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Feedback - BBC News Coverage

Friday 27 June 2014, 15:40

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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

Feedback  

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a free magazine in London which included an interview with the much-feted veteran film-maker Ken Loach. He was publicising his latest film.

In the course of that interview Mr Loach quoted with approval the late Tony Benn’s statement to the effect that we don’t need the KGB in Britain as we have the BBC. Well, as someone who has worked off and on for the Corporation for over 40 years and had my share of rows with its bosses, I find such statements ludicrous.

However it is true that the BBC has freedom under licence and that periodically Governments threaten to remove that licence if that freedom is exercised in ways of which they disapprove, particularly close to election time. Usually they are robustly repulsed. And there are, inevitably, unconscious biases in its programmes and news coverage which need to be exposed and debated.

The best way of doing that is of course by being open and accountable, explaining and defending difficult decisions as well as admitting mistakes when they are made. Feedback is supposed to assist in that process.

However sometimes I get very frustrated when the Corporation clams up and gives conspiracy theorists like Ken Loach more ammunition. For example this week some listeners smelt a rat when what was claimed to be a 50,000-strong demonstration against the Coalition’s cuts, which started just outside the BBC’s news centre, was not reported on network radio.

Obviously we asked for an interview with an executive to explain the decision but were told that BBC News “could not facilitate” such an interview. We received a short statement instead. So, no opportunity for me, and more importantly for the licence fee payers, to question decisions made by people whose salaries they pay.

Over the years I have been presenting Feedback, have the Corporation’s decision-makers become more ready to face their audiences? I don’t think so. It all depends on the individuals involved. We have some strong supporters, and people like the Controller of Radio 2, Bob Shennan, and the Director of Editorial Standards, David Jordan, are always willing to come on and be challenged. They are in danger of being the exceptions.

Anyway we will keep on telling you when people refuse to appear as well as being delighted when they do. However, a diktat from the Director General that in principle every one of his decision-makers should be expected to appear on Feedback would be very, very, welcome.

Meanwhile here is the inevitably rather limited feature about the story on this week’s programme, together with what I think was a really interesting discussion on when and in what circumstances the use of the “n” word in full is acceptable on air.

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And if you listen to the complete programme you can hear the author of a report for the BBC’s Trust on the quality and impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of rural England tell me that she is disappointed by the BBC Executive’s response. So some elements of accountability and openness are working well.

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1.

    The BBC has a 'licence to broadcast' within parameters explicit and implicit and subject to revision by successive party-governments, meeting old ideals and new circumstances supposedly to serve 'the pubic interest', inevitably though - in the absence both of real democracy and of its advocacy - to attract suspicion of fear and greed as dictating personal career or party-service with results not so far from the degree of KGB 'achievement' in stabilising, anaesthetising or enslaving superficially a well-satisfied audience and electorate.

    The BBC's licence is thus NOT a licence to be 'free within the law', but to act within its Charter & Agreement, then its editorial guidelines and courage, prudent or foolhardy, in march to the High Ground, subject 'unto the last' to ever greater so-called 'commercial' attack, the anti-social in pretended radical impatience or frank assertion of 'entitlement' to prey.

    To expect individual freedom without security, necessarily in equal partnership, and to see the mantra of 'accountability and openness' as necessarily sufficient for influence over established power, such would indeed be 'frankly ludicrous'. The 'conspiracy' of relevance is open, for those with time and eyes to register our democratic deficit, the sole concern of Tony Benn even in hyperbole.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 2.

    It does seem strange that a demonstration in London numbering an estimated 50,000 people was not reported on network radio. Although this demonstration included known anarchists and communists I think it should have received a word or two of mention. Perhaps if there had been an outbreak of thuggery, or had water canon been available for use and used, it would have got a mention. Whatever, it is inexcusable that none of the high-paid executives from BBC News had to courage to appear on Feedback to justify their decision to omit coverage of the demonstration from the airwaves. Most licence-fee payers are neither anarchists nor communists, and when senior executives refuse to speak to them about important matters it reinforces the belief held by many that the BBC is not fit for purpose. If the Director General does nothing about this the situation will only get worse. He should be telling BBC News that no such thing will be allowed to happen again and should make it clear that the reactionary elements within BBC News who oppose greater transparency and accountability risk being dismissed.

    This is certainly a controversial issue and it will not gone unnoticed by the Establishment that Feedback raised it.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 3.

    Tony Benn's point is valid. He did not mean the BBC fulfilled the same role as the KGB. Rather, that there's no need for such thuggery, as the BBC is capable as and when required, of manipulating public opinion without it.

    His main repeated point throughout his career was, that the things you really need to know are what the media, including the BBC do NOT tell you, and why they don't.

    There's also the matter of manner. Of late, we've had the extraordinary and bizarre spectacle of a PM taking the meanings of everyday words, such as "good", "bad", "democracy" and so on, and standing them on their heads, yet this being reported as if entirely normal things to say.

    The public foaming hysteria of late has little to do with reality. The EU has never oppressed any UK national in any material way, quite the contrary. It stems from an emotional manipulation of the public, exploiting primitive tribal and other instincts. I can only conclude it's significantly our media's show of strength in response to the threat of regulation following Leveson: "dare to touch us and here's what we can do: turn a mediocrity, even one like Farage, into a genuine threat to the whole political process, no less. Plenty more whence that came. Understand?". Although BBC journalists are not primarily for the printed press, they are still of the same feather.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 4.

    It the same as the maddie McCann case only positives about the mccanns are reported. Everyone would read this http://www.mccannpjfiles.co.uk/PJ/TRANSLATIONS.htm

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 5.

    I happen to feel that the BBC is influenced by the establishment as to how it covers new stories. Over the last few years the BBC has had constant rehashing of the same EU stories. Ostensibly because there was some variation on a theme, however I have been unable to spot the differences. Usually it seems it is just another ploy to get Farage on air yet again. Apart from the in-fighting over the decades in the Tory Party, the rest of the country has, by and large, considered EU membership to be a non-story. However, a constant barrage by the media, including the BBC, has seen a rise in anti-EU sentiment. It is clear that news manipulation by the right is shaping public opinion. As to the evidence of this manipulation I will provide a link to an independent study: http://theconversation.com/hard-evidence-how-biased-is-the-bbc-17028

    Our economic system is clearly broken and serves the interests of a few, but the BBC never has programs questioning the validity of the status quo. The BBC implies in its lack of investigative journalism and critique of austerity a support for the economic opinions of the right. It seems to be the case that the news slant suggests that austerity should not be questioned. And when a protest march of 50, 000, commencing from the BBC, against austerity is ignored by the BBC and the media, it isn't hard to argue, with evidence, that an establishment bias exists. And if I hear another "ordinary" member of the public interviewed again, saying we're all in this together, I think I'll pull my hair out. The economic mess left at the end of WW2 was far worse than we have now, but the economic solutions used then, including massive infrastructure building, the creation of the NHS and the Welfare state are ignored when they clearly worked. The super rich did incredibly well during the boom years from 1997 - 2007 and have continued to do so, but not once have I seen coverage of stories saying that they could wipe out the debt they created, not once. If we had an unbiased media we would see coverage of people with these opinions side by side with the coalition's austerity arguments.

    I wait for the day when the BBC airs programs questioning the political/economic status quo. I think it could be quite sometime.

 

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