very good excuse. Much like the raft served up ('time pressures', 'inexperienced juniors', 'work placements' to field nasty lawyer letters. Well boo-hoo. If you haven't got what it takes to do a good job, don't try and do it until you have fought to resolve the shortfall. Maybe a few more researchers could be hired on a few lower celeb salaries?) to justify what was basically pretty rubbish practices by those who feel themselves immune (with, it seems, some justification. How many have actually been properly held to account on the woeful tally of the last few months?) from consequence.

I don't know if 'there has been a catastrophic, collective loss of nerve.' I'd say a lot of nerve is well in evidence, to miss the point that not telling the truth, and seeing no real problem with 'enhancing reality' (for no better reason than, at best, to suit the narrative, or worst, an agenda), is simply 'how it's done' these days. The medium really sees feeding its needs now as more important than delivering a worthwhile message.

And while I agree with the quoted statement, let me suggest another version: 'if you spend your time telling people what you think they obviously (to whom?) should want to hear to the exclusion of fact or balance, pretty soon you will lose their trust. Or, worse, their viewing figures (remember the salary measure, chaps. Or, in the case of the BBC, the fee that pays the inhabitants of the gilded towers). Sorry Jeremy, you are down there already with the tabloids. At least they don't try and pretend they are much else than what they are any more. The Number 12 example is apt; and look how politics is viewed as a consequence.

The word trust is used a lot here. You have to earn it. And what has been built up in years can be lost in an instant. As has occurred. Maybe it can be regained, and if it can it will take time. But with the evidence of what - and who - I see before me to make this happen... I ain't holding my breath. Too many people. Too many vested interests. Too many layers. Too much 'precedent'. Too much protection. Too much greed. Too much self-justification.

I keep watching because I really don't have an alternative. But boy, you guys are making it harder to make it worth my while by the day. And, one of these days, I might just stop. At which point I really ask why I need to pay for something I can't use.

A lot of what gets done still is good. And more power to those who do it. But I leave you with this. Having played 'who, why, where..' ping pong with the latest talking (if not saying anything) head and either got a juicy answer (unlikely) or the equally career-enhancing record series of deflections, how many times do you and your media colleagues return, again, and again, to hold them to it or insist of getting one (and then hold them to it?). I'd suggest seldom. And they know it. In the current state of things it's just a game both have come out with what they need by playing without need for an actual result, even if those watching may remain none the wiser and still very poorly served by two entities in theory tasked to do so. The process is now totally dominant (as it is with government) to the product.

So... ‘And who, precisely, do you presume to speak for?’ Good question. Worth remembering. You go on to answer a slightly different one. But the real answer to this?

Good luck with rediscovering the purpose.

  • 144.
  • At 05:23 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Peter Farrell-Vinay wrote:

At the end of each post there is a little opportunity to "Complain about this post". This tells you something of the level of intelligence of the people who run this bit of the BBC. Not "add to this post", or "Explore this post" or even question it.

And that's what news organisations need to do and what Newsnight mostly tries to do (when they're not interviewing drugged young persons in hats).

And if Newsnight fails to ask intelligent questions and get answers, I'll stop watching it. There was a time when I was a Newsnight junkie and that's sadly passing.

And no, Newsnight isn't the only good news programme - there's Channel 4 news too. Now ho about asking John Snow to reply ...

  • 145.
  • At 06:20 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • rob wrote:

Dear Mr Paxman 27/8/2007

MacTaggart Lecture

Your MacTaggart Lecture was long on criticism, but short on remedy.

You assume an intellectually sophisticated homogeneous consumer.

In support of the thrust of your main criticism of BBC News ie ‘people at the top are less concerned with content and a lot more concerned with bottom lines’ the following is the by-line on this mornings BBC News Website trailing US Economic Data:-
++
Latest figures on US home sales are due to be released indicating whether the economy will rise or crash.
++

This is a manifest economic nonsense. The editor is either an economic affairs illiterate or, simply, pig-ignorant.

If there was a criticism to be made of BBC News analysis it is one of ageism. Most of the reporting staff are too young, too inexperienced, lacking worldly wisdom, a consequence of which is a propensity to ill-formed analysis and reportage.

A blatant example to BBC News being hijacked in the interests of the bottom line is ‘trailering’ some programme/series of indeterminate date which has no resonance with gthe news of the day.

The most recent greatest collective failure of UK journalism was the failure to challenge the infamous “45 minute” claim in Sept 2002 by the UK govt to justify the subsequent Iraq War. Yet the same collective journalism, was near universal in condemning the Hutton report, as a whitewash. You don’t offer any reason for the lemming, herd-like behaviour of the 4th Estate, other than perceptions of market forces. The response is simple. If one believes in market, then the market will decide the merit of your product. You would appear to be of the view that the market can , vested with sufficient resources be manipulated and/or seduced to embrace your perspective. You conclude TV has ‘to rediscover a sense of purpose‘. All of which has a dismal echo of a desire to return to Reithian values.

The internet will render popular journalism irrelevant. Relax, go fishing, distance yourself from metro- centric media obsessions. This will ensure you live long enough, to witness market forces demand informed, responsible journalism.

  • 146.
  • At 08:28 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Keith wrote:

Like Marian (138), i used to amrk the TV guide. Now I look in vain for anything worthwhile to watch which might inform or provoke to thought. I stopped watching BBC news ages ago. I do watch Channel 4 news, though I think John Snow is losing his edge).

so one turns to radio. I hera tha listening figures are rising. Any connexion?

  • 147.
  • At 08:43 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • keith wrote:

Sorry for the typos in 146. Obviously the effect of all this dumbing down.

  • 148.
  • At 09:43 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Peter Gorman wrote:

An excellent speech!

I fear that things will get worse before they get better ( if they ever do get better).There are few things worse than the results of saturation!

  • 149.
  • At 01:46 AM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • David Hall wrote:

Forty years ago I found myself marooned in Kuwait by the 6 day war. All commercial flights were cancelled and transistor radios provided our only contact with the outside world. Along with my British colleagues I listened to the BBC World Service while our Arab colleagues listened to Arabic stations. For the first two days their shouts of triumph from the other side of the office were understandable but by the third and fourth days it became clear we were hearing very different accounts. By the sixth day the value of an accurate and balanced news service had been elegantly demonstrated - even to some of our Arab colleagues.

For many of us, especially those who have spent time abroad, BBC news and current affairs is a quintessential part of our national identity which will be lost (in substance if not in name) if broadcasting is left to the market place and the tyranny of audience figures. Accordingly we believe the BBC should be funded from general taxation - like the Royal Family.

But a publicly funded BBC should be answerable directly to the public – not to its political representatives. This could be achieved by a BBC ‘Commission’ whose members are all elected by universal suffrage at the same time as (say) MEPs.
The detailed mechanism for selecting candidates, electoral systems, number of ‘Commissioners’ and period of office will need careful consideration but is do-able.
Those who would abolish the BBC could also stand - thus ensuring a wide ranging public debate. The process may even entice a new class of voters to the ballot box.
The essential requirement is that it should attract candidates of the calibre of Jeremy Paxman.

  • 150.
  • At 08:23 AM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • chris wrote:

what remarkable praise

and more remarkable that paxman stands out from the crowd

david attenbrough (sp) could do well to turn his attention to the rarity and impending extinction of such creatures of logic and humanitarianism

I will start to believe that someone is serious about all this when Mark Thompson falls on his sword, and takes the others who have dismissed this situation (as Jana Bennet did at the Sunday 10am session).

You BBC people are OUR public servants and you have failed us - please resign so some new people can come though, please stop clinging to power like Tony Blair did. It's undignified.

The BBC needs proper leadership.

It needs to stop having subjects it cannot talk about (peer-to-peer file-sharing for example).

Programmes need to have digital on-screen graphics to indicate when they are truly "LIVE" (as happens on BBC News 24).

Programmes that are pre-recorded can be assumed from the lack of a "LIVE" banner.

A industry-wide certification mark needs to be applies to programmes, something like:

- a "gold" mark for a programme that has the highest level of research and editorial control;

- a "silver" mark for programmes that have editorial control but contain "PR" "publicity" and other such material (like "This Morning" on ITV, "Breakfast" on the BBC etc)

- a "bronze" mark for "gonzo" journalism and the like

All programmes such be marked at their outset (and possibly throughout) to indicate that they are "edited from live" (such as "Have I Got News For You") or "full constructed" (drama-style programmes such as "if").

Also the "editorial control" should be marked on the programme, so a foreign import such as "Heros" which contains product placments can be shown to be the responsibility of the US production company.

I also would like BBC people to stop representing the Independent Production Companies interests - the million pounds the BBC have paid Ashley Highfield over the last three years which have resulted in the BBC forcing Microsoft products on licence-fee payers hardly engenders trust.

How can the BBC ask the viewers, listeners and licence-fee payers to TRUST THE BBC when the BBC installs software that deletes downloaded iPlayer programmes from our own hard drives?

If you want us to trust you again, dearest Auntie, don't demand the right to delete anything from our computers - show us some trust too!

  • 152.
  • At 12:15 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Laura wrote:

Did Jeremy Paxman really write this? For someone who did English at Cambridge the quality of the spelling and grammar is appalling! I suspect it's been transcribed by some work experience kid.
If I was Mr Paxman I'd be getting my PR people on this ASAP! It makes him look silly and unprofessional, which I am fairly sure he isn't.

  • 153.
  • At 01:57 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Doug wrote:

To me TV's reaction to this excellent survey of some of TV's current problems showed how right much of his analysis was. The coverage said, in essence, "Paxman attacks BBC".

It's not that this is totally inaccurate, but to make it the cornerstone of the coverage of the lecture is grossly misleading. In the lecture he covers very well the reasons why this probably happened.

I'm glad I took the trouble to read the whole thing; having worked in and around TV since 1960 I know a little about it, and his analysis of how it once was (and why) and how it is today is excellent.

I do hope now the dust has settled that a few of its intended audience are thinking seriously about what he has said.

There were terrible programmes all over TV in the 1960's, so I'm not calling for a return to the supposed "Golden Age" any more than Mr Paxman is.

But there was, in the main, a sense of purpose in TV then, and in general if one channel came up with a successful format the others tried to think of a successful alternative where today they usually try to make a copy.

A few more honest answers to the question "Why are we doing this?" at every stage of the planning and production process would surely lead to better (and perhaps even more cost-effective) TV than we are getting today.

Like Mr Paxman, I think there's nothing wrong with most of the young people in TV today - give them the scope and the encouragement, point them in the right general direction (and then get out of the way) and they will amaze us with what they can do with the exciting new tools they have today.

This year's MacTaggart Lecture was outstanding. I hope it has the effect it deserves.

  • 154.
  • At 03:10 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • John Ferguson wrote:

Unfortunately Paxman does not conclude with his own main point: things may ebb and flow in the world of television, but in the end, content is king.

  • 155.
  • At 03:41 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Ian Campbell wrote:

Oh Dear! I agree with nearly everything Jeremy said. At least I feel better ranting at the box now that someone else agrees with me. Good work Jeremy!

  • 156.
  • At 04:12 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Derek Moore wrote:

The BBC is a unique organisation that benefits from the proceeds of legalised theft from all television owners. What happens to the proceeds of all the programmes that are sold on in DVD format or to other global TV networks. I don't ever recall being paid a dividend!

  • 157.
  • At 04:54 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Anthony Dunn wrote:

Jeremy's analysis is spot on albeit that it does not go far enough.

One of the abiding sins of the media in the UK is that of hubris: the inability to admit that mistakes are made, inaccuracies reported as fact, confusing editorialising with hard news reporting and so on. Ever tried getting a media organisation to correct an error and give it equal prominence to the original mistake? Fat chance!

And then there is wilful refusal on the part of much of the mediocracy (and television is to the fore in this) to accept any responsibility for its actions. The constant denigration of authority and the institutions of our society has a drip, drip corrosive consequence. Just watch the synchronised waving of hands from the serried ranks of the meedjah, each determined to eschew any responsibility or culpability for a state of affairs where a significant minority assert their rights but deny their responsibilities and demand respect whilst ignoring the rights of others.

Travelling abroad these days and you cannot help but notice how uncivil, ill-mannered, rude and boorish are so many in this country. And any attempt at dealing with this provokes a knee-jerk "anti-authoritarian" (sic) response from the mediocracy that instantly serves to undermine it.

Perhaps, if it were made a condition of working in the meedjah that time had to be spent in inner-city sink estates dealing with the problems of social breakdown and the lack of respect, this might alter some attitudes and engender a higher degree of responsibility.

A large part of the blame for this lies with the inexorable expansion of the meedjah: with ever more time to occupy or pages to cover, the need to fill that void becomes ever more urgent and corners are cut. Add to this the need for ever more staff on short term contracts and you have a heady brew leading to falling standards.

I always remember being told that an undergraduate essay was considered sufficient if it provided a critique; a first class piece of work also provided an alternative. Alas, too much in our modern media would only ever justify a poor Second, definitely not a First. Perhaps it really is time to reconsider where the media is going and what it is here for: to inform or just to entertain?


  • 158.
  • At 06:25 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Michael Orton wrote:

I have to agree with post 138.

Last time our TV licence came up for renewal, we looked back over the year and counted up the number of hours of TV we had watched in the past two years: the total was 20. All of that was recorded to tape and watched at a time which suited us.

Our conclusion was that the TV licence had ceased to be good value for money and rather than renew the licence we unplugged the aerial from the video recorder. (There was no aerial to unplug from the TV.)

So, sorry Mr Paxman, but it is too late. We have stopped watching you and everyone else live on air. For the occasional excelent series we buy the DVD: simpler than the video and cheaper than a TV licence.

  • 159.
  • At 08:41 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Silkstone wrote:

Re #152 above


"If I WAS Mr Paxman I'd be getting my PR people ON this ASAP"

'Pots and kettles' comes to mind.

How about.... 'Were I Mr Paxman I would get my PR people onto this a.s.a.p.'

Admittedly the syntax could be improved somewhat, but with regard to the spelling I suspect that his spell checker is set at English (USA) instead of, or perhaps rather than, English (UK).

Jeremy, oh hell! (Exactly yeah, oh hell!)

I like the BBC (that's the problem) but multiply this by about a few million and then add to this that it has had its fair share of wallpaper programmes and botched up phone ins. Can we not get Jeremy at the top to sort it all out? Either that or be Prime Minister, at least that way he could interview himself.

Claire

  • 161.
  • At 08:43 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • annabel wrote:

I'm a bit confused after reading this, Jeremy, if you actually agree with Tony Blair or not. Whilst you tore apart what he had to say on the media, you then seem to reproduce those same arguments. I would agree with both him and you that the media feels it has to sensationalise to maintain audience interest which is dumbing down the content and the level of accuracy. I think the BBC are as guilty as any - this news site gave blanket coverage to every sneeze of the McCanns for weeks, instead of concentrating on what it's for - news.

  • 162.
  • At 09:55 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Alan wrote:


Don't underestimate the sophistication of the average television viewer,Jeremy.As we are all bombarded by any number of media images every day, we have become fairly savvy at distinguishing between serious news stories,mild entertainment and cheap commercial titilation.We are also used to seeing the levels of hypocrisy in society,in which women can be used as cheap commodities,whilst lip service is paid to their other attributes.But what a sad indictment of our society that older people have to resort to television as their entertainment.The only time I was forced to watch wall to wall television was on a ward in an NHS hospital where I was immobilsed by being on drips.There I really didn't have any choice but to watch-I couldn't just switch off.If older people suffered less from ageism and had more of a life,they could probably afford to be be more discerning about what they watch.Are the values of society really so driven by television? I doubt it.

  • 163.
  • At 10:04 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Bruce wrote:

Reading the cries of all these people disillusioned with the media saddens me. It also makes me happier that I am able to watch news and current affairs programmes in Germany and France which, although often lacking the healthy disrespect of politicians evident, say, in Newsnight, do not condescend to their audiences (at least certainly not to the same degree as the BBC News does these days). The news, especially on many Germany channels, is serious, factual, and non-pretentious and is presented in a calm, clear, and non-patronising manner: No opinions are forced on the viewer, not even by so-called 'experts'.
I respect the German news for respecting me (or at least doing a good job at pretending to).
I suspect like me, many have abandoned UK TV for less aggressive sources to answers: I find I'm reading a lot more (internet or paper formats)... and as a result only feel a mixture of regret and anger (not sadness) at the rise of in-yer-face media in the UK.

  • 164.
  • At 11:41 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Tony Hannon wrote:

Brilliant speech.

What a shame the video isn't available so we could watch it...on television!

  • 165.
  • At 12:37 PM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • David B wrote:

What is television for? Here's an inscription from inside Broadcasting House which I think sum things up nicely:
'This temple of the arts and muses is dedicated to Almighty God
by the first Governors in the year of our Lord 1931, John Reith
being Director-General. And they pray that good seed sown may
bring forth good harvest, that all things foul or hostile to peace
may be banished thence, and that the people inclining their ear
to whatsoever things are lovely and honest, whatsoever things
are of good report, may tread the path of virtue and wisdom.

  • 166.
  • At 09:00 PM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Ann Aesthetised wrote:

UK TV, like UK politics, has swallowed wholesale the old Hollywood philosophy; -

The secret of success is sincerity and once you can fake that you’ve got it made.

  • 167.
  • At 09:19 PM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Ann Aesthetised wrote:

UK TV, like UK politics, has swallowed wholesale that ancient Hollywood philosophy; -

The secret of success is sincerity ......... as soon as you can fake that you’ve got it made.

Paxman made some very good points, not all of which were the focus of other journalist's comment.

The way you're distributing it is elitist though - BBC. I've gone on about this on my blog > http://paulcanning.blogspot.com/2007/08/paxmans-involuntary-elitism.html

  • 169.
  • At 12:49 AM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • JOE PAGE wrote:

PAXMAN IS RIGHT.
Although BBC should remain ad-free and be driven by a striving for excellence, and not be driven as a vehicle for adverts, there is no excuse for so many repeats. These should be put on the new digital BBC channels.
I wonder if Paxman himself realises he has changed from a news journalist to one of entertainer?
His skills and expertise are above average but people watch him not for his interviewing skils but his performance as an entertainer.

Am too am in flight from television. I began my watching more than fifty years ago and I would maintain that much the best of my early education came via the BBC; I was particularly fond of 'In Town Tonight' and its successor, 'Tonight'. Now I feel only laziness or boredom makes me turn on my set. I am paying a licence for about two hours a night. I make an exception of Newsnight, which I rarely miss. Despite more recent annoyances, it remains a programme where the idea is not to insult the viewer's intelligence.

  • 171.
  • At 01:31 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Gordon Torr wrote:

If there were any justice in the world the whole of Jeremy Paxman's speech would be tattooed onto Mark Thompson's forehead in 1 pt Baskerville Bold without the benefit of anesthesia.

  • 172.
  • At 01:09 PM on 05 Sep 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

Got rid of my TV when it became more about quantity than quality. Amazingly you can live without one!

  • 173.
  • At 04:24 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Kevin wrote:

The scene in 'The Life of Brian' springs to mind when, after hearing Brian has been arrested by the Romans, The Peoples Front of Judea decide "it is some for action! The time for talk has passed! This calls for an immediate ..... meeting".


  • 174.
  • At 09:59 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • P. Osman wrote:

I would just like to be able to finish watching a programme before being bombarded with information about some other programme. Its not that I'm desperate to see the world turning, as in my younger days (although that was much better), I just want to be able to make my own decision whether or not I would like to watch the next programme/trail/whatever.

For me this is the main reason why I rarely watch the infernal thing.

Surely this isn't too much to ask of the BBC to rectify this. After all we do pay our license fees!

  • 175.
  • At 10:03 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • P. Osman wrote:

I would just like to be able to finish watching a programme before being bombarded with information about some other programme. Its not that I'm desperate to see the world turning, as in my younger days (although that was much better), I just want to be able to make my own decision whether or not I would like to watch the next programme/trail/whatever.

For me this is the main reason why I rarely watch the infernal thing.

Surely this isn't too much to ask of the BBC to rectify this. After all we do pay our license fees!

  • 176.
  • At 01:21 PM on 17 Oct 2007,
  • Rob Edwards wrote:

My point is simple. It does not look to society or individual decision makers. But simply that the model does not work, the way money is raised does not work. If the BBC is to survive it needs to become a business. It either needs to use adverts or be subsidized by SKY or Cable etc, or both. I buy a computer and pay VAT. What I would not pay Microsoft for software I did not use. If I use a service I should pay for it. If I want sky sports I pay extra. BBC should be either free commercially funded or a separate bolt on entity. Loose the tax or loose the BBC!

  • 177.
  • At 01:30 PM on 17 Oct 2007,
  • Rob Edwards wrote:

My point is simple. It does not look to society or individual decision makers. But simply that the model does not work, the way money is raised does not work. If the BBC is to survive it needs to become a business. It either needs to use adverts or be subsidized by SKY or Cable etc, or both. I buy a computer and pay VAT. What I would not pay Microsoft for software I did not use. If I use a service I should pay for it. If I want sky sports I pay extra. BBC should be either free commercially funded or a separate bolt on entity. Loose the tax or loose the BBC!

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