iPlayer Radio What's New?
Series 17 - The Heebie Jeebies

Feedback - A Question of Excessive News Coverage?

Friday 13 December 2013, 13:21

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

Tagged with:

Editor's Note: You can listen to Feedback online or download and keep


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.

Nelson Mandela: The Funeral

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


In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content

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


Listen to the week’s Feedback

More Feedback blog posts

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites


Tagged with:


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Without listening to the interview, I can pretty much guarantee what Mary Hockaday (or anyone else when challenged) will say.

    They'll tell us how they had very carefully considered all these points, and weighed up all the issues, and come to the conclusion that the "balance" was absolutely right, and they'd done exactly the right thing.

    Nothing would have been changed, even with the benefit of hindsight, because the BBC is never wrong, the staff are never wrong, so run along now children.


    While we're at it, what on Earth has happened to PM? It used to be a serious programme. Now it's some ridiculous entertainment show, and has been consistently getting more silly by the week. Isn't PM supposed to be more about in depth news from the world, instead of a laugh-along to the knee-slapping quirks of one particular person?

    Why not go the whole way and rename it "The Eddie Mair Show"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I agree on both counts!

    Eddie Mair is a very good presenter but the programme is too dominated by him.

    There has, in the attempt to make the programme more palatable and attractive to a wider audience, been a corresponding trivialisation of the news; at the expense of depth and analysis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I, too, listened to Feedback already knowing what Mary Hockaday's response would be. She claimed to have listened to the complaints of the listeners, but then she simply dismissed them. She claimed to have received many compliments about individual programmes. It would be interesting to know whether the BBC has done any research into the number of listeners and viewers it lost over the past week due to its excessive coverage of Nelson Mandela's death. Much as I admired the man, I became so sickened by the overkill that I began to switch off as soon as I heard his name. I now avoid any reference to Mandela or South Africa. What a shame that I will now remember a great man largely in terms of BBC arrogance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    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. Ms. Hockaday didn’t make any reference to the suffering of Mr. Mandela’s family with this excessive exposure. I read a long time ago (possibly 2 years?) that satellite dishes had been camped permanently in the region of his home which must have caused his immediate family a great deal of upset. Don’t professional broadcasters ever care about the feelings of a family when a death has occurred? Not convinced either apropos Ms. Hockaday’s comment about listeners who only tune into R4 occasionally. The same argument is always applied to complaints about excessive trails.

    Ms. Hockaday stated that R4 takes notice of listeners’ views. You must be joking! Mr. Bolton interviewed the deputy/assistant editor of the Today programme 2/3 years ago on Feedback and he admitted that he’d never even looked at the Today messageboards until the morning of his interview with Mr Bolton. Same applied to the other R4 messageboards. Interest expressed by controllers/commissioning editors/producers/ was virtually non-existent. Even Ms. Caroline Raphael has ceased to appear on Feedback on any regular basis. Why?

    Sorry Whistledown, I’ve been listening to Feedback since the days when Ms. Viv Black produced the programme and this was one of the worst editions that I’ve heard in all those years. SIX minutes devoted to the Archers…….more inane gossip on top of all the current sickening cook gossip.

    I was shocked when Mr. Tony Phillips stated that he didn’t know whether or not there were more music related programmes on R4 compared with 10 years ago. If he didn’t know, then he should have attended the interview with some facts and figures. His justification for broadcasting music programmes was robust and valid.

    Only good news this week – and I’m glad to report – Mr. Quentin Cooper is in magnificent broadcasting form on this week’s edition of ‘Discovery’ (self-healing materials). If you’re genuinely interested in engineering and science, then give this week’s edition a listen (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002w557 ).

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I absolutely dis-pare whenever I hear a BBC producer never ever admitting to making a mistake! It is extremely frustrating when clearly they have and public opinion bares this out. They address the BBC viewers in exactly the same manor as politicians fumbling for superiority. It is completely transparent.

    Also, why has the today program become so awful? It presently is no more valuable as a news program than the BBC1 morning program. The news now is so voyeuristic it resembles the glossy magazines such as OK & hello.


Comments 5 of 15


This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

The Shared Experience: Do you believe in ghosts?

Thursday 12 December 2013, 10:00

Borgen: From TV to Radio

Monday 16 December 2013, 12:26

About this Blog

Behind the scenes at Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra from producers, presenters and programme makers.

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?

Follow Radio 4

Follow BBC Radio 4 & BBC Radio 4 Extra on Twitter for programme highlights and interesting retweets. 

Woman's Hour Power List 2014

Identifying the top ten game changers operating in the UK today.
See the latest on our blog
Find out about this year's panel and theme
Woman's Hour Power List judges, 2014 Woman's Hour Power List judges, 2014


Identifying the top ten game changers operating in the UK today.


See the latest on our blog


Find out about this year's panel and theme