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Feedback: Editorial Balance

Friday 18 July 2014, 14:35

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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.
EXTRACT
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

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.

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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 1.

    It was interesting to hear from Andrew Roy, as World Editor of BBC News, about the potential domination of news editing by need to balance the loudly opposed voices of teams of agenda-setters, probably NONE of those involved able to hold in mind - let alone to remind others, in short conversations or in 60-second bulletins - of 'FULL context' from several thousand years, or even from just the last hundred years, of dire history: on all sides so much NOT to be proud of.

    For the wider audience, as well as for those generation-on-generation brutalised on opposed sides - dying, being maimed, barely surviving in bereavement and poverty, with for some 'nowhere to go' but thought of revenge - what is desperately missing from the news (from the BBC as from others) is NOT 'the impossible' potted history, NOT even 'reference to more details on the web-site', but ANY sense that in listening to 'the news', forward-looking domestic as well as contextualised foreign, those in troubled states or 'conflict zones' might see a better way to relate to each other, ANY hope of a decent future 'in it together'.

    James Harding, the BBC's Director of News, has been instructed to achieve 'just as much' with a budget cut to 74% of the previous. He was unable to 'say more' about the wisdom of such economy, implicitly 'wisdom' - against all reason - in the offerings of a ghettoised and commercially-pressurised 'private sector'. Famously, 'throwing more money' at any problem might only distract from its solution; but should we not in Feedback be allowed to hear a variety of cases, whether for more or less surely for better? Mr Harding will have earned sympathy and admiration for his integration of global, national and local reporting teams, but whether across the BBC 'the story' is of gruel more coherent, or gruel the same, a diet already commerce-rich and value-poor seems under threat.

    Whatever the burden of brutalisation, however great the latest horror, the reality of 'the news' remains of globally-shared responsibility for the inherited plight of local populations, pitted against each other playing what amount to extended games of personal aggrandisement, 'our' global games. Peace in the Middle East needs the example of the world, OUR ending of social atomisation, our informed agreement to living in equal partnership, our achievement of genuine democracy, the rule of conscience.

    Can hope of such example be 'tweeted-on', securely, without encouragement of yet another false dawn, of another tragically naive Arab Spring? Perhaps there is hope in 'digital transformation'; or must hope be grim, as usual, in our Quislings going 'just too far', a VIP on-board the next 'accidentally-downed' passenger-plane? What is happening in our world, to our world, is of course NOT 'accidental'. To our shame.

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    Comment number 2.

    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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    Comment number 3.

    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 4.

    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.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 5.

    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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