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Feedback: Editorial Balance

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Editor's note: You can listen to Feedback online or download it here

I nearly fell out of bed on Tuesday morning. It was around 8.40 am and I should have been up anyway, but I had only gone back to bed an hour before.

I find sleeping difficult when the sun rises early, so I had been up since dawn working on an obsessive local history project before popping back for a quick nap.

Of course the Today programme was on in the background. It has the peculiar property of being able to send me to sleep and sometimes wake me up. This time it was the latter. A voice from the turbulent past.

I had last heard of Professor Greg Philo in the early 1980s when his Glasgow media Group analysed the Corporation’s coverage of the Miners’ Strike and found it wanting. I was a BBC programme Editor at the time and, although I did not agree with much that he wrote, I was impressed and challenged by his analysis, which certainly made me think, and was a valuable corrective to the parliamentary consensus.

On Today on Tuesday he was also in challenging mode, alleging that the Beeb’s coverage of the conflict in Gaza was pro-Israel. Many Feedback listeners agree with him, and almost as many disagree.

It was refreshing to hear his views, and I look forward to the publication of his detailed analysis, and that of those who allege the opposite. I also hope voices like his will be heard more regularly. Broadcasters need to be challenged. That’s what Feedback is all about.

Philo was particularly critical of the alleged absence of context, but here I disagree with him. There is only so much context that can be put in a news report without excluding other major stories, and a major advance over the last few years has been the development of the BBC News website. There you will find excellent analysis and background features which were simply not available when I was a programme editor.

And I sometimes feel that academics do not allow sufficiently for cock ups.

When I was editor of the BBC 1 Nationwide programme during an industrial dispute, one academic research team, which took a 24 hour snapshot of the BBC coverage of the issue, accused me of bias.

Only one side in the dispute had been represented in a discussion, they said.

That was true, but it was because the representative of the other side was caught up in a traffic jam on the way to our studios in Shepherds Bush.

He appeared the following day, but that appearance fell outside the 24 hour period covered by the academics.

Back to today.Here is our feature about the conflict in Gaza which also contains an interview with Andrew Roy, World Editor of BBC News.

Roger Bolton talks about editorial balance in news reporting.

Also this week we talked to the BBC’s Director of News, James Harding, about the significant cuts he announced in his division.

On Thursday he said 220 full time jobs would go overall in an attempt to save £48 million.He also stressed the need to push on with the digital transformation of news.

Do let us know what you think of his plans

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton is the presenter of Radio 4's Feedback programme

Listen to Feedback

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by All for All

    on 1 Aug 2014 10:54

    heather bolton @10
    "almost impossible"

    We hope for, look for, rely upon, impartiality in the framing and the application of criminal law and of civil principle, at least in professions of personal service, but (in proportion) in vain when there is conflict of personal interest or genuine decision of personal view as to 'the public interest'. The best that we and truth then can hope for is in freedom and plurality and inter-play of expression, meaningfully possible only within agreed equal partnership.

    Without agreed security of equal belonging, our 'freedoms in society' are not just 'socially dependent' but illusory, and only weakly (we may fear even dangerously) to be protected by such as Leveson 'appraisal'. Any plurality tends to fossilise without free inter-play of expression; and real inter-play is today denied to us in a ghettoised 'private-army' media circus. All who live under fear and greed will to some extent be made child-soldiers and clowns, conscripts - sometimes conscious usually not - to 'the cause' of Mammon (not even truly for our Highest of Quislings, themselves with family and friends and dreams to betray), for whatever might aid the process of wealth concentration.

    Let suspicion and skepticism and even cynicism have their place, but before you let tears and blood be spilled for a David Icke (against lizard-rule even the licence strained of poetry) or an Andrew Gilligan (so wounded by illegitimate state power, discounting if not serving that which underlies), think to secure the freedom of all 'to live to fight another day', for our 'battles' to be civilised, not petty and deadly.

    The truth of our manipulation by press and politicians is that it is both profoundly dangerous and necessary: we wish to know that our physician has 'all in mind', and that 'the decision' is ours, but also that there are paths of 'reason and care', stories, interpretations and courses that can be shared as 'wise'.

    Ignorance and error always will be our companions, as will 'history'. If ever to get beyond 'historical outrage' and the exchange of this-for-that aggression, we have to discover the basis for future trust in relationships, our mutual guarantee of each other's individual equal belonging.

    Hard truly to share in Gaza, but the example it seems will not come first in Israel, despite growing discontents with inequality and the empowerment of priests and defence chiefs (alongside the usual, the makers of money in arms and literally in banking), their patriotism made to serve stalemate and worse.

    The above is not to say that no BBC word and omission will ever be of comfort to some to the disadvantage of alternative sources of goodwill, or even of lesser folly; but such matters are 'simple' only in their due democratic containment.

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by heather bolton

    on 1 Aug 2014 08:49

    The long view is for me when Andrew Gillingham was sacked for telling the truth (the time of Blair and Campbell) and after the last Israeli war with Gaza the BBC termed the abject need of the Palestinians was political and refused to help raise funds, as is usual in such cases.(Need normally over-riding political issues.) There somehow had been, to my mind, a seismic shift within the BBC, which sadly has remained apart from some occasional coverage by Newsnight and Channel 4 News: certainly at this time. Impartiality I think is almost impossible to regain after being lost.

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  • Comment number 9. Posted by All for All

    on 1 Aug 2014 07:35

    Juan cumia @8
    "western democracy
    more deep analysis
    if required or asked"

    Admittedly, lacking equal citizenship (equal financial means to argue, equal material belonging whatever the result), the Spanish election of 1936 can be defended as 'democratic' only in the sense that most would have understood more rational the hope of poverty relief and belonging by voting Communist, though without general education such hope must always be a gamble against unpredictable costs from capital-strike and violence, private-capital-led, private-capital-inspired, traditional or habitual.

    It should by now be widely understood, though somehow it is not, that to divide any population into masters and slaves, or any number of castes, must court rebellion; and even if by tortuous game-playing or frank lottery there appears some 'success', for local and colonial owners, in the atomisation or distraction of their workforce or subject nations, flags will be found (tribal, religious, national, class or other) under which resistance will grow.

    In populations strategically deprived of education, no leader or party or humble individual can 'stand' for equal partnership democracy, except as an unspoken hope or pretence; and so all on all sides are drawn towards codes dictated by fear and greed, and in 'victory' comes inevitably a new tyranny, perhaps lesser, but with new cause for discontent or rebellion amongst those still deprived and from those recently dispossessed of dynastic or lottery winnings.

    Helped along by desperation and heroism, at times to be misdirected by agents provocateurs and on all sides by a random scattering of psycho-sociopaths, history rolls from crisis to crisis, with atrocities inevitable 'from all sides', sometimes part of 'collateral damage', anticipated or not; sometimes, often, from fearful heat of battle, revenge and 'kill or be killed'.

    Still neglecting the cause of conflict, the excuse of ignorance really wearing thin, the exchange of historical accusations, of little-understood names, and of false promises (follow me for freedom and riches and power and a place in Heaven), more and more becomes the game of the deluded, the paid agent or the sadly vulnerable and dangerous pathological.

    Fear for 'private property' grows, fear of 'communism' grows, wherever there is a 'social contract' that cheats, or a pretence in power of 'divine right' to be above contract negotiation. Is it so surprising to find more killing from the fearful and angered more powerful?

    And if the balance of atrocity were somehow to be proved different, would the case be lost for our equal partnership, for civilisation, the viability of people and planet?

    Better to speak for real not sham democracy, not just complain about 'noise' and embedded propaganda.

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  • Comment number 8. Posted by Juan cumia

    on 31 Jul 2014 19:28

    Yesterday 30/7/2014 at 9:00 program ''The Long View' give us the usual BBC standard Stalinist and determinist view on the Spanish Civil War. Which honestly I'm becoming very tired of it. Every time the subject comes out it's the same old routine. I wouldn't come into much detail now but please bear in mind that there is a lot more historians other than Paul Preston or Ian Gibson on the subject ,for example ; Americans like Stanley Payne and Burnett Bolloten or Spaniards like Ricardo de la Cierva, Pio Moa, or Cesar Vidal to name but a few.
    Anyone of them listening to yesterday broadcast will have revolt on their chairs and sadly is not the first time. To suggest that the Spanish communist revolt during the 1930's was a peacefully ordained attempt to modernise the otherwise backward Iberian peninsula is simple laughable. Just one thing darlings that same communist and socialist parties sustained by Moscu killed 100 millions all over Europe during the 20th century. What make you believe that in Spain was different is beyond me. There are many evidence written in as many books that will not only contradict but ascertain that the view you portrayed yesterday on the subject that matter us is simple a demagogue view and an exercise in ideological propaganda more suitable for broadcasting in a communist dictatorship than in a western democracy. I'll go in a more in deep analysis if required or asked by you. Thank you for your time and please change the tune on the subject or don't talk about it.

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  • Comment number 7. Posted by All for All

    on 25 Jul 2014 09:42

    Who to trust?

    From school-days onwards, most if not all of us probably will know a plausible rogue or two.

    Some of us will have met worse, half-plausible fantasists and paranoiacs, with psychopathic lack of empathy or narcissistic hunger for control.

    Perhaps worst of all, their problems of lesser degree or masked by genuine abilities, those who reach the top in their chosen fields, there to rule the roost, maybe an outpost of government, or even a state, self-promoted champions of faith and people, at any cost against the world.

    Even under strict regulation, with parole boards taking advice from experienced psychiatrists, it is not easy to see through plausibility; and by terrible 'mistake' even the worst of offenders sometimes are released to re-offend. Even subject to the most extended personal appraisal, towards commitment in life-time relationship, terrible mistakes can be made, worst perhaps by the best, the most innocent and trusting.

    How then are we to 'tell the difference'? If there really is no way short of 'taking a chance', finally having to back our instinct and our judgement, then how are we to see each other protected, for those with dangerous traits NOT to be led into their expression, and for those of vulnerability - perhaps whole populations - not to be led trusting into folly and ruin?

    There is a test, its effectiveness approaching the maximum possible in a world necessarily of risk, a test already long employed in the best of marriages and in the best of businesses, its full power awaiting only its comprehension and adoption society-wide: it is of course our agreed equal partnership, our commitment to genuine not sham democracy.

    Even in general equal partnership, with material corruption for most no longer any temptation or threat, it will not be the case that democracy demands or hopes for a world of naivety or of gullibility. Always the making of relationships will need our best endeavours - our 'due diligence' - before as well as after any commitment, no pressure accepted to make 'equal partnerships' with random beggars, no pressure accepted into dangerous isolation from the protections of society.

    In general equal partnership, every individual will be free to be their best, and - in any doubt about individuals - to expect that most of those around will be 'there for them', not themselves under such oppression as to collude with abuse.

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by All for All

    on 24 Jul 2014 20:50

    gisbornes @5
    "Edward"
    (Not Roger)

    Too much asked of BBC? Or not nearly enough?

    Do you take the point made by AfA @4, that BOTH sides are out of democratic control, their empowered elites both trapped between fear and anger, many if not most of their front-lines doing their BEST to do the impossible, KNOWING no strike without risk of 'collateral damage', ENABLED by their situations to defend even the worst of atrocities, for the international community horror, but NO 'killer blow' for or against the 'helpless actors'?

    There is despair of solution on all sides, and for those in grief - their losses and troubles beyond even the imagining of most - despair may be of life itself (of BOTH sides, of supposed allies, of 'the international community'), hopes turned to 'the next world' or to indulgence of hatred, rather than the future in Providence for our children. Every incident has its specific concatenation of circumstance, decisions in retrospect (usually ONLY in retrospect) ALL 'of course' to be regretted.

    No leadership, no example for peace, seems likely from the rich West, or from the rich East: the 'impossible' is therefore asked of the poorest, the population of Gaza to live in peaceful EQUAL partnership, self-liberated from rule by age and wealth, by youth and gun, by scriptural abuse of either GOOD (called God) or layers of traditional authority. Attracting support worldwide (not least amongst Israelis of all former persuasions), presenting NO target for ANY oppression (other than that earning global opprobrium), peace at home and soon all around, justice across borders - God willing - to follow.

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by gisbornes

    on 24 Jul 2014 18:07

    Edward
    Hello
    I have just listened to the 6 o'clock news on radio 4. You did not interview one person who conveyed the horror of the atrocity on the UN building.. All your angles gave the Israelli point of view even going so far as to imply it may have been caused by the Palestinians themselves. This cannot be an error on your part in fact it follows a pattern. Who makes the editorial decisions.?
    There is a saying that if you sow despair you reap rage. Palestinians have had their land/water/trees/houses stolen. They have plenty to despair about. Please show less of a bias towards Israel.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by All for All

    on 21 Jul 2014 12:36

    Naeem @3
    "the quality
    we should expect"

    I missed the programme, but would a few seconds from Hamas at say 08:11 have made 'all the difference'?

    Is it not the case that on BOTH sides of The Wall we see societies lacking trust even amongst themselves, unable seriously even to discuss equal partnership let alone to set the example - of REAL not SHAM democracy - which alone can allow conduct of business the context of justice and trust, the primacy of conscience, upon which peace and prosperity MUST depend?

    Whatever the horrors now escalating, from and upon 'both sides' (in reality from leaders by arms, even 'at best' ruled by fear and panic, many by greed and panic, some by 'pure rage' or psychopathy), there can be no 'killer blow' struck in the war of propaganda. On 'both sides' - as across all the world - there have been fatal treacheries, of themselves and each other, 'of their time' perhaps, understandable as such, but to be risen ABOVE, not raked-over.

    Should we see dignity in this dispute, as defence on 'both sides' of a land 'God-given', for His due worship by His 'chosen people', too precious in their 'needs' to live either alone or amongst others in materially equal partnership? Some example has been set in South Africa, against Apartheid: but against the rule of fear and greed, against our global desertion of 'God and Man' (in any rational and caring conception), we ask still more 'impossibility' from Jews and Arabs.

    With the recruitment to Newsnight of Evan Davies, perhaps his line of affable inquiry - if resistant to aggressive advice from 'the earpiece' - will really get to the bottom of conflict in our world. Maybe from sharper analysis the USA & EU, or Russia and China, or the UN as a whole will rise to 'the occasion', that of our imminent demise in utter ignominy.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Naeem

    on 21 Jul 2014 08:02

    I just listened to Radio 4 from 08:00 am and at 8:10 am we heard the report from Gaza followed by the IDF spokesperson explaining away the actions of his army that has killed so many Gazans. His explanations were inadequately challenged by the BBC. There was no alternative view solicited from the group he laid the blame on. There was no alternative view at all. Following that piece the next News headline at 8:30 am included the IDF spokesperson's statement on tunnels. Perhaps I am biased but does anybody think this represents the quality of journalism we should expect from an institution we fund from our license fee.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by newlach

    on 19 Jul 2014 18:55

    Unfortunately I cannot listen to the interview with Andrew Roy - "This content doesn't seem to be working. Try again later" message. I did, however, hear it first time round.

    I heard the interview with Gregg Philo and I thought he made some good points. This conflict in Gaza is a controversial issue and there are at least two sides to every story. I saw Jon Snow's interview with the Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. If BBC interviews with Israeli spokesmen are like this then claims of BBC bias lack substance. Also, if Feedback continues to raise extremely controversial issues I fear Mr Bolton may have a seemingly chance encounter with someone of military bearing with a message: listeners are interested in stories about the Archers and actions have consequences.

    I think it is a good idea for Radio 4 to harness the energy and talent of the World Service. I was reminded of the interview a few weeks ago with Bob Shennan who has wisely decided to repeat programmes of high quality at different times to reduce costs. BBC World Service make high quality programmes that should be repeated during the day on Radio 4. Also, if a news story can be covered using a World Service reporter who is in situ for a fraction of the cost it makes sense to use him or her. Of course, there will be those who will see their jobs threatened and shout loudly about this and that, but the BBC could easily arrange fat payoffs that could be presented as a savings in the long term.

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