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The future of news?

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 16:21 UK time, Thursday, 30 November 2006

As I mentioned earlier, I recently gave a speech - at the new Reuters journalism institute at Oxford University - on some of the themes which are driving our strategy for the future of BBC TV News; including the growing importance of user interaction, how new technology is challenging the traditional concept of BBC impartiality, and how broadcasters will have to adapt to regain lost audiences.

You can read the speech below. I'd be very interested to know what you think of my arguments.

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If you scratch some broadcast journalists of my generation you'll discover, barely skin deep, that the reason some of them went into broadcasting was to tell the audience what to think. I have to confess that was part of my motivation - the sense of having the opportunity to produce journalism that would really change people's understanding of the world. And I suspect it's a motivation that would be recognised by my former editor and mentor - Tim Gardam - the chair of the steering committee for this prestigious new institute.

Now I'm in a job - as head of the BBC's TV News services - where the power to influence what millions think may seem considerable. But I have to report my disappointment - though it's a disappointment I thoroughly welcome. Because any power there may once have been to tell people what to think has evaporated. Convulsions in technologies and fragmentation in audience attitudes mean that the power to instruct the public is seeping through the broadcasters' fingers...

These revolutions raise profound questions for public service news provision and for society more widely: Is a universal news service now possible in a fragmented and segregated society? I will argue that it is still worthwhile, indeed essential, to make the effort to adapt our news to maintain universality. But we will need to look again at what we mean by impartiality and transform editorially to re-find our lost audiences.

But to be able to do that we will need much greater understanding from both press and academic commentators on media policy. Much of the opinion-former debate about public service broadcasting is founded on the outdated belief that the purpose of public service journalism is to provide the kind of patronising instruction that my early career was mistakenly based on. Regulators, politicians and lobby groups are often united in just one thing - their desire to tell the public what to think and their determination to make the BBC and other public service broadcasters deliver their messages accordingly. But these interest groups, and those of us who once thought we could shape the views of our audience, are being rapidly out-flanked and indeed ignored by the audiences those groups control.

In this lecture I hope to demonstrate the depth and spread of this anti-elitist revolution but I will show there is still space for journalism that seeks to inform all, even-handedly. But to achieve this new purpose we need to leave behind the desire some broadcasters previously held - to tell the public what to think. Instead we should seize a new purpose - giving the public the information and greater space to think through democratic debate and interaction.

And I will argue that to respond adequately to these audience challenges there must be a far greater range of approaches and agendas in our journalism. BBC TV News will need to adapt massively. "BBC News" may need to become "BBC Newses".

It was once all so easy. We gave the audience few options. As one of the producers on Newsnight in the early 1980s, we could then assume that many in our audience would have consumed little news that day - and that they'd rely on us for their account of the world. And as one of the producers on Panorama, we had the comfort of knowing that, in a neat conspiracy, ITV would schedule World in Action against us. It wasn't that we gave the audience no options to avoid current affairs, but we tried to give them as few as possible. As for taking the views of the audience into account, that was almost never thought of. The "duty log" - the overnight list of phone calls from the audience - was regarded as being a repository of entertainingly eccentric commentary. Letters from viewers would, I exaggerate only slightly, lie in yellowing piles on the desks of producers weeks after the transmission of an item that was being complained about. Only the most assiduous, or the most argumentative, would take the trouble to reply. It was a fairly cosy world.

And what of the journalism that we delivered? How did we interpret the BBC's key value - impartiality? Well, on arrival we were soon taught how to handle that. In an era of neatly polarised Left/Right views - both domestically and internationally - it was easy to make sure that you delivered impartiality - simply by balancing interviews. A Tory minister balanced by a Labour spokesman. An industrialist with a union leader. An American foreign affairs expert with a CND activist.

And 25 years ago we used to measure impartiality to ensure we were delivering. During election campaigns one producer had the unenviable job of running the stop watches on every political discussion. He'd have three stop watches (because at election times the Liberals or Social Democrats would be allowed on, to make up the panel). The watches would be stopped and started as each speaker began and ended. Towards the end of a discussion he'd issue instructions through the presenter's ear-piece. "Labour needs another 45 seconds". The presenter would seek to give the spokesman that time. Uninterrupted. After each interview the minutage would be compiled into magnificent tables that would show incontrovertibly if we were, or weren't, being impartial. There was healthy internal editorial debate, but little examination of content and agendas from the audience's perspective. And, apart from the relatively confined programme areas of Question Time and radio phone-ins, there was little audience involvement in our journalism.

When did that all change? In my own career the turning point, I can now see in retrospect, came when I was editor of Panorama. In 1999 we were one of the first programmes to introduce a programme web site and an email address. The first time we gave out the Panorama email at the end of a programme, a small group of us sat in the BBC online newsroom waiting nervously to see whether the audience would respond to our programme. After 5 minutes, no emails. After 10 minutes no emails. After 15 minutes we gathered our coats and started to pack up. Then suddenly "ping". (Long ago, in 1999, when emails arrived they did go "ping") A trickle of emails started, then dozens. They'd taken 15 minutes because the audience was taking the trouble to marshall their thoughts. Their responses were cogent, heartfelt and in many cases highly combative. They didn't like the reporters' tone or they didn't like the way a certain argument had been short-changed. In short, interactivity was born and with it a level of demand for response from broadcasters that is getting ever more intense.

And that involvement is ballooning at an extraordinary pace. On an average day BBC News gets 10,000 emails. On a busy day that can go up to 20,000. On 7 July 2005 we received 300 images of the aftermath of the London bombings. Just a few months later when the Buncefield oil refinery fire happened, we received over 15,000 images. Much media commentary has focussed on these audience contributions to our journalism - so called User Generated Content. But I believe that wider audience interaction, technology and changing audience perspectives and consumption are changing broadcast journalism in far more interesting and profound ways than simply providing as an extra information source.

It is a whole range of other responses from audiences - transmitted instantly through new technology - that is revolutionising our journalism. Let me break down the key changes: We now have far better information about who is or isn't watching, what they're watching or reading, what they appreciate or hate, what their views are and what they demand of us. All this information gives us a rich picture of audience response and preference - often in real time. Of course that understanding of, and interaction with, the audience is only one part of the information available to us and only plays a part in the judgments we make. But it's the newest and most rapidly changing aspect of the picture, so I will concentrate on this.

In this analysis I will use figures for BBC services, as I have readiest access to those. However the data for the other main British TV news providers - Sky News and ITV News - is not so different in the picture it paints. In terms of average audience levels for our main terrestrial programmes, the picture is not too unhealthy. Our premier bulletin the Ten O'Clock News - averages 4.6m. That is down somewhat from the audience levels of 6 or 7m ten years ago, but the fall is roughly in line with BBC1's overall audience decline. And of course many more people watch BBC TV News in an average week than the average for an individual bulletin - 32.2 million. This is a big number - the kind any media outfit would desire.

However there is a problem and it's an especially acute one for the BBC, as we have a responsibility to be a universal service. We are increasingly not watched by younger audiences, more socially downmarket groups and minorities of all kinds. And that switch-off from news is deepening rapidly for all news suppliers.

The number of adults watching BBC News on BBC1 and BBC2 for at least three minutes a week has declined from 74% of the audience to 68% in the last five years. And, by the way, watching for just three minutes is the industry standard measure - although three minutes of news doesn't seem very much to me. But the picture for particular population groups is far starker. The proportion of economic group C2 - that's broadly unskilled manual workers - watching has gone down by 8% in that period. And the number in the 16-34s age group watching has dropped by 12% in five years to 36% of the audience. That's a drop of about 2.5m young adults - simply lost to mainstream news watching. Our digital services are picking up some of the slack. The revitalised News 24 is now clearly the most watched news channel in the UK, and our website attracts 4million unique users a day. But those increases do not yet compensate for the falls on BBC1 and BBC2.

For many other media players this drop in penetration amongst sections of the audience might not matter. A commercial player could target more closely the upscale older audiences the BBC easily reaches and serve them effectively. But the BBC takes money from almost every household in the land. Providing news information, on which citizens can base their democratic and personal decisions, is the core purpose of the BBC. Our own projections show that unless we do something, our journalism - local and national, and on all platforms, radio, TV and online - may only reach two thirds of the population in five years time.

But as well as knowing how much people are watching and what type of people are watching, we now have much more detailed information on viewers' responses to individual news stories. It's this change which is fundamentally altering the journalism business. BBC News online has realtime statistics for its most-read stories. On a big news day, a terror alert or a war in Lebanon will get most hits. But on a quiet day a more off-beat story is often at the top. For instance, who would have thought the story about the Sudanese man forced to marry a goat, published in February, would still be attracting enormous traffic in September. (And who could resist the story: "The goat's owner, Mr Alifi, said he surprised the man with his goat and took him to a council of elders. They ordered the man to pay a dowry of 15,000 dinars. 'We have given him the goat and as far as we know they are still together', Mr Alifi said") Or the fascination for the 13ft python which burst after eating a 6ft alligator. (Great headline: "Snake bursts after gobbling 'gator")

And the online audience is often highly interested in stories of entertainers and celebrities. News of Britney Spears' new baby attracted 350,000 readers in one day and the interest in the honeymoon of Tom and Katie Cruise was sustained for days. We're beginning to realise that what people want to read when they are online may be very different from what they want to watch on TV.

For we now also have very rich data on the viewing of our main bulletins at six and 10 o'clock. The BBC has set up a panel of 15,000 viewers, selected to represent the population as a whole, to give their views on each evening's programmes. Amongst the questions they get asked about dramas and documentaries, viewers are also invited to select which individual news stories most stood out and which they'd like to know more about. We use this information in turn to feed the audience's curiosity about news stories. For instance the research told us, many months before politicians started to really embrace green agendas, how passionately the audience wants to understand climate change. Their interest in apparently complicated subjects like council tax and pensions comes through clearly. And, in contrast to the online audience, the current TV news bulletins audience says it is not that interested in celebrity or sensation. We know, because we also ask them what stories they are not interested in. They respond forcefully to this invitation. For example when Tom Cruise was dumped by his Hollywood studio, 80% of respondents claimed that it did not interest them. Similarly when the England squad visited the new Wembley stadium, 78% said they weren't interested.

As some of the stories the online audience loves are ones that the TV News audience says it dislikes, what should a programme editor choose to run? Some would argue that editors should just ignore confusing audience information and use professional judgement to decide what is important or interesting. And of course for the most important stories that's exactly what they do. Few audience surveys or click statistics ever indicate the Northern Ireland peace process or conflict in Sri Lanka are desired by audiences, but we need to cover those stories. But when it comes to judgments about the stories that will make up the wider range of our running orders I believe it is entirely legitimate to reflect audience interests, as well as audience responses to particular treatments and angles. But, having decided to use the information, we still have some very finely balanced decisions to make. Do we throw in a story that might be of particular appeal to a younger member of the audience, whilst running the risk of alienating more traditional viewer?

But beyond the dilemmas highlighted by our greater knowledge of audience interests, we are faced with probably our biggest challenge. Tailored news services, internet TV and radio stations, blogs and other new interactive services now offer various minority segments and interest groups news that cater for highly specialist tastes. Those niche services offer their audiences information that often has the effect of re-enforcing their prejudices. There has always been a desire from parts of the audience to have news information that validates their prior values. Newspapers in the UK have, after all, had pretty clear political and social perspectives. But in the electronic media it is only relatively recently that this type of news, predominantly through the internet, has been widely available. My strong impression is that this part of the online world clubs together in networks to exchange information with like-minded people. The internet is in danger of becoming an enormous exercise in preaching to the converted.

But, in comparison, a broader news service like the BBC's can appear too dispassionate or unengaged and is seen as an affront to more partial perspectives. For pressure groups it can be a target to be influenced, in whatever direction that group tends to lean. And of course we have now given them the ability to answer back. They certainly do. But these increasing shouts of bias against public broadcasters are more a reflection of the distorted information environment the complainants themselves live in. They are so conditioned to their own shared perspective that they are more inclined than before to see impartiality as bias.

I also want to examine an increasing challenge to the BBC's notions of impartiality - the claim that impartiality is a false god that is no longer philosophically sustainable. It's an argument that has been heard before, but has gained new force in the face of threats to global security. The dangers of pure impartiality were argued powerfully to me by a senior Israeli on a recent visit to Jerusalem. Rather than mount the familiar argument, at least to BBC ears, that our coverage of Israel and Palestine was unbalanced, he instead he argued that we should not be attempting to be impartial (or "neutral" as he put it) about the threat from terrorism - which he saw as being essentially one phenomenon whether on the streets of London or Tel Aviv.

He made a case that was forceful - both emotionally and intellectually. How could the BBC, as an upholder of free speech and an embodiment of liberal democracy, be prepared to be neutral in the face of extremists who wished to undermine such principles - and were cynically prepared to exploit the BBC's even-handedness? He argued that you couldn't apply the values of reporting a political institution such as Westminster to the struggle Israel faces - against foes such as Hezbollah and Hamas. His view was that those organisations' disregard for human life means that civilians (whether in apartment blocks near to Hezbollah missile sites or Gaza residents near to Hamas rocket launchers) were deliberately put in harm's way. The resulting images of violence caused by Israeli action were then contrasted, by broadcasters, with relatively light casualties in Israel. Meanwhile, the threat to Israel's future security from Iran is largely an abstract threat that is hard to visualise. Faced with the alleged inherent "unfairness" of these images he suggested that the BBC had to put away what he saw as an ultimately self-destructive obsession with impartiality. And his argument is shared by other parts of the political spectrum. But the very fact that such views are now more widely argued itself provides a stronger justification for impartiality. If more people see the world only through their own prisms then the danger of lack of mutual understanding is even greater. How would that comprehension be aided by removing one of the few global sources of non-aligned information? But to make our news appeal to those of strong beliefs will require a major shift by news providers.

We therefore have some clear trends - a serious decline in viewing in parts of the audience, a distrust in some quarters for the BBC's record in reflecting a wide range of viewpoints and a lack of belief from a minority in the very notion of impartiality. Is it therefore desirable to continue to attempt to deliver a universal news service? And, if it is desirable, how on earth do we attempt to do so?

One way of assessing the case for universality is to examine the alternative - what if there weren't publicly provided universal news services? The current experience of our commercial news competitors is salutary. Sky News, which has a proud tradition of journalistic enterprise and innovation, is undergoing cuts in its journalistic staffing and may have further cuts. And its editorial agenda is shifting in a clearly commercial direction. Influenced by its relationships with fellow Sky channels, its two most recent deployments of its main presenter have been to the Ryder Cup and the Ashes cricket. News 24's most recent major deployments have been to the Saddam Hussein trial and today's visit of the Pope to Turkey. And ITN's costs look like being pared back even further in the next round of contract negotiation - negotiation with a broadcaster that is now 20% owned by its main rival. That will constrain even further the range of stories ITN covers.

Ofcom is currently examining whether there is a need for public intervention to ensure the maintenance of plurality of supply in broadcast news. Although the BBC has a firm position that the licence fee should only be used for BBC services (as there is a clear association and accountability in the public's mind between the licence and the BBC's services), we have an open mind about other means of public financial support to ensure a range of broadcast news services survive. But it is clear that the BBC will remain the cornerstone.

But imagine if Sky, ITN and BBC all disappeared. There would probably be two types of news provision - i) attempts to provide mass news on a low cost base through a narrow range of sensationalist stories produced in a threadbare fashion. And ii) specialist information produced by bloggers and pressure groups to appeal to adherents of particular opinions. The range of information that society would hold in common would be increasingly narrow and more people would only come across views that reinforced rather than challenged their prejudices. There would be an enormous irony that a society where views are increasingly polarised might be significantly less understanding of the views of others and therefore be more intolerant. Technologies that create fragmentation could end up accentuating divergence and even hatred. I believe there are real dangers for society in an information world that is so highly differentiated.

So the BBC's purpose in such an environment becomes clearer – to provide the widest range of information and views to all – so that the bulk of the population sees its own perspective reflected honestly and regularly. We must also provide the opportunity for people to regularly come across alternative information and perspectives that provide a wider viewpoint. We need to provide that information and opinion in forms and styles of sufficient appeal to attract all users. That attraction must be based on delivering to their individual interests and information needs. For the majority of consumers will not seek out news as part of a perceived civic duty. They need to be entertained and engaged.

And it's this need to create news that appeals even more than it has done in the past which leads me to ask for greater understanding and leeway to be given by opinion formers to the ways in which BBC News will need to change. The older "chattering class" view of change in broadcasting invariably takes the view that making information appealing is selling out or "dumbing down". In fact the need to give serious information of broad appeal is one of the most important purposes the BBC has in the digital era – to get information to audiences who might otherwise never come across it. Indeed if we fail to reach this "lost audience" it is likely that they will have few sources of reputable information to provide a rounded view of the world. Surely failing to meet that obligation would lead to a democratic deficit – for a disengaged and disenfranchised part of society. That would be real dumbing down. But to avoid that fate, we will need to adopt creative strategies that stretch our understanding of what news is. And that might mean creating a number of variants of BBC News. Already BBC radio news has a wide variety of flavours – from Newsbeat on Radio 1 through to Today and The World Tonight on radio 4. In TV and in our interactive services we may need to move to "BBC Newses" rather than one BBC News.

To address those who distrust impartiality, and may sometimes find the BBC's tone bland, centrist and somewhat equivocal, we need to assert a more vigorous reporting style and widen still further the range of views we transmit. Our reporting cannot start from any prior position of prejudice, but we can report more vividly. We will continue to allow our most experienced journalists to assert their professional judgments more clearly and generally tell it the way they see it, so that our journalism is loud and fearless. We need to build on the recent revival in the strength of BBC investigative journalism because we know that journalism that challenges those in authority is a requirement from a large part of our audience. And we need to be prepared to hear from those whose views many of our viewers may find abhorrent.

Recently I was involved in a public argument with a Conservative party spokesman after a brave BBC reporter - David Loyn - secured an interview with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Tory spokesman called the interview obscene. But that comment is emblematic of the desire to limit the range of what the BBC can reflect - a limitation that runs counter to the unfolding trends in society and technology. Of course, anyone who wants to know the Taliban's views can easily read them or watch them on the Internet. For critics of Britain's role in Afghanistan, a decision to exclude from our airwaves the views of the Taliban would rightly be seen as censorship and create deep reservations about the BBC's independence. And, for those who are strong supporters of Britain's forces, hearing the Taliban's bloodthirsty admissions would be unlikely to convert them to support for insurgency. Our experience of audiences is that they are remarkably smart at thinking for themselves. It is often politicians and special interest groups that proceed on the basis that the public needs to be protected from powerful views.

So, the days of middle-of-the-road, balancing left and right, impartiality are dead. Instead I believe we need to consider adopting what I like to think of as a much wider "radical impartiality" - the need to hear the widest range of views - all sides of the story. So we need more Taliban interviews, more BNP interviews - of course put on air with due consideration - and the full range of moderate opinions. All those views need to be treated with the same level of sceptical inquiry and respect. The days are over when the BBC treated left wing or pro-diversity views as "loony" or interviewed anti-Europe or anti-immigration spokesmen insufficiently often. We lost considerable credibility with some of the audience by excluding views that significant parts of our population adhere to. So get used to hearing more views that you dislike on our airwaves. This wider range of opinion is a worthwhile price to pay to maintain a national forum where all can feel they are represented and respected.

A more wide ranging and radical definition of impartiality may help persuade those of strong views who are already engaged with the news to trust us more. But it is unlikely to attract back many of the lost audiences to news - who are often deterred by ceaseless and vexatious political arguments. For younger and less well off audiences we need other technological and editorial strategies. For younger audiences, especially upscale ones, new platforms - such as the internet, continuous news channels like News 24 and BBC World and mobiles and other portable devices, hold out some significant potential.

Most of those platforms allow for on-demand services. On-demand gives audiences the possibility to choose individual stories. The need to cover stories people find attractive in an on-demand world, as well as those that are significant, means we need to broaden our story range and our definition of what constitutes news. And we need to embrace the audiences' ability to answer back. Our top correspondents - such as Nick Robinson - write many times a day on their blogs. Responses from the audience form an important part of Nick's developing judgements and help him to break new stories. All these technological fixes require organisational reform and significant extra resource but they don't necessarily challenge our core journalistic approach. Getting back the "lost audience" does.

What of the many people who do not live in a news bubble, who have an infinite range of alternative media and who pick up on what's happening through chat with their friends and through occasional skimming of magazines? Re-engaging these audiences, predominantly in social groups C2, D and E, will require some significant shifts for BBC News. We can build on services that already appeal to these groups - such as Newsbeat on BBC1, Five Live, and BBC Breakfast TV. But we know what BBC News currently stands for is a barrier for some of this audience.

Recent research we have done shows how different the perspective of this audience is from our traditional approach to news. For instance, they find the professional detachment of BBC presenters and reporters, in the face of human tragedy, baffling. They want our presenters to say things like "your heart goes out to them". Our research concluded "Whilst much of university-based education is focussed on teaching the ability to divorce emotion from intellect and argue "both sides of the toss", to this audience such equivocation would seem not just alien but perverse."

So should we respond to this and other insights into this audience? I can already hear the anti-dumbing down brigade limbering up for the charge. And I'm fully aware of how resistant our current audience is, for instance, to over-emotional reporting. But isn't it vital, for instance, to encourage all audiences to be interested in global news stories? If parts of the audience find our approach off-putting don't we have an obligation to change that approach? Isn't it more important for a public service news service to try hard to get tough stories to audiences that might otherwise turn away from them?

And we are trying to provide that engagement. Ten days ago Fergal Keane delivered some memorable and heartfelt reports from East Africa, where he had spent a week living with and understanding a nomadic group. It was a positive rather than a bleak view of the ability of humans to adapt to climate change. And forthright emotional empathy was at its heart, although Fergal did not describe his own emotions, a distinction I believe we should still maintain.

This audience wants humour and friendliness from our presenters. It looks for a variety of creative treatments that explain the news in a clear but unpatronising fashion - for instance through the use of powerful devices like graphics and explanatory studio screens. But, above all, this audience wants an agenda that speaks to its concerns. I don't believe that is about delivering a purely celebrity based or sensationalist agenda, although entertainment news undoubtedly needs to play a part. They key is for the BBC to throw the biggest journalistic resource in the UK into reporting and revealing stories of universal concern to its own audience. The BBC needs to have a reputation for excellence in its domestic journalism that it rightly has for its foreign, economic, business and political journalism. And that means an unembarrassed embrace of subject areas that have too often been looked down on as too pavement-level or parish-pump. In recent weeks the collapse of the savings group Farepak has been high up our running orders. Less frequent rubbish collections that leave unsanitary garbage in the streets, gun crimes that terrorise black communities, rising unemployment partly caused by new immigrants. These stories are real, not sensationalist and we need to tell them with the same vividness we have brought to our foreign reporting. And they need to be told in the accents and through the personalities of reporters that this audience recognises as being closer to their own interests. The days of the BBC talking down to them and trying to tell this audience what to think are over because they can simply switch off or ignore us if we don't speak to them in their voice.

We need to make these shifts in tone without, as far as possible, offending our traditional audiences who find the style of BBC News appealing. We will take care not to revolutionise those programmes of particular appeal to avid BBC News consumers - for instance the Ten O'Clock News, Newsnight. We will continue to investigate and examine important and complex subjects that commercial broadcasters might shy away from. And we have a particular responsibility to make those subjects engaging and comprehensible to audiences that are not immediately attracted to them. We will focus our efforts at appealing to the lost audiences in parts of the schedule where they will be watching in larger numbers and on new services - such as our interactive red button services - where we can provide content of particular appeal.

And as well as influencing our existing news coverage, on radio TV and online, we are considering whether to launch fresh, more digestible news summaries for audiences who are time pressed and do not want a long bulletin. Such summaries would look and feel different to core BBC News. It would still be part of BBC News, but a different flavour. To solve our audience conundrum we will definitely need these varieties of BBC Newses.

In trying to deliver news more appropriately for these "underserved" audiences, is there a danger of the BBC moving away from public service provision towards a more commercial approach? I believe the focus on audiences I am arguing for is significantly different from the commercial model. Publicly funded news has an obligation to serve all, while commercial news can survive by serving niche interests. A purely commercial broadcast news model (and I'm not suggesting this is true of Sky and ITN) would seek to maximise the largest audience at lowest cost - by producing generic "lowest common denominator" news that would have the widest appeal for the least differentiation in content. That approach would never yield a sufficiently universal audience for a public service provider. And beyond the need to maximise universality, the BBC's own value system drives us to want to provide news information that informs citizens' choices - whether individual or political. However, in order to ensure the widespread delivery of public service news, we need to adopt an approach driven far more by a need to make content appealing to audiences than the "eat your greens" style of traditional public service.

The issues I have been examining are questions the BBC has been asking itself searchingly in the review of future content which we know as Creative Future. And much of our internal debate is focussed on what we need to do to appeal universally. But It is striking to me how rarely, in the newspapers at least, the argument in favour of BBC News appealing to the widest possible audience is heard publicly. That is because, by definition, the audiences that consume our services least are also the least engaged in public debate. And many of those who take part in debate about public service journalism approach it from their own consumption of news, or the desire to influence coverage to their benefit, rather than an audience-based perspective.

I'd like those with an interest in the broader audience to encourage informed discussion of these dilemmas. In the last year the BBC governors, now the BBC Trust, have carried out or will soon carry out, a number of reviews of the impartiality of the BBC's coverage - of the Israeli/Palestinian issue, of Europe and of business. Those reviews have provided useful lessons for BBC News, but it would be of assistance if future editorial reviews could also address the information needs of the audiences who are the most elusive for the BBC. For instance, the reporting of immigration and race issues could help illuminate the dilemmas of producing news that chimes with ethnic minority audiences as well as white working class audiences. The need to provide impartial information as widely as possible ought to motivate any regulator that has the audience's interests, rather than opinion former interests, closest to its heart.

For the question that these extraordinarily rapid changes in audiences, technology and mass media consumption inspires is one that is wider than the BBC or public service broadcasting. The question is whether we are a society in which there can be common ground. Common ground in information, views and a shared understanding of how to interpret the world. That common ground is rapidly shrinking and it is hard ground to stake out. That ground cannot now be based on a single set of views about the world. It has to be a shared set of approaches to understanding the world - a willingness to receive information that challenges assumptions, of hearing views with which one disagrees and the ability to debate and interact to form a variety of views about a diverse society. In that very diversity there needs to be a common purpose - a common approach to understanding.

To adopt that intellectually and editorially challenging purpose is a mission that the BBC and other public service news providers can commit themselves to. It's a tougher and more elusive purpose than the old model of controlling the public's information supply and, in effect, telling them what was important. We must now provide them with all sides of the story and the space to think for themselves. And in order to do so the media class which debates the BBC so vigorously, we should realise that it is everyone's BBC. The BBC's news needs to deliver for all, not just for that media minority.

Speech first delivered 28 Nov 2006 at the Reuters journalism institute at Oxford University.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 06:31 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • onandonandonandon wrote:

I think 6,200 words is a bit long

  • 2.
  • At 09:18 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • nehad ismail wrote:

Impartiality and neutrality are too difficult to achieve. One tries to be objective, but you cannot be impartial when reporting massacres, rapes and ethnic cleansing committed by one group against another because the former does not like the latter. Recent history is full of examples, Bosnia, Iraq, Israel/Palestine and Rwanda and now Darfur.

In the circumstances the BBC is doing a sterling job getting the news delivered quickly and accurately.

The BBC was criticised by the Arabs on various occasions for being Pro-Israel but at the same time the Israelis criticised the BBC for being Pro-Palestinians. Therefore it must be getting right.

But to achieve this new purpose we need to leave behind the desire some broadcasters previously held - to tell the public what to think.

It was once all so easy. We gave the audience few options.

Letters from viewers would, I exaggerate only slightly, lie in yellowing piles on the desks of producers weeks after the transmission of an item that was being complained about. Only the most assiduous, or the most argumentative, would take the trouble to reply. It was a fairly cosy world.

Nothing much is changing at the BBC. Only weeks ago the Today messageboards were destroyed by denying users the ability to create new subjects. Now despised BBC internet users may only talk about the BBC's agenda. Even that is ignored by the progamme. The moderation of the boards has degenerated into the farcical, since a software 'upgrade'. Only last week posts were removed for placing urls or even mentioning places to google. These alternatives fell completely within the BBC's published rules. To make it farcical, the board 'host' BBC progamme man said on the same boards these links were acceptable!

Feedback covered the issue, as is the norm, the arrogant Programme rep was God and he knew it. Ignoring from on high all complaint.

The BBC is still and will be for ever that 'fairly cosy world' you mention. They have a mountain to climb in treating their financers the public decently. Just as your 'yellowing piles' of letters knows.

When it comes to news broadcasts,the BBC still directs what is 'right' thought, mainly PC, by the old standby of news selection and prioritisation. Your 'era' is alive and kicking in control!

Like the farepack drivel, despite read out letters, pointing out they are no special case for concern above all the others 'cheated' by company failure, the same programme continues on its merry way promoting this BBC obsessed 'cause' ad nauseum. One mention when it happened, very short mention once later on in the affair would have been plenty. Not day after day of attempted black mail by media to get 'compensation' by sob story.

  • 4.
  • At 11:10 PM on 30 Nov 2006,
  • Ken wrote:

You confess that you went into journalism partly as a way to tell the audience what to think – then you realised the folly of this approach (or words to that effect). With regards to BBC News and its detrimental effect on society and democracy, you have hit the nail on the head. Whereas you may have seen the light, it is plainly obvious that many other BBC News people (not just journalists) are still harbouring these power-thoughts.

I remember the Today programme strap line (quite a few years ago): “We set the agenda” - and being disgusted by it. I was disgusted that I and millions of others went to the trouble of voting for a member of parliament and a few unelected nobodies declare that they are setting the agenda.

After a promising start when you confessed that many journos want the power to change people’s thoughts, you confessed that the BBC limited contributions from extreme groups and at last admitted that anti-immigration and “anti-Europe” contributions were also limited (are you sure they were not anti-EU or ant-Euro or something?). After this promising start when at last you admitted to practices which many of us suspected all along but which were denied by the BBC, I then started to lose you. It was at the point when you dismissed a large group of people – the on-line contributors. People writing to the BBC on line are taking the trouble to engage. You seem to suggest that on-line contributors are a race apart, winding each other up with their own pet hates into a frenzy of extremism. You also seem to claim that THEY are the biased ones and the BBC are not. Perhaps you should leave a public notice on your web site telling us how we should temper our comments and feedback in line with your expectation. You also appear to be suggesting that the more unbiased is the BBC, the more us on-line aliens complain of bias. If I’ve got this right, the more we complain of bias, the less bias you feel.

So, this is your story: “we at the BBC were biased but now we are not and we can prove it because of the increase in people accusing us of bias”.

Your comment that “we must now provide them with all sides of the story and space to think for themselves” is a bit rich. Since John Birt you’ve had so much money to spend that you taken to employing so-called correspondents who tell us what they think; they tell us what politicians and others really think; they speculate what will happen tomorrow, next week and next year; they often sum up a piece with a range of options from which the government or others must choose, like a kind of BBC multiple choice.

Think for ourselves you say. How about sacking all the correspondents and just get on and report events. How about getting rid of BBC Journalism and just having agency feeds and freelance reports. Instead of 5 items on the 10 O’clock News perhaps there will be room for 15 items once these 4 minute monologues are taken out. Perhaps there will even be more room for the politicians who we elected to have their say.

Just think of this: the power of the media is obvious – just ask any advertiser or, dare I say, any journalist. We are all affected and influenced by it. Broadcast media is the most powerful of all. An organisation that runs 50% of British broadcasting is therefore a powerful beast indeed. Your confession that views of those that the BBC does not want to hear from have been curtailed in the past is symbolic of the wider problem facing us. The major political parties have realised that, in order to get votes they must get on the telly. In order to get on the telly they must be BBC-friendly. So we end up with the three major political parties with almost identical liberal policies leaving real views unrepresented. Can you not see how destabilising and dangerous this has become for our country? Now even people with moderate views (anti EU, for instance) are being marginalised. Where do they go?

You say we should be given space to think for ourselves? I have a revelation for you: we DO all think for ourselves. We and our ancestors practiced thinking before BBC correspondents came along. The problem is we can’t express ourselves. Until now, that is. Now the internet is here and at last you are hearing en masse from your audience. The problem is, of course, you don’t like what you hear because, apparently, it is US that are biased. I guess if things don’t change then one of us has to go. Your audience figures have shown you that the decision has already been made.

  • 5.
  • At 12:41 AM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Garry Ryan wrote:

Firstly the BBC needs a competent proof reader.
Secondly the 'News' needs to be reported on the basis that you tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth, too much relevant information is sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.
Useful examples of this include the facts that before the imposition of catalytic converters cars emitted hardly any carbon dioxide and HIV infection in heterosexual caucasians accounts for less than 5% of total cases.
Bias is evidenced by what you don't say as much as what you do say.

  • 6.
  • At 08:01 AM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Alex wrote:

I'll confess I didn't read the whole thing. Please blame it on the whirlwind pace of modern life rather than my morning laziness. Still - and this is definitely in the spirit of modern life - I'm going to give my opinions all the same.

I was rather disappointed towards the beginning of the piece. When you noted that most services online are "preaching to the converted," I couldn't help but think about the BBC news website, which almost certainly falls under that same umbrella. Read the 'recommended responses' in a Have Your Say, for example, and you rarely seem to get two sides of the argument.

What I was both surprised and very pleased at, though, was your aim to present more interviews with people we don't like or agree with on the TV. I probably won't like many of them, but I agree that it's essential both to attract a wider range of people and to try to educate people properly (including me!).

Hopefully you realise that on your website, you have an even greater opportunity to give a wide range of opinions. There may only be room on TV for a few of these more controversial pieces a week, but there's a whole lot more space on the web.

  • 7.
  • At 09:05 AM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • James wrote:

You argue that BBC News should appeal to the C2s, D and E socio-economic groups - sure where the opposition are not. But it is clear to me that BBC Breakfast has changed into much more of a GMTV-copy format, not in order to give viewers an alternative, but to get more viewers than GMTV. BBC News should br providing an alternative in the mornings, not more of the same...please bring some dignity back to Breakfast, and make it a proper news alternative in the morning.

A very thoughtful article - although distorted in some of today's newspapers.

You alude to a challenge posed by the proliferation of news reporting. Knowing how to prioritise important [rather than sensational stories] and frame them in an impartial way.

I'd suggest that the recent stories you cite - Farepak, unemployment and rubbish collection - were driven by print media.

Yes, these were popular in the blogosphere. But as you say, many blogs are a dialogue of self-affirmation.

What does this mean? I don't have all the answers but:
a] important to recognise that the UK-based regular internet news participants are still unrepresentative of the population at large

b] giving equal time to advocates and opponents of an issue may be 'impartial' but does not lead to more enlightened understanding. Instead, it often polarises people who are closer than the piece allows

c] the blogosphere is increasingly sensationalist. Yet the stories of interest on bbc news online often aren't. I don't believe this is reflected in your TV coverage which is still desparate to increase ratings

d] the long tail shows that chasing a mass audience is futile. However, that doesn't mean that BBC News cannot be packaged differently to niche markets

  • 9.
  • At 11:37 AM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • craig wrote:

"... when Tom Cruise was dumped by his Hollywood studio, 80% of respondents claimed that it did not interest them."

So, forgive me if this is so obvious to you that you didn't even bother mentioning it, but isn't it inevitable that, when asked what stories they are interested in, people aren't going to say Tom & Katie but something weightier?

Surely you are taking this into account? Maybe not:

"We're beginning to realise that what people want to read when they are online may be very different from what they want to watch on TV."

Is that really the case?

Cynics might suggest that any perceived contradiction in audience preferences can be explioted by editors wishing to ignore it, e.g. "the audience gives us conflicting messages so we just have to use our own best judgement".

  • 10.
  • At 12:24 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

"these increasing shouts of bias against public broadcasters are more a reflection of the distorted information environment the complainants themselves live in. They are so conditioned to their own shared perspective that they are more inclined than before to see impartiality as bias."

Actually, many people would accuse the BBC itself of possessing its "own shared perspective" where its own biased viewpoints are claimed as impartial.

  • 11.
  • At 01:53 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • David Boot wrote:


There is a disconnection here between on the one hand your beliefs and your intellectual justifications for these beliefs most of which are fundamentally laudable and on the other hand your actual actions as editor(s)
The BBC is not impartial. Sometimes it is politically correct but often it is just plain biased, presenting a distorted and inaccurate version of the truth.
Editors and managers use their impartiality argument when it suits them. For instance, they frequently fail to represent the general opinion in the UK; nor specific groups of white people eg the white working class. (Leaving aside the international coverage)
They have an arrogance that whitewashes over feedback. When editors are interviewed to justify their approach they often bounce off criticism without specifically responding to it.
One could take each supporting point and challenge its intellectual rigor but the piece is overlong and it would be playing to your defense of intellectually justifying your position and bouncing back that others are wrong and you are right so the reality of what happens on the coal face is rarely homed in on
This biased approach which is on the increase is clearly evident on the BBC website. The website unfortunately is seen throughout the world (riding on the back of the BBC’s good reputation accumulated over many years). I spend half the time in the US. When I am back in Britain I can contrast the inaccurate reports with other sources of media to find the truth. People abroad are not able to do this.
Furthermore your complaints section is ineffective. I complained about the inaccuracy of a piece. An arrogant person phoned back telling me I was wrong. I pointed out that the complaint as he understood it did not represent my actual complaint. At that he merely repeated that he had looked at the article and felt happy about it. As Grade implies on the complaints website you are only as good as your complaints procedure

  • 12.
  • At 02:12 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • peter wrote:

I like the arguements and agree that news delivery has to change to cater for a much broader view of opinon delivery. News over the air or on line, is i think viewed as entertainment and this brings its own limitation on speed of apprehension or interest. The same may not be true of newspapers news which regretably probably has a greater power to form public views however biased the presentation. So I would want to see BBC retain as much repectable authority as it can and not fall prey to popular commercialism.

Thank you for a thought-provoking essay.

I liked what you say about moving away from the old left-right even-handedness towards radical impartiality. However, I felt the approach to impartiality is not all that radical - it seems mainly to be to expand the number and variety of views that get represented on air.

I would suggest that for a news organisation, impartiality includes being able to test whether views expressed reflect reality.

Your correspondents and anchors understand this well enough when it comes to issues such as who is actually doing the most killing in a war. On issues with a scientific or technical dimension, not so much.

I get the impression that on issues such as MMR, nuclear power, global warming, evolution in schools, stem cells and much more, your correspondents and interviewers feel that they are powerless to challenge the assertions of 'experts', and unable to tell whether they are mavericks, except by asking another expert who, for all they know, might be the maverick one.

I believe the level of scientific literacy in the BBC staff who the public see and hear could be higher than it is.

Let me give something of a straw man example. There are still, I believe, a few people who believe the earth is flat. It's fair enough that they be allowed to express their view on national media from time to time. What should also happen - and in my opinion does not happen for more realistic examples - is that they should then be asked to describe their supporting evidence and, when that evidence is forthcoming, for the interviewer to have the nous to argue with it. Not to make the case for another position - just to have the scientific literacy to pick holes in an argument.

The BBC's correspondents may have been arrogant in the past - some of them still may be, as you hint a little. But at the same time they need more confidence, not less, in their ability to know for themselves whether the earth is round, and to expose the defects in the arguments of those who think otherwise.

  • 14.
  • At 07:14 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Ben wrote:

I enjoyed your thoughtful essay and appearance on 5live which suggests that there are those at the BBC who are listening to criticism levelled at them.

Your section talking about bloggers who write news analysis for their own audiances was interesting as I tend to think that BBC television has been doing a similar thing for several years.

You surely know the vast majority of BBC journalists take The Guardian - it's a club membership badge and there is nothing neccessarily wrong with that - except when you allow this paper's worldveiw to become the centre of your political spectrum. If that is what you believe it will come across in your reporting even if you are careful to appear impartial.

It is pretty obvious what the veiws of the presenter are on any given subject by studying their body language.

Perhaps it might be a way forward for your journalists to express their political leanings and then for you to impose a quota system on those you employ - 'Positive Discrimination' to use a favourite PC term.

  • 15.
  • At 02:47 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Don wrote:

I can provide a short response to the above scroll.
I have watched the news on and off for a few years now , and at 17, I can safely say, Ive found a predicatable routine in news material,taken from a constantly changing, unstable and unpredictable world.When I tune in, I can expect, war,scandel,health scares and impending doom.All of which doesn't effect me,it merely provides a mildly stimulating alternative to "the adverts"

  • 16.
  • At 04:20 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Keith wrote:

There is an enormous contradiction sitting slap-bang in the middle of your lecture.

Mea-culpas aside, I still get the distinct impression that you yearn for the good ol' days of opinion forming!

And so you should!

As a child during the 1960s I well remember the Beeb at its Reithian best. Dodgy public school types, typically with slicked-back hairdos and horn-rimmed specs would tell us about the strange lands abroad, the funny habits of the peoples who lived there, how backwardness was being overcome with the import of Morris motors and the mandatory tour of some sub-royal.

Or you could watch your parents nod comfortably off in front of "The Ascent of Man" while being able to remember enough of it to wonder why the Borgias - if only we had a few more like 'em today - went wrong during Sunday dinner.

That, at least, is one side of the false antinomy that's often set up when talking about the relationship between a government institution (the BBC) and "pop" culture.

Because, of course, even if you accept the above stereotype you have to account for all those annoying changes that seemed to take place "outside" of the map the BBC is accused of using: Civil Rights, Women's Rights, anti-colonialism, the sexual revolutions yadda, yadda, yadda.

And I'm still referring to the 1960s by the way...

Because of it's non-commercial nature the BBC fostered a pool of talent that could (even if they were in a minority internally) engage with profound social and ethical change. But let's be honest, the dog wagged its tail, not the other way round. When social changes did filter into the BBCs agenda there were, unlike commercial broadcasters, layers of extremely talented and confident editors, journalists and broadcasters ready to take up issues in a robust and challenging way. This though, I seem to remember, was far more true of the BBCs Arts & Drama services than it was for news production (note the wobbly subjectivism).

The BBC today is locked in an identical hand-wringing debate some 40 years on. And I'm sure it's been going on even longer.

I have no idea whether or not there are overall gains or losses for the BBC in terms of users. Someone earlier mentioned the "long tail" and it's a very important consideration now. The "long tail", by the way, is a relatively recent term employed to describe the role the internet plays in ensuring that products (books, bamboo window shades, car parts) and *content* no longer need a single mass market surge to be successful but can make even more impact just by being perpetually available.

It therefore seems that rather than focus on the form (Web 2.0 forums, blogs, PDAs, texting etc. etc.-- these are technology issues, just get them done it's cheaper to do it now than it's ever been!) the Beeb should concentrate on content.

The long-tail requires content, ideas, positions, bias, points of view, data, argumentation, evidence.

You're then back at opinion-forming, because we need to engage with something, not a self-referencing club (and those who say that most blogs are narcissistic self-preservation exercises need to spend more time on them -- they either wither or turn into WWIII in short order).

New medias are making assumptions, opinions, positions, histories and actions more and more transparent. In this climate we need a BBC that does the best job of, dare I say it, editorialising! You guys have the manpower, skills, travel budgets to do (and you do do) a fabulous job. But, you will need to be clearer and clearer on what your (collective or individual statements are fine) "take" is. The Beeb should be able to have a Robert Fisk and some Wall Street Journal boilerplater on the same show (if not making the show). Transparency of politics and ethics is what will win more usage of a great system.

I'm a big fan of Jeremy Paxman, I can guess his politics -- but don't overly care what they are in the particulars -- but I know his ethics. I know he won't tolerate BS-artists where power is being misused to harm others. That is an ethical dimension: we are against the use of power or ideas where they result in harm to others.

When I read; "... by definition, the audiences that consume our services least are also the least engaged in public debate..." I thought I was back with the dodgy public-schoolboy brigade. Are you serious? They're not engaged in "your" definition of the public debate but they are definitely debating. They just don't see the Beeb as a forum through which they'll ever be heard or recognised.

Getting down with the kids ain't the way forward. The kids want an argument, with bias, with prejudice and with a staunch ethical flavour. Oh, and I'm not talking about an open-mike night with the BNP either. More like Paxman interviewing Muslim Association leaders for a couple of hours that can then be chunked up and disseminated/re-purposed across this media.

Or let a Chris Hitchens slog away at some poor anti-war protestor for a day (you get the picture). Create arguments and don't be afraid of stating positions.

Until open ethical positions are robustly defended what point is there for any of these communities to come back and participate.

The Beeb needs to retain its reputation in depth. Breadth is something your IT dept. can help with.

"We are against causing suffering and want to reduce harm being done by one group to another -- now here's the news! -- and you may not like it..."

  • 17.
  • At 05:09 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Roy Catton wrote:

Peter,

It sounds like you believe, after all your hard work, that everything is now going to be different from how it used to be. It’s all sorted.

In your speech some good points are made, but rather like plums in a mess of porridge – a mess of woolly thinking, unstructured arguments and self-contradictory assertions. I have to say that I do not ‘distrust’ the concept of impartiality – but I do distrust your view of what it is and how easy it is now going to be to supply it.

The early part of your argument introduces incoherence. – You seem to have tried to use as a premise a plaintive assertion, the spine of which runs: ‘Regulators, politicians and lobby groups are often united … But these interest groups and those of us who once thought we could shape the views of our audience are being ignored by the audiences those groups control.’
Unless you somehow mean something completely different from what I understand by the last word in it, that spine is self-contradictory (perhaps you had a particularly subtle point in mind by ‘these interest groups … are being ignored by the audiences those groups control’ but it didn’t quite get expressed). So, where you attempt to build on that throughout the rest of it, your piece also makes little sense.

Your claim that ‘The internet is in danger of becoming an enormous exercise in preaching to the converted’. If that were true, then, in the light of the information you have yourself here supplied, your claim could be seen to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, because clearly you [I do not mean you personally, but as in ‘you lot’] have always been pretty impervious to responses to your output and content to live in your own ‘cosy’ self-confirming little world: ‘As for taking the views of the audience into account, that was almost never thought of. The "duty log" - the overnight list of phone calls from the audience - was regarded as being a repository of entertainingly eccentric commentary. Letters from viewers would, I exaggerate only slightly, lie in yellowing piles on the desks of producers weeks after the transmission of an item that was being complained about.’
Though there may well be ‘pockets’ in the net where few intrude and which therefore stagnate, that is no less true of your world, and that you are now trying to do something about that is, you acknowledge, at least in part because you are under some pressure from the internet. In fact, anyone can join in on-line and do so on an equal footing in presenting their information, whereas you have made it clear that no-one in its audience is on an equal footing with the decision-makers of the BBC: no matter how much they try to join in or whatever they offer, it’s always and only ‘you lot’ deciding what to present.

If you believe ‘the need to cover stories people find attractive in an on-demand world, as well as those that are significant, means we need to broaden our story range and our definition of what constitutes news’, then, in being provided with ‘news’ that people find ‘attractive’, I believe they may well be entertained or even pleasured, but they will not be informed about the world, nor in any positon to do anything to change it, even if they felt so inclined. Is that your purpose? Or is it just to boost the ratings?

I have the same criticism of your idea that you should aim to ensure ‘that the bulk of the population sees its own perspective reflected honestly and regularly’. What if what is happening in the word does not fit their perspective – contradicts it – are you going to keep the truth of that matter quiet so that you don’t disturb their customary self reflection, don’t lose your new audience? I mean, for instance, those whose perspective is that Jews, Gypsies and Blacks are lesser beings in some way. That is not a perspective to be reflected, however honestly, but rather it is one to be challenged. Perhaps you mean that you wouldn’t do the first without the second, i.e. you would both reflect and challenge such perspectives. That would be fair enough, but it doesn’t sound like you mean that, because you say you have given up trying to ‘form’ opinions, perspectives, et al.

Your argument leads you to conclude: ‘So the BBC's purpose in such an environment becomes clearer – to provide the widest range of information’ and ‘We must now provide them with all sides of the story’.
But what is new about that? That is exactly what you should already be doing now, according to the BBC’s Charter. See the Editorial Guidelines (4) “Impartiality & Diversity of Opinion” ‘The Agreement accompanying the BBC's Charter requires us to produce comprehensive, authoritative and impartial coverage of news and current affairs in the UK and throughout the world to support fair and informed debate. It specifies that we should do all we can to treat controversial subjects with due accuracy and impartiality in our news services and other programmes dealing with matters of public policy or of political or industrial controversy. It also states that the BBC is forbidden from expressing an opinion on current affairs or matters of public policy other than broadcasting. In practice, our commitment to impartiality means: we seek to provide a properly balanced service consisting of a wide range of subject matter and views.’
And it’s precisely providing ‘the widest range of information’ and ‘all sides of the story’ that you are consistently failing to do! And yet you seem to want to dilute the aim of what you should already be doing.
You fail to grasp the fact that that failure is exactly what most of the complaints being made are about. Everyone wants accuracy; not, however, just accuracy about some tiny fragments of a story, but about the whole story.

And that’s where the real difficulty lies – trying to see beyond what you believe is already known, to get the whole story.
This is the difficulty at the heart of any attempt to provide information – how to define, in any given sitution, what constitutes the ‘whole story’ – and you simply do not address this difficulty, much less tell us how you are going to deal with this, the real problem with your output. Unless you see and acknowledge that as the problem you’re never going to sort it.

I have a painting that illustrates this difficulty. It shows a close-up of the upper halves of a few men, rather huddled together, looking out at the viewer of the painting. They look intent and, so, look interesting, are dressed well, if in antique garb and, being the only people in the picture, standing before a back-drop of drab hills in the distance under a cloudy sky, are the only conspicous areas of interest in the painting. Someone giving information about it would feel they had to go into a lot of detail about these men, the differences between their clothes, between their complexions, possible countries of origin and the objects they were carrying. How is one to know when the information is complete? Perhaps it’s when the men have been well decribed and stories about them and about what brought them together at this spot on this evening well-imagined. It would have taken a lot of looking and describing of ever wider, less interesting areas of the painting before the inconspicuous, but not quite invisible trees on one of the distant hills could have been seen to be 3 crosses, and before, amidst the whirls and whorls constituting the sky, even more inconspicuous then the crosses, a dagger could have been discerned looming over the scene, with, when looked at carefully, a distorted image reflected on its blade, an image of, according to the angle of the blade, the viewer, but looked at closely, actually a smiling but bloody baby. And the whole focus of the information, now that the ‘range’ of it has been provided, changes completely. And even then only the beginning of the story has been unfurled. The corrollary of this would be to imagine a scene that you already completely understand – say from the past, a ghetto in wartime Germany, and then imagine someone supplying information about it – supplying lots and lots of detailed information – but all of which fails to mention any of the features which make this place a ghetto, which make life in this place so unimaginably difficult as to be hardly worth living, which makes it hell on earth.

Unfortunately this is exactly the serious error I regularly hear made by the BBC when they report from the Occupied Palestinian territories. Rarely are the words ‘military occupation’ used, even in broadcasts where that fact is the most relevant. Radio 4’s Today program of Thurs 2nd Nov 8.50am from Bethlehem, was supposed to be about the cause of the Christian emigration Bethlehem has been suffering in recent years. It did not mention the Israeli occupation, nor the encircling wall and Jewish-only settlements and roads, nor the house demolitions, nor the 14% of the district of North Bethlehem recently annexed to Israel, nor that residents in the South have recently been told they are next in line, but instead implied that the problems are entirely the result of a religious ‘global conflict’. From Our Own Correspondent of Sat 11th Nov 11.30am was about Beit Hanoun. As well as the above ommissions, it also managed to imply that both sides are equally to blame and actually managed to include the words ‘the Palestinians are to blame for the impasse’. For some reason the Chrisitian Archbishop wasn’t interviewed, nor were the public words of a recent letter to his parishioners quoted or refferred to.

He wrote:
‘Christians of the Holy Land, we live in a situation of conflict: the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It consists of a military occupation imposed by the Israelis on the Palestinians, and of the Palestinian resistance to this occupation in various ways, violent and non-violent. This conflict has an impact on the entire region, as well as on all Christians in the region.
The conflict is not religious.’

‘As Palestinians and Christians, we say three things, which are complementary. First, occupation is an injustice that must stop. Occupation must be rejected. We must share in all the sacrifices necessary to regain our freedom and bring the occupation to an end. Resistance to occupation is a duty and a right. Second, resistance can be violent or non-violent. We, as Christians, call for non-violent resistance. Third, our position is based on the following fundamentally Christian and human principles: all human beings are equal in dignity before God. They all have the same rights and the same duties. No one, for religious or political reasons, should be subjugated by the other.

‘In all Palestinian towns and villages, since the year 2000 and until today, daily Israeli incursions demolish Palestinian houses, take Palestinian prisoners, and kill others. At the same time, there are violent reactions by Palestinian militias.
The official Palestinian Authority is insisting on holding peace talks. The Israelis are taking their time; they prefer to go on with their reprisals in the Palestinian Territories until all manifestations of violence stop. They do not seem to be in a hurry to have peace talks or peace.’

‘The social aspect of this situation: the “wall” surrounding the Palestinian towns has transformed these towns into big ghettoes or prisons. The “wall” and the Israeli military checkpoints make social, economic, and human Palestinian life day after day more and more difficult.
There are many voices and movements in Israel calling for the cessation of all violence and for the resumption of peace talks, but they are not numerous enough to impose a new direction on the conflict. The louder voices remain the ones that prefer to go on with the reprisals and with the direct violent repression of Palestinians.’

‘What is the Israeli agenda in this conflict? It is hard to know.
What is declared is the need for security. But all military actions taken so far have led to more insecurity.
What is the agenda of the international community? It is less clear.
From what we have lived and seen until now, we can say that we have had many declarations, analyses, talks and partial agreements in Madrid, Oslo, Camp David… With all of that, we are at the same point: we continue to live in conflict, under occupation, and in human conditions that are worsening day after day with ongoing violence, demolitions, deaths, hatred, and insecurity, all of which create a harsh economic and social life.
What should be done? To engage firmly and decidedly in peace talks in order to resolve the core problem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This alone will produce security and give birth to a new phase and to a new life in the relations between the two peoples. Moreover, it will give peace to the region and to the world.’

‘Today, Arab Palestinian Christians in Latin America, who emigrated there in the 19th century, are far more numerous than they are in their original homeland. The same is true of Arab Palestinian Christians in North America, the United States and Canada. The same reasons that led to their emigration at that time are still present today, though in a different way: economic and social difficulties compound the current political instability.
Some American observers and congressmen insist on a “presumed” Muslim persecution of Christians as the main cause of the emigration. It is true that difficulties exist in our Palestinian society, but the main reason is that the Occupation prevents the creation of a strong public authority.’

This is Archbishop Michel Sabbah, The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, September 29, 2006. (c.f. http://www.lpj.org/newsite2006/patriarch/archives/2006/10/holylando-austria102006-en.html )

I judge that it is the Archbishop of Jerusalem who has described accurately not just the fragments of the situation that got the attention of the BBC’s correspondent, but a much wider range of more relevant information which makes his account acceptable as a lot nearer to the truth of the matter than the BBC’s correspondent in the programs I instanced above. I find the discrepancy between the correspondent’s account and the Archbishop’s shows that the BBC failed to be impartial and accurate in those programs.

The BBC necessarily fails to be impartial whenever it reports from the West Bank Gaza Strip without clearly mentioning the continuing existence there of that ‘military occupation imposed by the Israelis on the Palestinians’ which the Archbishop describes, and which Israel has been making the Palestinians suffer for almost 40 years. Every day its stranglehold increases, unreported by you, and its deleterious effect upon the lives of each of the millions of people trying to live there deepens.

You say you met a ‘senior Israeli on a recent visit to Jerusalem, who ‘argued that we should not be attempting to be impartial (or "neutral" as he put it) about the threat from terrorism’. You say he ‘made a case that was forceful - both emotionally and intellectually. How could the BBC, as an upholder of free speech and an embodiment of liberal democracy, be prepared to be neutral in the face of extremists who wished to undermine such principles.’ ‘He argued that you couldn't apply the values of reporting a political institution such as Westminster to the struggle Israel faces - against foes such as Hezbollah and Hamas…. the BBC had to put away what he saw as an ultimately self-destructive obsession with impartiality’ I find that neither a forceful nor a remotely sound case. The words ‘He would say that wouldn’t he’ spring to mind. This is a clear case of special pleading. Understandable, but lobbying none the less. He wants the BBC to jettison its vaues, because then it will have none – and how then will it judge what to do? – It will have do whatever he says, accept his frame of reference, join in his demonisation of his enemies. That is, it will be doing his PR work for him, including, of course, refraining from ever asking why they are his enemies.
They are his enemies because wants no more resistance to the implementation of Israel’s policy of dispossession of the Palestinians. This policy of dispossession has been going on more or less continuously for almost 60 years, the military occupation for almost 40 years. Resistance is, as the Archbishop pointed out, a right and a duty. Although the Archbishop says of himself and his parishioners, ‘We, as Christians, call for non-violent resistance’ he also acknowledges that ‘resistance can be violent or non-violent’. But the Israelis want everyone to term those who engage in resistance ‘militants’ and those who do so violently – even if that’s only throwing stones – ‘terrorists’, because it’s better PR. The ‘senior Israeli’ was trying to persuade you to let him use the BBC for his PR. You could hardly do that if you were determined to maintain your impartiality. But perhaps you didn’t realise that.

Given the repeated failure of impartiality in BBC broadcasts about and even from the region, I see no grounds at all for the tone of complacency in your speech. The awful thing is, it reflects your obvious total inability to even see the problem, much less solve it. For, though you claim to have eshewed your initial motivation, given this consistently partial dissemination of information, you are completely failing to avoid being an ‘opinion former’ of the worst sort – you are consistently forcing your listeners to base their opinion on a partial and misleading picture of the situation.

I hope I haven't frightend you off from reflecting on this matter again. For all I have criticised your effort to date I have been glad of the opportunity to do so and thank you for that.

Roy

  • 18.
  • At 03:40 PM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

Peter Horrocks,

As interesting as your speech was, I couldn’t plough through all of it, but mostly scanned it briefly. You appear to have scant respect for the blogging world, speaking of it as if it comprises herds of sheep, faithfully following and perpetuating the point of view of any given blog. Evidently you either have only a passing acquaintance with blogs or your mind is so firmly made up about them that no evidence to the contrary will shake your preconceptions about them.

On the other hand, you appear to have a good deal of respect for the intelligence and awareness of audiences. This begs the obvious question: How do audiences differ from those who contribute to blogs? Are they somehow brighter through sitting in front of a TV screen or a BBC speaker rather than a computer? Or could it be that your perception of blogs is influenced by the fact that they have made, and continue to make, an important contribution in exposing the unprofessionalism, ignorance and implacable bias of mainstream media such as the BBC?

Leaving that aside, I was disturbed by your cheerful, breezy admission of past gross dereliction of duty and journalistic ethics in ignoring feedback from the public in the form of letters that would “lie in yellowing piles on the desks of producers weeks after the transmission of an item that was being complained about.” I was one of those who experienced a good deal of frustration in having my letters ignored by newspapers and other media. I never bought the standard blurb that they couldn’t publish or respond to letters because they were inundated by them. That was obviously a poor excuse for indolence or political preference or both. Thanks, at least, for verifying my suspicions of your sloth.

You appear to indicate that these attitudes belong to the past. However, as others have pointed out, they are very much prevalent today. Try, for example, as a member of the public, to register a complaint about some aspect of the BBC’s output. At best, you will receive a short, belated reply which both skirts the point of your complaint and promises to forward it to the relevant department – where it will be ignored, if in fact it ever reaches that department. At worst, you will receive an automated reply, and that will be that.

The BBC has become bloated, lethargic and unaccountable through feeding for way too long at the public trough. It would be good to see some real effort on your part to change this state of affairs.

  • 19.
  • At 04:09 PM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • jenny wrote:

Is this a blog or a thesis?

Impartiality is best achieved by stopping the media deciding what’s news and what isn’t, and the BBC’s commitment to giving the public a say in this matter has been clearly demonstrated by their decision to stop the public deciding what can be discussed on the PM Messageboards.

I doesn’t matter how many words you write - the BBC are still stuck in patronising instruction mode and will be until they provide the democratic thinking space you refer to. The BBC are wasting their time trying to stave off the empowerment the digital age has given Joe Public. Either they embrace it or they’ll find themselves slugging it out in the real world with commercial broadcasters.

  • 20.
  • At 07:01 PM on 03 Dec 2006,
  • Roy Catton wrote:

It is difficult to exaggerate changes that the BBC has already made in some respects, even if it is equally difficult to recognize that it has done so.

Within living memory the BBC used to assume that not only announcers and presenters should be dressed in a tie. I recall hearing about 30 years ago the novelist Beryl Bainbridge remarking, during an interview on R4, that when she was young she used to hear the announcer taking his leave from, it may then have been, the entire BBC audience, after, I think, the last weather forecast of the day, with the words: “Goodnight Gentlemen”.

Roy

  • 21.
  • At 08:22 PM on 03 Dec 2006,
  • Carl wrote:

A clue may be in the "anti-elitist revolution" and the fact you're losing the "C2, D and E's"...
The BBC still appears to speak unto the nation from its staff's own background.
Which, having worked for you at Current Affairs, still reeks of Oxford/Cambridge folk who live within 10 miles of White City and barely have a regional accent between them.
I'm not surprised you don't have the C2's, D's and E's watching you, when the topic of conversation by too many of your staff is about their where to get a good live-in nanny, laughing uproariously at the plebians on the duty-log and sidelining anyone who speaks less than RP as a comprehensive-educated thickie... Frankly, some of the chinless wonders at your place haven't a clue about real journalism and work on the 1950s theory that the lesser classes need to be "educated" rather than learn from them.
I still recall the 20 mins handed over to the 6 O'clock news on the Queen Mum getting a fish bone in her throat. Meanwhile, mud-slide in Brazil killing 400 hardly got a mention. Elitist? The BBC?
It's not all whippets, pasties and coal outside London, Peter, but there is news out there and "local" people want to hear about it, and even report on it if needs be. That's why you got so much from people on the July 7 bombings. Ordinary people, who take the bus and the tube, wanting to tell their story.
Here's a fact - the majority of Essex does not get local TV news from the BBC. Your transmitter doesn't work out East. The most densely populated areas of Essex are forced to watch BBC London. Totally pointless. Much of London's businesses are staffed by Essex people - although very, very little at the BBC I hasten to add.
If you ignore an area, don't be surprised if it ignores you back. If you ignore a cultural grouping - to the point of not even employing them - again don't be surprised if the C2's D's and E's ignore you back.
You may not be "hideously white" as Greg Dyke once said you used to be, but I'd just love to hear Gnasher Thompson or yourself argue you're not "hideously middle-class" and then try and prove it without putting forward a collection of low-ranking token C2's, D's and E's.

Impartiality and being totally objective are the hallmarks of broadcasting and first-rate journalism. The BBC comes out of the exercise smelling of roses when it comes to objectivity while striving to uphold these qualities, evolving through the digital age and battling cost constraints. No mean feat considering the number of critics wanting to place banana skins whenever they have the opportunity and however trivial the comment. The BBC beats other world broadcasters hands-down and should be congratulated for its content, objectivity and clever use of British humour.

  • 23.
  • At 02:46 PM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

To Roy in comment 17#,
Perhaps your pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli rant would be better served if you actually checked some of your comments !, you take the BBC to task for assumed bias, yet your entire message is completely biased against the Israeli's.
Do you really think that the Israelis are the only people who have blood on their hand in the on-going conflicts in the Middle East?, do you think that just because someone is a Palestinian that they also do not support violence?.
As to frightening people as to your final point in your 'rant', the only frightening thing about your comments is that you obviously think that your bigoted viewpoints are the only valid ones.

  • 24.
  • At 06:50 PM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

I cannot see any grounds for differing substantially with Peter Horrocks.
It is clear enough that the combination of the rapidly increasing rate of transfer of facts and the multiplicity of news gathering sources is creating great difficulties for all sections of the media.
The smallest unwarranted personal opinion or misstatement of fact is around the world and back, in minutes, with the remnants of the perpetrators reputation. Add to that the continuous criticism by the biased and the ill-informed.
Are we going to end up with “The News” followed by “The Verified News”?


  • 25.
  • At 11:04 AM on 05 Dec 2006,
  • Roy Catton wrote:

Response to Joe #23,

In my careful considerations (post #17) that you call a ‘rant’, I was trying to comment to Peter that he had not really acknowledged how difficult his job is, how hard it is to know when enough fragments of a story (or wide enough range of views) have been gathered to be able to say the whole story is being told. And I pointed out that this difficulty, the general difficulty at the heart of his profession, is exacerbated when there are people around deliberately trying to hide or distort some of those fragments in order to prevent the whole story coming out. I instanced the persuasion he explained had been brought to bear on him by a ‘senior Israeli’.

Now I don’t know what set of fragments you rely on to come to your picture of what Israel is doing, and don’t know which of the sources I have used to come to my view you would find worthwhile examining.
Perhaps you would find interesting the recently expressed view of someone who doesn’t agree with me about the racism at the heart of Israel’s policies and activities but who I find honest and careful and in a good position to know what he is speaking about and so I think what he says is well informed. He is a former President of the United States of America.

In his recent book President Carter carefully lays out how he sees the basic problem:

‘There are two interrelated obstacles to permanent peace in the Middle East:
1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians; and
2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.’

And he explains that, of the available options, one of the worst is:
‘A system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights. This is the policy now being followed, although many citizens of Israel deride the racist connotation of prescribing permanent second-class status for the Palestinians. As one prominent Israeli stated, “I am afraid that we are moving toward a government like that of South Africa, with a dual society of Jewish rulers and Arab subjects with few rights of citizenship. The West Bank is not worth it.” An unacceptable modification of this choice, now being proposed, is the taking of substantial portions of the occupied territory, with the remaining Palestinians completely surrounded by walls, fences, and Israeli checkpoints, living as prisoners within the small portion of land left to them.’

Of the present he says:
‘The overriding problem is that, for more than a quarter century, the actions of some Israeli leaders have been in direct conflict with the official policies of the United States, the international community, and their own negotiated agreements. Regardless of whether Palestinians had no formalized government … Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land. In order to perpetuate the occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights. No objective person could personally observe existing conditions in the West Bank and dispute these statements.
Two other interrelated factors have contributed to the perpetuation of violence and regional upheaval: the condoning of illegal Israeli actions from a submissive White House and U.S. Congress during recent years, and the deference with which other international leaders permit this unofficial U.S. policy in the Middle East to prevail. There are constant and vehement political and media debates in Israel concerning its policies in the West Bank, but because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from Jerusalem dominate in our media, and most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories. At the same time, political leaders and news media in Europe are highly critical of Israeli policies, affecting public attitudes. Americans were surprised and angered by an opinion poll, published by the International Herald Tribune in October 2003, of 7,500 citizens in fifteen European nations, indicating that Israel was considered to be the top threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Iran, or Afghanistan.
The United States has used its U.N. Security Council veto more than forty times to block resolutions critical of Israel. Some of these vetoes have brought international discredit on the United States, and there is little doubt that the lack of a persistent effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a major source of anti-American sentiment and terrorist activity throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world.
In order to achieve its goals, Israel has decided to avoid any peace negotiations and to escape even the mild restraints of the United States by taking unilateral action, called “convergence” or “realignment,” to carve out for itself the choice portions of the West Bank, leaving Palestinians destitute within a small and fragmented remnant of their own land. The holding of almost 10,000 Arab prisoners and the destructive military response to the capture of three Israeli soldiers have aroused global concern about the hair-trigger possibility of a regional war being launched. ‘

And of the future he says:
‘The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens—and honor its own previous commitments— by accepting its legal borders.’
(from Chapter 12 of Palestine - Peace not Aparthied by Jimmy Carter quoted in ‘Conflict in the Middle East’ 27.11.06 in Geneva Initiative c.f.
http://www.geneva-accord.org/Articles.aspx?docID=1527&FolderID=43&lang=en )

In an interview last week, challenged about his use of the word ‘apartheid’ in his book, President Carter said:
‘I was not referring to racism, but simply to the desire to acquire Arab land inside Palestinian territory. And there is a total establishment imposed by Israeli powers of a separation of the two peoples from one another. I would say that in many ways the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupying forces is as onerous – and in some cases more onerous – as the treatment of black people in South Africa by the apartheid government. All Palestinians have to carry passes. When I was there monitoring elections in 2005, there were 719 roadblocks closed by concrete barriers, earth mounds or by official Israeli checkpoints. The Palestinians can't move from one place to another. They can't grow produce, for instance, to sell to their own people if it competes with Israeli fruit, vegetables and flowers. Gaza, which was supposed to have been abandoned, is absolutely imprisoned in a wall that the Israelis have built all around it. There are only two possible openings in that wall. One opens into the Sinai, and is open to only a few chosen people. And the other is open into Israel, and it has been closed almost all the time since the Israeli so-called withdrawal from Gaza. So the Palestinians are horribly abused and persecuted and deprived by the Israeli policies in the West Bank.’
(Interviewed by Marty Rosen, Courier – Journal, quoted in 'Carter shares insight on peace in Mideast' 26.11.06, in Geneva Initiative c.f. http://www.geneva-accord.org/Articles.aspx?docID=1523&FolderID=43&lang=en )

In my view, unless we have particularly good reasons for believing that the sources we have normally been using are more well-informed, then the degree to which what President Carter says here differs from what we thought we already knew should be taken as a measure not of how wrong he is but of how ill-informed we have been by the sources upon which we normally rely for our information.

  • 26.
  • At 11:54 AM on 05 Dec 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

Dear Roy,
Firstly, thank you for taking the trouble to respond to my comments, I must clearly state that I still find it unfortunate that you only use left wing sources to back up your world view. Mr Carter is the man who allowed the Cuban government to send across all it's criminals etc to the US and destroy Miami, Mr Carter is one of the worst leaders of the US ever (Democrats own survey, he is hardly the figurehead that I would use to justify my position!.
In your comments about the 'Roadmap' and how the Israeli's are stopping it's success, I would ask that you check with the UN as to who is stopping it's success, the Palestinians have repeatedly tried to stop the success of any peace initiatives, a good example of this double standards would be electing Hamas a terrorist group into power in the West Bank and Gaza !, I do not see in any of your comments any remarks about this?, I also do not see in your remarks any negative comments about the Palestinians.
Also perhaps you would like to explain why other Muslim countries have not been supporting the Palestinians since the money which comes mostly from the West was stopped after the election of Hamas?, also if the Palestinians are so innocent then the massacre at the Munich Olympics, Bombing of Busses, Airlines, Airports etc are what exactly?, a cry for help?, come on Roy lets here a more balanced opinion from you.

  • 27.
  • At 02:19 PM on 05 Dec 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

Re 3 JamesStGeorge 30 Nov 2006.

In most circumstances, is probably best to leave an article to be read for its content and what it says about the writer.
The FarePack situation is special and represents the “unacceptable face of capitalism” at its most ugly. It should not be dismissed with a few comments. The deposits concerned should have been ring-fenced or there should have been adequate financial cover otherwise.
We should be demanding full explanations from the directors of the company and the associated companies. The CBI, the Bank(s) and all financial concerns involved in this kind of transaction should give considered opinions on why this sort of situation should have arisen and whether they are capable and willing to produce a remedy or whether they should be forced to do so by legislation.
Meanwhile are they planning to include in their Christmas feasts a toast to the victims and their 15% sop, or are they going to get off their collective backsides and put the matter right?
Carry on BBC: many more articles about FarePack, its Directors and financial supporters, until we have some FairPlay.


  • 28.
  • At 05:38 PM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • Lilie Basel wrote:

I am strongly confused by the so-called "democratic" development in the media.

I am confused by sitting in front of written pieces telling nothing about the honesty and seriousness of the "posts" and people.

I am strongly confused by mistakes and misinformation provided by so many people and

I am strongly confused by confusion - not knowing what is right and what is wrong because of too many insecure sources and different subjective point of views.

From my point of view (subjective) people are bored and seek shelter in endless, non-informative and emotional discussions while sitting in front of a PC.

(I do because I am automatically confronted with the bored while trying to research a topic. And I cannot avoid seeing the statements and endless amount of words. I am bored - the other way round - bored by the "out of control" - democracy of the Internet.)

One can call such a behavior (trying to add one`s words - useful or not) "democratic" (the word is defined), but surely not essential for providing INFORMATION, CAREFULLY SELECTED information, trying to be objective and provide a broad base for making one`s own mind.

Therefore I hope that I and people like me can rely on the few who can help to widen opinion by giving information without too much confusion.

The recenly released Year-end issue of TIME megazine has wisely declared its audience as the men of the year. But what about the Women of the year? People rearly depend on the traditional news organizations for the News now. It is because of the media like Blogs, that people frequently communicate and find out what the NEWS really is. In my opinion the inventor of Blogs must have been declared the Man/woman/people of the year.
The Traditional news organisation will have to work very hard to restore the confidence people started to loose on them. But they have rendered a great service in spreading the English language in the world. The 'Lingua Franca' of the global village.
thanks

  • 30.
  • At 07:58 PM on 16 Jan 2007,
  • Andy wrote:

Watching BBC news 24 For any length of time shows how little information you wish to divulge.

You, as the BBC dare not call a donkey a donkey. So why are you surprised nobody I know (home and abroad) Cares or believes what you say? Impartiality is a dream that we will never live to see.

While I'm on one. If Radio 4 ever mentions or talks about the holocaust or someones' "Jewishness", again! I'll kick the radio out of my car.

  • 31.
  • At 02:41 PM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • Lydia wrote:

Is it possible to summarise your speach in a few bullet points please? (I only had time to view a couple of thousand words you see. Thanks. Lydia, 24, South Wales

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