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Bonus controversy

Helen Boaden | 14:10 UK time, Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Not for the first time in human history, an internal e-mail has come to light which seems to put BBC News in a bad light. It’s grabbed headlines and stirred up modest controversy in the blogosphere.

bbc.jpgThe facts are simple: the e-mail was sent by a manager to the newsgatherers in our Westminster office exhorting them to focus hard on a major issue of public interest – the so-called Cash for Peerages Inquiry. After encouraging them to work their contacts and dig deeply into the story to ensure BBC News – and our audiences – got wind of any new development first, the e-mail went on to offer £100 to anyone who could get us a genuine scoop.

It was a wry one liner and a complete “one off” at the end of the e-mail, mischievously playing on the idea of cash incentives – the issue at the heart of the current controversy on party political funding.

Was it a good idea to encourage our reporters to go the extra mile to be first with a story? Absolutely yes. Was it a good idea to offer a cash bonus? No. As soon as senior managers like myself became aware of the e-mail yesterday we made it clear that it was wholly inappropriate. No bonus has been paid in relation to this story and no bonus will be paid in future.

We are fully committed to providing impartial, fair and balanced reporting at all times. We know the public trusts us to deliver impartial and accurate coverage and we take that trust very seriously.

The context of the one liner offer was the normal journalistic desire to obtain and broadcast news first. That’s what our audiences expect of us, particularly on News 24, Radio 5 Live and the BBC News website, and that is what we will always strive to provide.


  • 1.
  • At 03:00 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • JG wrote:

So its a simple 'one-liner' so it does not really matter? Strange that, when Mr Blair makes a one liner about how things are going in Iraq it is splashed across the BBC news (and still is today even though it was clear what Mr Blair was saying).

Could this be called 'cash for questions/stories'?

And by the way, we do not expect you just to 'obtain and broadcast news first', we expect honest, well researched stories. Well, perhaps a few years ago we did. Now it seems the BBC works to the 'get in first, correct later' school of journalism.

  • 2.
  • At 03:06 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

[QUOTE]We know the public trusts us to deliver impartial and accurate coverage and we take that trust very seriously.[/QUOTE]

Your joking right?

  • 3.
  • At 03:32 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Claude Hand wrote:

I agree that the Cash for Peerages inquiry is an important area of public interest. Your employees should be working hard on it anyway, without further exhortations and "bonuses".Don't let these interfering would-be political censors stop you.I haven't forgotten their disgraceful interferences in the tragic David Kelly case.I usually watch the 6p.m. news, which is too often pap and propaganda since then.I'm surprised that the cops haven't questioned Blair yet.It smacks of one law for him,and another for the rest of us in my opinion.As New Labour is fond of chanting in other contexts, " if you've nowt to hide, what are you worried about".

  • 4.
  • At 03:51 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • tim wrote:

How funny! The Murdoch press having a go at some one else for paying for a story. Am I the only one that saw the OJ controversy earlier this week?

  • 5.
  • At 04:01 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Ken wrote:

This is an interesting and worrying development - quite a story. I cannot find any mention of this "Cash for Headlines" story on the BBC News page. Can Helen Boaden or anyone else please advise where the story appears?

I am also looking for the BBC News story about the Balen report, another major story.

Can anyone help, please?

  • 6.
  • At 04:43 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Ms. Boaden, do you live in a cave or on the dark side of the moon? Last week it came to light that at least one BBC editor didn't want anyone who "sounded old" to be allowed to express their views on some of your radio programs. Has this person been fired as I suggested? The revelation that BBC would pay money for a story hardly seems to compare to this revelation that offended a large segment of your audience which you might discriminate against. What exactly does an old person sound like anyway?

Speaking about living in a cave, I almost fell off my chair when I read that you think BBC is "fully committed to providing impartial, fair and balanced reporting at all times" and that the public trusts BBC to "deliver impartial and accurate coverage." Have you forgotten the piece in the Daily Mail just a short while back and the response it got right here from a large number of people who feel BBC is strongly biased in its reporting and commentary? Does the world get reborn for you every time a blog entry disappears off the front page and gets moved to an archive. Some of us have memories longer than five minutes. Go back and reread those blog entries and the comments they received and then come back and say what you just said with a straight face.

I didn't realise the parlous state of journalists' finances!

Is £100 really the going rate for a "genuine scoop" these days!?!

  • 8.
  • At 04:51 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Elizabeth wrote:

It seems to me that everyone working for you would be well advised to read their correspondence before posting the same. If it sound dodgy then it is dodgy. Perhaps they should be working for the News of the World!

  • 9.
  • At 05:07 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Richard wrote:

So it's wrong for the BBC, as an employer, to reward its staff for doing a good job? Other employers have bonus schemes. Don't think for a minute that any newspaper wouldn't give the same reward if it meant the difference between being first and being second.

Why is there so much BBC-bashing in the comments on these blogs? If you don't like the organisation go get your bias-free news from Fox or the Sun instead.

  • 10.
  • At 06:02 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • JG wrote:

You say that as soon as "senior managers" found out about this mail they stopped it. Strange that you do not report that the mail was actually sent by Gary Smith, the head of the BBC's political news. Never the whole story from the BBC.

  • 11.
  • At 06:45 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Rupert RG wrote:

Let's leave the bias bit out of this for the time being - though Ms Boaden has not bothered to reply to the more than 300 comments about her last post claiming that the BBC is entirely bias-free and has no inherent left wing/liberal tendencies.

It would appear that the £100 offer was a joke. And so it is, in more senses than one. No self-respecting freelance or contract journalist would get out of bed for £100 and no staffer would put in an ounce of extra effort because they're already trying to get the best story they can in everything they do.

What is extraordinary is that the BBC's senior managers took this seriously in the first place. These people really need to get out more.

Now, back to We are fully committed to providing impartial, fair and balanced reporting at all times. We know the public trusts us to deliver impartial and accurate coverage and we take that trust very seriously.

Ho hum. How about a considered response to the postings in Bias at the BBC?

  • 12.
  • At 07:42 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Marcus wrote:

I agree with Richard.

There seem to be people queuing up at the door to bemoan everything the BBC do. I don't think any other organisation is as accountable as the BBC, nor do many give you the opportunity to moan about them. And moan. And moan.

The BBC are always being accused of being biased, but I find it humourous at worst that many people accuse the BBC of being biased towards Israel (for example) and as many of being biased against. Every day I seem to read someone saying that the BBC are unfair to Muslims, and in the same forum that they're giving unfair airtime to them and pandering to the PC brigade.

I applaud the BBC for being as open as they are, and can only pity them for their audience never be happy, despite clearly reading enough BBC News Online reports or watching enough of their stories to be able to form such an opinion.

It's not a one horse town. If the BBC incenses you that much, watch ITN. Or Sky. Or Fox.

  • 13.
  • At 08:32 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Jim wrote:

It was a bad idea; BBC journalists are not supposed to be bounty-hunters.

But don't take any notice of what bloggers say. Blogging is online onanism. Ignore the blogosphere, talk to real people.

  • 14.
  • At 08:41 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • George Shaw wrote:

"The context of the one liner offer was the normal journalistic desire to obtain and broadcast news first. That’s what our audiences expect of us, particularly on News 24, Radio 5 Live and the BBC News website, and that is what we will always strive to provide."

No, what this audience member expects is that the BBC reports stories as accurately as possible, not that it gets there first. There are too many times that the BBC, especially Five Live, rushes in and gets it wrong.

  • 15.
  • At 10:15 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • Bill wrote:

Can't help feeling Ms Boaden's response is a rather po-faced over reaction to a light hearted email. Of course the BBC should be paying journalists for a scoop - any news organisation would and should do the same. Why is this such a bid deal and what prompted Ms Boaden's response, could it be the ghost of Alasdair Campbell on the phone from number 10? Please don't bow to political pressure. If Mr Blair is to be interviewed under caution in the "cash for peerages" investigation, I absolutely want to hear it first on the BBC that would be well worth £100 of anybody's money!!

  • 16.
  • At 10:17 PM on 22 Nov 2006,
  • name wrote:

"Why is there so much BBC-bashing in the comments on these blogs? If you don't like the organisation go get your bias-free news from Fox or the Sun instead."

Because unlike Fox/the Sun/Daily Mirror/Guardian/etc, the BBC is funded through a compulsory licence fee, and if you don't pay you will be sent to prison if caught.

Also, when is the BBC going to release the Balen Report on its coverage of the Middle East? Scared that it will further expose your anti-Israel and US bias?

Who could not see the well-intended irony in this? Cash payments in exchange for scoops on the cash-for-peerages inquiry?
Come on!

  • 18.
  • At 11:54 AM on 23 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

The BBC gets bashed here because it is the only really effective public forum to do it in. Had it not been biased, the Hutton Report would have given it a clean bill of health but the findings by this widely respected investigation was anything but. I don't see that much has changed. Coverage of the recent war in Lebanon, even of the non news event at UCLA which got no traction anywhere except locally among rebelious students and radical middle easterners looking for any incident for their cause and right here demonstrates that fact. BBC's techniques for slanting its reporting and commentary are considerable ranging from the very subtle to the blatantly obvious. Why should BBC be the among the most objective news agencies instead of the least? Not just because it has a very big loud mouth but because it receives vast public funding and has a government sanctioned near monopoly. Fox and CNN are private and their sponsors can be boycotted if the public feels their coverage unfair. Even I here in the US am involuntarily compelled to sponsor BBC indirectly through my taxes which support NPR and PBS in part, which in turn have contracts with BBC to rebroadcast its news and some of its other programs. And I do not appreciate the constant barrage of unjustified gratuitous bashing my nation receives from it for its money. When will BBC's lies stop?

Marcus, most organisations need to be accountable to their customers as they can shop elsewhere if they are unhappy with the service provided.

The BBC has no reason to be 'accountable' to the TV licence payer as they can go to prison if they don't pay it.

  • 20.
  • At 01:09 PM on 23 Nov 2006,
  • Derek Williams wrote:

Impartial - the BBC? You must be joking!!!

  • 21.
  • At 02:29 PM on 23 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Snafu #19, I have a hunch that even in a British prison, one cannot escape the lies of the BBC. It will find their way through even the slightest cracks just like any other cockroach.

  • 22.
  • At 11:51 AM on 24 Nov 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

Marcus in your post #12, you mention that people should stop complaining about the BBC and it's biased reporting, why?, why should people not question the anti-Semetic and anti-Western slant of BBC reporting?.
I would guess that many Israelis and other religious groups do not find the reporting of the BBC to be 'humorous' as you suggest.
I would suggest that instead they feel that it provokes more violence by giving radio-time and TV Time to terrorists and their apologists.
Even today the BBC is asking it's viewers if they have started to wear the veil since Mr Straws comments, perhaps the BBC should be asking Roman Catholics if they are now wearing the cross, this is more relevant than allowing the Islamic Fundamentalists more propaganda time, the BBC fails to see that to some Islamic groups Islam is not just a religion it is also a political party, this is clear in the fact that British Muslim woman have started to wear the veil even though they have no religious requirement to do so.
I have counted the amount of articles critical of Islam on the BBC I found one, articles critical of Isreal 40, the Daily Mail 4 & the Guardian 0, so Marcus to finish, the BBC impartial you are having a Laugh.

  • 23.
  • At 02:28 PM on 24 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Joe #22, BBC has never recognized Israel's right to exist. Quite frankly, I don't think they are particularly happy with America as an independent nation either, probably wishing it was under the thumbnail of Brussels or better yet Bush House where it could be controlled. If BBC's views seem more aligned with Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and even Al Qaeda than with the British government or the British population at large, that's because it is. It consistantly reflects a Eurosocialist anti-semitic, anti-American point of view. Most distressing is that it understands and uses all of the tricks of propaganda from the most subtle to the most blatant to get its points across, probably in the hopes of swaying public opinion.

I have one minor correction/criticism of your posting. Your statement "...Israelis and other religious groups..." implies that Isreal is a religious group. Israel is not a religious group, it is a nation and Israelis are citizens of Israel. Within that diverse population you will find people of many religions and those with no religion at all. Like Britain Israel does have an official religion but even within that religion, there are many diverse sects and political viewpoints and parties, often at odds with each other.

To counter BBC's bias, I suggest that you use opportunities such as comments to its blogs to point out evidence of that bias and how they violate the most basic principles of responsible journalism as often as you feel necessary. At least those reading it will have an opportunity to consider an opposing point of view.

  • 24.
  • At 04:47 PM on 24 Nov 2006,
  • tony wrote:

The public "trusts us to deliver impartial and accurate coverage and we take that trust seriously".... on what planet are you living. The BBC is widely discredited as a left leaning apologist for this shambols of a government we currently have. Unfortunately, in the absence of a proper opposition the public had hoped that the BBC would throw proper light on the utter failure of the current legislative. Unfortunately, this has been far from the reality and we (the public) are quite fed up with your political games. Shape up or lose your franchise.

  • 25.
  • At 08:41 PM on 24 Nov 2006,
  • Bob Frigo wrote:

Funny - I thought the BBC always had a shockingly pro-Israel bias. Anti-semitic indeed!

  • 26.
  • At 03:09 PM on 28 Nov 2006,
  • Mick wrote:

Why must the BBC get the information first? I'd prefer it if they ensured that what they reported was accurate rather than chasing a scoop.

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