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Feedback - A Question of Excessive News Coverage?

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When a major political figure dies the BBC takes very seriously its role as a national broadcaster. Rather than be seen to give too little coverage to figures like the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher it arguably gives too much. That is certainly the view of many Feedback listeners.

Following the hardly unexpected death last week of Nelson Mandela the same sorts of criticism have been made.

Why were programmes interrupted to announce the death of this 95 year old man? Why were news programmes extended and so many special programmes broadcast?

Why were so many BBC journalists, such as David Dimbleby, John Humphrys, John Simpson, James Robbins etc., sent to South Africa, sometimes to interview each other? Only Michael Buerk seemed to be missing.

I suppose it is understandable that if you reported from South Africa during the apartheid period and the release of Mandela from prison then you would want to be there at the end of such an extraordinary era, but, even so, should the licence fee payer bear the cost?

I never had the good fortune to meet Nelson Mandela as he was on Robben Island when I was in South Africa, filming with underground leaders like Cyril Ramaphosa, who is now Vice President of the ANC, and who organised the memorial service.

In the late 70s and early 80s a bloody civil war seemed inevitable, at least that’s what it felt like, and it is some sort of miracle that it has been avoided.

I of course cannot comment on whether the coverage has been excessive, but post Mandela’s death, I would have liked to have heard more about the role played by F W de Klerk and other afrikaaners in bringing apartheid to an end.

I think I detect in the coverage an element of nostalgia for a time when the ethical choices in foreign policy seemed much more clear-cut. Apartheid was morally wrong.The Soviet system was inhuman.

Today everything seems rather greyer.

Coverage of the Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi affair has been less extensive but it has frequently led bulletins, to the dismay of some listeners who disapprove of what they see as a growing tabloid tendency in BBC News.

I put all these concerns to Mary Hockaday, the head of the BBC newsroom

 

Feedback is now off air until February. I have obtained my usual guarantee from the Controller of Radio 4 that she will broadcast nothing controversial in our absence. Still, do keep an eye on things just in case, and keep those emails, letters and phone calls coming.

See you in 2014.

Roger Bolton

 

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by All for All

    on 17 Dec 2013 19:26

    Excessive or not, the barrage of response to Nelson Mandela's death has served to remind us all of democratic deficit. The revelation, afforded some prominence, of his membership of the South African Communist Party, will for many have shed light on the signal element of apparent naivety, in reality of compromise or diplomacy, in his famous courtroom speech: his plain and simple endorsement of a mirage, 'equality of opportunity' to stand for genuine civic equality.

    President Mandela's name is thereby saved from blame for 'the result so far', of Apartheid's ending. As from the American War of Independence (reputation marred by the CIvil War and ongoing hostilities), and as from the most recent of supposed liberations (the 'social media' informed Arab Spring, now in tragic phase), South Africa has taken a vital step that must not be her last.

    Nowhere on Earth has any state yet adopted a constitution that includes both democratic aspiration and credible endorsement of the conditions for democracy of viable character, with freedom from fear and greed for every citizen, and the liberation thereby of all - at home, in the workplace and in government - from enslavement and corruption, possible only with security of representation, all of all, all for all, all by all, in agreed equal partnership.

    Across the globe, strengths are matched by weaknesses. We cannot be sure who will be the first to endorse full democracy: the Old World or the New, a people of the North or of the South, perhaps the venerable East? Everywhere, the voice of Mammon is by a captive press loudly relayed, to distract and to dissuade from progress. Witness the battle on-going for ethical journalism in the UK, press-barons resisting even the most gentle public accountability to their own claimed standards.

    While the 2013 UK Royal Charter for press regulation does not presume to set the proper standard for UK democracy, it is pro-democratic in allowing for gentle oversight by responsibly-appointed journalists, and people of independent voice, to encourage due observance and contribute to the setting of press standards (previously the gift of possibly circulation-beholden newspaper editors); and it states, of the called-for press self-regulators(s), that they 'should NOT have the power to prevent publication of any material, by anyone, at any time'.

    The on-going blizzard of misrepresentation, the most blatant of lies from within our self-styled 'free press', serves to remind of the evidence given to Lord Justice Leveson, and of the pressures that exist still for mercenary abuse of individual members of the public, and so also of the public interest. There can be no security without agreed equality, but most will appreciate already, that no trust should be reposed in self-serving anti-democratic press-barons. Briefly contrite, their reversion to-type is underway, with - as ever - 'a vengeance'.

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by glenn_uk

    on 16 Dec 2013 20:06

    Noted in Private Eye:

    "Education - School reporters pay tribute to Mandela"
    "Health - Nelson Mandela: AIDS campaigner"
    "Entertainment - Entertainment world mourns Mandela"
    "Scotland - Scottish leaders praise Mandela"

    - BBC New website headlines, 7 December

    Mandela overload? Excessive coverage? Perish the thought!

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Chasb53

    on 16 Dec 2013 12:03

    I agree Mandela overload!, certainly not the greatest statesman in the last 100 years, Auntie knows best approach so predictable, so why repeat same comments every time, could save licence payers money & just have standard reply message printed out. And yes Eddie Mair Show would be good if the man was as funny as he clearly thinks he is!! but not during news please!!

    In fact why not make it the first programme on state funded Mandela Radio & see how many people you can get to stump up the licence fee for that one!!

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by 77Matthews

    on 16 Dec 2013 07:20

    Dave B I think you make an important error in your criticism. This is not political correctness, in fact I think that no longer exists in the real world. What this is is the BBC News editorial, as a giant, refusing to admit that they've made a mistake or misjudgment. Maybe there now is something to address about the BBC being to large?

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by chrisw

    on 15 Dec 2013 16:36

    This excessive, hagiographic, coverage is beyond irritating. Yet another funeral special today. I think Nelson Mandela was a great man, but a week of saturation coverage is ludicrous. What exactly was his impact on the UK, and the way we live now? Even his life and legacy for his own country have been analysed in a very one sided way. What is going on? Empire guilt? Compare the limited and highly critical coverage of Thatcher. This is bad journalism.

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by Dave B

    on 15 Dec 2013 12:39

    I've gone from the point where I was irritated with the excessive Mandela coverage to a point where it became so excessive it was actually very funny. At any stage last week I would switch on the news to be confronted by the headline that in fact "Nelson Mandela was still dead." Yesterday the BBC news channel even provided live coverage of a funeral casket being driven around South Africa...and how exactly is that newsworthy? I'm also now being told by the BBC that Mr Mandela was "the most significant statesman in the last 100 years." I know they don't bother to teach history properly any more at schools but most significant statesman?...really? I could have sworn there were a couple of world wars,and a cold war during that period. I could be wrong but there may have been some significant statesmen floating about before the 1990's. I'm getting this awful feeling that I've woken up in some sort of liberal, politically correct version of North Korea where a very strange version of the world is being preached at me. Please BBC News take at a long look at yourselves because trust me you've lost your perspective. I honestly find the BBC editorial decisions over the death of Mandela utterly bewildering. The politically correct preaching has become politically correct screeching.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by David

    on 15 Dec 2013 11:56

    Way too much coverage - important, certainly, but not worth the hours of repetitive waffle. One point which hasn't been addressed is the coverage on the night of Mandela's death. This was the evening many people were either already flooded or awaiting the latest update on the regional programmes at 10.25pm.
    Instead, there was no mention of a (potentially) imminent major disaster at all - and the regional programmes were delayed by 15 or 20 minutes. The next morning was no different - but of course, the flooding didn't happen in London.... Poor news judgement all round - the flooding of large swathes of the East of England, and damage in the North West and Wales, largely ignored.

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by Chris Rogers

    on 15 Dec 2013 10:01

    "I think I detect in the coverage an element of nostalgia for a time when the ethical choices in foreign policy seemed much more clear-cut. Apartheid was morally wrong.The Soviet system was inhuman"

    Indeed, but will we see the same level of coverage on the BBC for Mikhail Gorbachev when he dies, a man who without argument freed more people than Mandela ever did? I think not.

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by losticini

    on 15 Dec 2013 08:15

    ...and I wake up this morning to, yet again, a leader about another stage in the funeral and it's dominating the headlines. This isn't just irritating, it's blatantly silly, the sort of thing comedy sketch writers use to parody the news. After all the complaints, the BBC goes on its own way. We might as well be employing that fake signer to communicate with the Corporation. The only good outcome is that it starts to make us question the hagiography and dig for the harder truths, which is what the BBC should have been doing in the first place, after the initial coverage of Mandela's extraordinary life.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by newlach

    on 14 Dec 2013 15:01

    When Feedback goes off the air it frequently seems that a school leaver takes charge of things at the BBC. Such a replacement for Ms Hockaday would probably be an improvement. She just didn't give the impression of being of the high calibre that licence-fee payers deserve.

    I agree with the point made above by Lawrence Jones:

    "I think the professional broadcasters had decided well in advance that Mr. Mandela’s death was going to be their show and two fingers to any views expressed by the public."

    Listening to John Humphrys tell me on this morning's Today programme how great the weather is in Johannesburg made me feel really great! One national newspaper has estimated that by tomorrow the BBC will have aired 104 TV and radio programmes about Nelson Mandela since the news of his death was announced. Only 104!

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