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Queues or no queues

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 10:15 UK time, Monday, 22 September 2008

The BBC's reporting of financial turmoil has helped to move markets and excited much comment. Last year Robert Peston's report on the government's rescue of Northern Rock was followed by much discussion of whether the BBC should have reported in advance of an official announcement. Last week's exclusive by Robert on the impending takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB had a major impact on the market and the Mail on Sunday reported that there will be an investigation into possible trading prior to Robert's story being broadcast.

Mail on Sunday headlineThe current financial turmoil and the high potential sensitivity of the stories we cover means we need to think carefully about what we broadcast and publish. Our first duty is to accuracy and our absolute presumption is in favour of publication. Of course BBC financial journalists operate under legal restrictions and the BBC's own strict guidelines which prevent them from taking any personal advantage from any of the information they possess as a result of their professional activities. But we do sometimes hold things back. I thought it might be interesting to describe two instances of that.

Last Wednesday, after the announcement of the likely HBOS takeover, we received initial reports of queues forming outside HBOS branches in Middlesbrough and Glasgow. We were aware that there was a possibility of outflows of deposits from HBOS. However we decided that queues in two places were not conclusive evidence of a widespread financial phenomena. We decided to wait and watch. The queues later dissipated. I have no doubt that if we had gone ahead at once with broadcasting pictures of those queues that could have had an impact on HBOS.

It made me recall what had happened almost exactly a year earlier after Robert's initial report on Northern Rock. In that case we had information early the following morning that queues were forming in a number of places. However we held off running those pictures until we were absolutely sure of the scale of the queues. By definition they were happening spontaneously not caused by seeing pictures of queuing.

What is the right thing to do in these circumstances? Our normal presumption should be in favour of publication of information. Many in the audience would wish to know financially sensitive information as soon as possible. However in reporting volatile public sentiment we have taken the view that we need to wait until a phenomenon is clearly established before we broadcast.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

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

  • Comment number 2.

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

  • Comment number 3.

    Are you there to create news or to report it ? Should you report what you see or suppress some of it ''for our own good'' ? There is no right answer, you will be criticised whatever you do.

    I suspect that reporting what you know is better because the stories will get out anyway. Part of the problem with the credit crunch is that there was not enough openness by the bankers. I had seen comments going back 15 years that derivatives could cause big problems - but in the fine weather no one cared. Would more probing by the media have helped to expose incompetent regulation ? You would not have been loved for doing so but you might have helped to prick the bubble earlier before it grew so big.

  • Comment number 4.

    News sources sensationalise for their own gain. If they had not sensationalised the Northern Rock "problem", perhaps there might not have been a run on the bank, perhaps the Government might have stepped in before problems escalated, and perhaps confidence in the market may not have fallen so fast and so far.

  • Comment number 5.

    >Last Wednesday, after the announcement of the likely HBOS takeover, we received initial reports of queues forming outside HBOS branches in Middlesbrough and Glasgow. We were aware that there was a possibility of outflows of deposits from HBOS. However we decided that queues in two places were not conclusive evidence of a widespread financial phenomena. We decided to wait and watch. The queues later dissipated. I have no doubt that if we had gone ahead at once with broadcasting pictures of those queues that could have had an impact on HBOS.

    Shameful.

    Your responsibility is to supply the news, not set the agenda or work as a propaganda tool of the government or markets.

    You ought to have reported that these numpties were queuing up. How the public respond to that is a matter for them - not you!

    If your presumption is to publish then PUBLISH!

    Its not often I'm angry with the BBC but this is outrageous.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think some of the reporting has been highly irresponsible and very speculative and has contributed to the febrile atmosphere in the markets. The BBC and other media feeds on catastrophe and breaking news but the trouble is that financial markets at the moment are so sensitive that ill thought out reporting can itself create further shocks in the system.

    The reporting of facts is not a problem. Neither is a degree of speculation. However all too often the speculative stuff is all about the downside and adds its own momentum to events.

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree that the BBC has a responsibility to supply news, but this responsibility goes hand-in-hand with serving the licence-payers to the best of the BBC's ability. Reporting the formation of two queues at HBOS branches would have been to exaggerate the importance of the queues and almost certainly trigger a run on HBOS. I know of at least two people who were watching the BBC carefully after the rumours of a take-over surfaced, ready to go online and withdraw their money from HBOS at the first sign of a run. Of course, you could only see the queues and had no means of knowing how many HBOS customers went online to withdraw their money. In the circumstances I think you made the right call.

  • Comment number 8.

    acidsugar - It is not the place of the BBC to try and influence one way or another. If they knew about this and didn't report it they weren't doing their jobs properly as far as i'm concerned.

    Being impartial means not taking a view. Nor should they.

    Obviously they have to consider privacy of individuals but beyond that their duty is to report what they know.

    They are entitled and welcome to hold the speculation and opinion but to provide raw, basic facts is something the BBC should do without question.

  • Comment number 9.

    There is nearly always a queue at my local Post Office. I don't expect that to be reported by the BBC.

    It isn't the existence of a queue that is important. It is the reason why people are in the queue that requires investigation.

    Are queues normal at those branches? Was there a technical problem?

    This blog reflects how shallow BBC reporting has become. You shouldn't need to be in doubt about whether to report or not. If you identify a potential story, do the research. If the facts support your position then make the report.

    I would suggest that the initial investigation should be low key. Don't underestimate the effect the presence of a film crew has on human behaviour.

  • Comment number 10.

    The BBC should concentrate right now on exposing the bad executive board members and hunt down those that distort the market by speculating as well as publicising those who short sell.

    Everyone who is partly responsible for this credit crunch from the stock exchanges to the board rooms should be named and shamed and hounded until they leave the financial sector for the rest of their greedy lives!

    Come on BBC, start naiming and shaming them all, drive them out of their jobs and get them as far away from our oney as possible. And make it a very big deal so that all the major news outlets around the world pick up on this and then with the bad eggs disposed of, things may start going smoother.

    Also, the regulators need increased exposure. They should be forced through the news outlets to make the sensible changes that are needed and have been ingnored for too long now!

  • Comment number 11.

    it seems that too many reporters now think that their own career progression is more important than reporting in a responsible and measured way. These days, there is far too much dramatic performance and in sensitive times, these huge "performances" skew the way that the news is percieved by the public.
    Good reporters know that the way they report a story is important and they file tehir story accordingly. The BBC seems to be going the same way as some of the "lesser" broadcasters and is employing more and more reporters that clearly don't let the truth get in the way of a good story (or an oscar winning performance) and what we are getting is sensationalist journalism with too many superlatives and exaggerations as a substitute for the facts.

    A great many people I've spoken have the opinion that since the media cannot regulate itself to be "sensible", we'd rather have a news blackout until the markets settle down as all this showmanship is counter-productive.

  • Comment number 12.

    Peter - had you broadcast those pictures of the queues, you can absolutely guarantee that you'd now be facing criticism for doing so.

    But because you chose not to, you're...... still facing criticism!

    To quote critic103 (#3).... Shameful!!

  • Comment number 13.

    The issue was not Robert's reporting - rather it was the insider(s) feeding the info to Robert. There are a number of potential candidates: someone at Lloyds, someone at HBOS, someone within the political decision making process (10 or 11 Downing Street) or at the FSA. Someone made a killing on buying HBOS so lets hope for a proper and thorough investigation.

  • Comment number 14.

    @Curbishlyauto (post 1) - it's not just the BBC that's yet to cover the Mail on Sunday's "scoop"; a quick search shows it's also not yet been covered by Sky News, ITV News, Channel 4 News or Five News. Perhaps they're all infected by Labour supporters too! Harrumph! It's PC-gone mad, I tell you!!

    Or... perhaps they just felt that this story had all the hallmarks of a carefully timed "bomb" by the Mail Group to coincide with the start of the Labour party conference. (I mean, we all know how much the Daily Mail just loves the Labour Party - and, for that matter, ethnic minorities - don't we?)

  • Comment number 15.

    Of course you must report the news,the public have a right to information where it affects them. What is reprehensible however is the attempts to make news, which appears to be a practice which affects not only the BBC but almost every other media source. Stories are floated which are neither true nor liable to become true, these then vanish without trace and are never heard of again. Whether this is the fault of correspondents or programme producers trying to fill space I do not know but it seems to happen with increasing regularity especially when news is scarce.

  • Comment number 16.

    I was one of those horrified by My Pestons' reporting on the Northern Rock story. My pension is (was) tied up in shares of the NR and i have lost it all with no idea how i am now going to retire.
    The BBC's sensational way of reporting drove people to join the queue's and withdraw their money. EVERY day when we turned on the news, NR was on the forefront of the breaking new flashes.
    There was absolutely no need for it to be the number one story for the 2 weeks it was reported on.
    People are panicking at how they are supposed to survive this currently financial turmoil and seeing people on TV withdrawing their money will only encourage people to join the queue's with the dread of them losing their savings.
    We say Mr Peston saying very proudly "This was our story, we broke the story" at the beginning of each breakfast show. Yes, it was their story and yes, they were part of the reason why the bank collapsed. I am ashamed to say that thanks to the BBC's part in all of this, i am going to have a very poor retirement.

  • Comment number 17.

    The problem with the HBOS-TSB story was that it was wildly market-sensitive. This means that whoever leaked the information must have had some sort of agenda. Did you properly analyse this or did you get carried away by the size of the issue. If there is an insider-trading investigation will the BBC provide evidence or will it protect its source?

    I think you were dead right on the queues issue, BTW

  • Comment number 18.


    I heard the announcement of the breaking news piece live on radio 5.

    He was full of glee at his scoop and related in breathless excitement the impending doom of HBOS.

    This was done in the full knowledge of the negative effect this would have on real people with real jobs and the knock on effects on communities across the UK.

    I am left feeling less of him as an individual human being and hence less of the BBC as an institution.

  • Comment number 19.

    I agree with those that point out the reasons behind any queues should have been established. I fear that a rush to get stories to press often result in the vaguest of initial reports full of assumption or options of possible outcome. Too often do vague reports dominate headlines at length with reporters guess work and repetition.

    More worrying than this though, is the much talked about sensationalist headlines. So many methods are used, including "Breaking News" graphics, words, phrases, body language, facial expression, music, images, silence, innuendo, loaded questions, repeated questions, statistics. The list could go on and on.

    When news publication has to compete for audience or sales, someone within the structure of a publication or news channel will always look to highlight the kind of stories that grab mass attention. More over, for the same reasons, individual stories will be reported in such a way as to make a reporter or publication look good in some professional way.

    Not so subtle undertones of "we got the story first", "we got the truth first", "we got more in-depth than anyone else", "we predicted the outcome" are rife in modern news reports. They manifest in the tone and manor of a report.

    You might think the BBC should be free of such methods to grab audience attention, but the BBC is unique and yet has to be funded. By that I mean, you can't compare it like for like with "competing" broadcasters, and yet there has to be measurements reported so that value for money can be demonstrated. For example, if ITV news got 4 million viewers on a Thursday night, and BBC news got about the same or more, then as a service BBC news is valued and useful.

    This measurement of viewers/readers then becomes a yardstick for value. Increase the value of the service is to justify cost.

    An increase in sensationalist headlines is an increase in value.

  • Comment number 20.

    Market theory exposues that markets only function correctly with perfect information.

    In reality almost every market player seeks to use the excuse of commercial sensitivity to hide as much information is possible.

    It seems to be me that many market distortions or mistakes could be corrected by providing more accuate information in a timely manner.

  • Comment number 21.

    If there is a queue outside even one branch of a bank related to the credit crunch I want it reported and reported immediately!

    Tough if the bank then goes under, that's capitalism which they all lovingly subscribe too and they are after all quick enough to fleece us!

    Never ever sit on a report like this again.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ilostmoney - You have my sympathy and every right to be angry, but you should direct your ire more appropriately. The two specific groups of people you should be blaming are 1. the ones who insisted on queuing up and causing a run on Northern Rock without good reason, and more importantly 2. the administrators of your pension fund, who were criminally negligent to invest your entire retirement fund in a single stock. I've never heard of such idiocy. Name and shame them.

  • Comment number 23.

    I don't know why Peter asks the question, the responses won't alter anything.

    What annoys me is that the BBC is adopting the commercial sector practice of taking a stance on an issue and then downplaying and ignoring anything which doesn't fit that stance.

    We hear a lot about consumer confidence being dented so, for example, the BBC did their best not to report, and to the best of my knowledge certainly with no 'breaking news' fanfare, news that retail spending was 3.5% up on last year.

    The issue is more complex than the shallow, autocutie dominated 'news channel' coverage suggests.

  • Comment number 24.

    It’s a very difficult call. But Robert Peston's Northern Rock report I believe caused a lot of the panic that we saw on the high street. Understandably people wanted their money to be safe.

    But behind the scenes, a deal could have been done to "rescue" NR. Indeed, it is likely that one was already under discussion. Pestons report, which I recall listening to with open mouthed incredulity, started a very dangerous ball rolling. People decided to get out of NR.

    But if the stampede to get money out had not occurred, then the bank would have still been very liquid. However, once the ball started rolling it was downhill all the way.
    The result? Job losses and the tax payer involved in something it should not have been involved in.

    Peston and others need to be very careful. Its thousands of people lives they are dealing with.

  • Comment number 25.

    Wake up people.

    Any other time and these mergers/takeovers would be told by the monopolies and mergers commission that there is not a chance they could create these financial superbanks.

    This whole damn economic crash is by design, it is being done to create a kind of financial fascism.

    The day they stopped publishing the m3 index is when this financial endgame started. The m3 index reflected how much actual money is in the economy. They stopped publishing it so they could flood the market with liquidity. Knowing that it would ultimately crash.

    And what has been our answer to all this. Create more money. Another 85 billion one day, 20 billion the next day. The speculators are just the footsoldiers of the whole thing.. Look to central banking as the manipulators and creators of this mess.

    Wake up people, we are having our assets stripped and stolen right in front of our eyes. It kills me watching this and listening to the spin and control our media gives it.

    This is just the start of what will make the depression of the 1920's look like a picnic.

    If we had one intelligent, honest and brave journalist at the BBC they would hijack the airwaves and scream the truth at us. But we don't instead we have Jeremys and Peters who will talk about anything other than the real route causes of this.

    What there pay off is I dont know, but i think they have been conned just as much as we have.

  • Comment number 26.

    Perhaps Jeremy Vine should have been told? Last week on his Radio 2 show he started with (in his best hollywood movie trailer voice) HBOS: they say your money is safe, but is it?..... When he knows full well that even if it HAD gone under the first £35,000 is 100% safe.

    There is a far too much media scaremongering and in an economy that is largely based on confidence its economically damaging to spread fear.

  • Comment number 27.

    These are complex times and all commentators have been scrambling up a steep learning curve to enable them to make informed comments. The BBC initially failed its public with rash comments from ignorant "talking heads". As things have progressed the corporation has apparently made valiant efforts to educate its journalists and find better commentators. However, the aggrandisement of BBC staff is grating - we have heard far too much about who "broke" stories and far to little about the materiality, or otherwise of the stories broken.

    We don't really care about your journalists scoops, we do care about balanced, informed reporting - and balance does not mean broadcasting the extremes without any commentary. If you "publish and be damned", you will of course be damned.

  • Comment number 28.

    "IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
    And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
    if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
    And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"

  • Comment number 29.

    The big big problem the BBC has is that it does not simply report facts. It speculates, forecasts and comments on the news. This is incompatible with impartiality.

    It also results in the BBC inadvertently becoming part of the news story on too many occasions.

    One possible remedy is to separate the news function from features. I believe, however, that the solution must be far more radical than that with the analysis side of the news dropped altogether. The BBC is publicly funded but is trying to act like a private media organisation, allowing it to comment and speculate in the same way that a commercial newspaper does.

    This leaves a credibility problem and ultimately mis-trust. An example is the global warming debate. In reality nobody who consumes BBC output is any the wiser over real facts surrounding global warming. The line between the BBC’s own angle on this story and real facts is blurred.

    Viewers and listeners end up interpreting BBC news rather than taking it as a series of facts. This leaves them feeling unsure of where the truth lies. The BBC may get away with this in most cases, but when financial stories are involved, it exposes this weakness for all to see.

  • Comment number 30.

    #29

    It simply isnt realistic to expect to be able to get your news from one source and expect it to be anything other than biased and prejudiced.

    If you pull in multiple newspaper sources from across the political spectrum as well as multiple news sources and other internet resources only then do begin to stand a chance of getting at the truth of a matter.

  • Comment number 31.

    #30 SotonBlogger

    So why are we paying the licence fee if we are having to do all the work to obtain unbiased new?

  • Comment number 32.


    You are paying the license fee to get access to one high quality source of biased information.

    The BBC has a breadth and depth of coverage arguably better than most national broadcasters.

    It is however demonstrably biased as are all other sources of news I am aware of.

  • Comment number 33.

    So you submit to editorial rule - no surprises there then - but why make a blog out of it. The BBC is paid for by license holders and they are the people you serve not a commercial market that has taken every "drug" there is and now complains that it is lying in a gutter, washed up and in need of public money to help it out.

    Isn't it rather arrogant of the BBC to assume that it "had an affect" on what people decided to do about NR or HBOS? And so what if you did or do have an affect? Isn't that life?

    The commercial marketplace, in case you have forgotten, appears full of shady characters and shady deals designed not to serve the public but to serve the interests of just the few. If the BBC has a role it is about evening things up so that Joe Public can at least get a fair deal with his or her money.

    Next time I hear a tasty piece of news I will not need reminding that the BBC will not be interested for fear of upsetting its political allies.

  • Comment number 34.

    #29.

    I agree with your criticism of the BBC in regards to comment, opinion, and speculation. The BBC has a duty to broadcast news as fact and not opinion. I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to political speeches on the BBC and then, when the analysis comes, pinch myself just in case I dreamed of the speech. This happens often when commentators talk about body language and codes when they are talking about what they THOUGHT they observed, complete with misreads and misunderstandings.

    I too believe there must be a clear dividing line between presentation of news as fact and opinion. Unfortunately the modern trend of breakfast and tea time review programmes is that the presenters are often able to make "news" comments. I find this a dangerous way of presenting fact.

    I try to get as many angles on a piece of news as I can before settling on what it means to me - I used to trust the BBC alone but sadly that is no longer the case. There are commercial broadcasters who do a much better job of "pure news" presentation because they stick to quality, depth and style.

  • Comment number 35.

    I remember visiting a foreign broadcaster's newsroom a while back (for obvious reasons I will not identify the country).

    The journos laboured in the newsroom and at one end was a large glass enclosed area, in which sat the government censor. The newsgathers did not have to think about what to publish, as one might think, but one would be wrong. The same level of self-censorship prevailed. The staff knew that in order to keep their jobs they should not get too many stories rejected by the censor.

    In the UK we had/have the 'D' notice - a form of direct censorship that was/is all pervasive. There is also the question of being sued for slander or libel. The more wealthy the subject of the story the more pressure this puts upon the journalist.

    You should think yourself lucky that you think that you have a choice. The reality is that you have been selected to accept the party line and self-censor. If you hadn't become 'one of us' you career would have ended long ago!

    As an aside: I also vividly recall the ludicrous restriction of hearing the voices of members of the IRA or Sinn Fein - we could see them moving their lips but their words had to be spoken by an actor - good work for a few actors!

  • Comment number 36.

    Hell yes, publish.

    There's a lot of talk about these so called 'sharks' but the BBC is accessible by ordinary people - some of whom are investors.

    Everyone should have access to this information as soon as it (legally) becomes available.

  • Comment number 37.

    Those talking about comment being passed off as news need only look at Jon Sopel's opening remarks just after Milliband's speech in which Spoel invited audiences to for their own opinion of Milliband's failure to pledge never ending love for Brown.

    It was sheer speculation but led the 'news' item and went unchallenged.

  • Comment number 38.

    Because of BBC's near monopoly position in the UK in the most important media, radio and television, BBC could have started runs on the banks, street riots, a general breakdown of law and order, and utter chaos. As long as it's not illegal, what the hell. And what can they really do to you afterwards, give you a slap on the wrist? Take away your license? Fat chance, who will take BBC's spots on the dials? Go to it BBC. Tell 'em to all run right down to the bank now and take all of their money out while they still can....if they still can.

  • Comment number 39.

    Given current LIBOR rates, how can the government expect banks to pass on the 0.5% cut in base rates to their customers when their own bank, Northern Rock, doesn't do the same. At the very least it should be leading the way. Why has Northern rock not passed on the 0.5% rate cut? Does the govenrment want to lead the way in the repossesion stakes as well!

 

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