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Lord Patten on his first day as the new BBC Trust Chairman, 3 May 2011

This week on Feedback I talked to a member of the BBC Trust, the body which replaced the BBC Governors, about impartiality in journalism.

It took my mind back to the rather fraught period around 1980 when I was editor of the Panorama programme and at frequent loggerheads with the Governors about our coverage of Northern Ireland. Mrs Thatcher was saying that the BBC had to be for or against terrorism.

On the side of law and order.

No middle way.

After all, the Iron Lady said, we did work for the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation.

It would have helped us all in those days if at least one of the Governors had experience of on the ground reporting in the province where the confused realities and complicated journalistic dilemmas would soon have become evident.

It would also have helped if the BBC management and the Governors had not held each other in a degree of distrust, sometimes bordering on contempt.

The situation is somewhat different today. There is a much clearer separation of responsibilities between management and Trust, and in Alison Hastings, the Chair of the Trust Editorial Standards Committee, they have someone who knows what journalists have to do to get a story.

She is a former editor of a metropolitan evening newspaper and, some years ago, served on the now largely discredited Press Complaints Commission.

Ms Hastings is now in charge of the latest in a series of reviews by the Trust, this time into the impartiality of BBC Coverage of the Arab Spring.

Previous reviews have been conducted into business (2007), network news and current affairs coverage of the UK nations (2008) and science (2011).

When I met Alison Hastings I wanted to know why the Trust had chosen this as the subject of its current review.

Had there been widespread concern about the BBC's impartiality? This is our conversation.

By the way the Controller of Radio 4 is coming onto Feedback in a couple of weeks - so please let us have your questions for the person who changed the schedule!

Roger Bolton presents Feedback

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by newlach

    on 13 Nov 2011 19:45

    I forgot to mention that since she axed Americana Sunday evenings have just not been the same. I can only guess that this was a cost-cutting measure and that the high-quality of Americana was not a consideration. Well, I'm not laughing at the replacements and I know of no one who is (I did, however, enjoy John Lanchester in one programme speaking about the lesson we can learn from Belgium).

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by newlach

    on 13 Nov 2011 19:27

    Impartiality in a war situation is no easy thing to achieve given that a reporter is only likely to see what some general wants him or her to see. I suppose we could have clips of manikins being sprayed with machine gun fire or blown to bits by mortar shells to demonstrate the likely outcome on the receiving end.

    MY question for the Controller concerns Thought For The Day. I listened with increasing alarm to Anne Atkins' "Thought" that was referred to in this week's Feedback. When I heard her speak out against plans to increase the number of organ donations I felt a great sense of unease. My thoughts were with all those waiting for transplant organs and who will die without them. Anne Atkins contribution may deter some people from donating organs and in consequence others may die prematurely.

    This edition of Thought For The Day clearly makes the case for having non-religious presenters who can challenge the potentially harmful views that are sometimes expressed.

    Where is the impartiality in allowing only religious commentators the opportunity to broadcast to the nation at peak time?

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Lawrence Jones

    on 11 Nov 2011 18:12

    Dear Mr Bolton and Ms. Pirie

    Concerning your request for questions relating to the forthcoming interview with Ms. Gwyneth Williams (Feedback 11th November). These are mine:

    (message 1)

    As a general comment, a lot of serious radio listeners – from all the radio networks - want to know who is behind this BBC ban on messageboard discussions relating to radio, especially on the POV MB. The POV subjects often exceed the topic bandwidth – but they are left untouched by the POV host (currently ‘Peta’). However, any reference to radio and one’s posting is removed immediately.

    I had a particularly distasteful experience this afternoon, I made a reference to the sad death of Sir Jimmy Savile – and my posting was removed. No one would disagree that Sir Jimmy was one of the greatest broadcaster of all time and must have (along with ‘Uncle’ Ted Beston) recruited millions of listeners to BBC radio listening - which must include Radio 4. I am sure that even Mr Bolton was a member of the TTDC [1] and the ‘Under The Bed Clothes’ club.

    Thank you.


    [1] see:

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