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Investigative journalism and breaking the rules

Mark Thompson Mark Thompson | 10:15 UK time, Friday, 22 July 2011

The phone-hacking scandal has put investigative journalism in the dock. Yet without investigative journalism - and in particular the meticulous work of one investigative journalist, Nick Davies, of the Guardian - it's a scandal that would have never seen the light of day.

Right now it's the journalistic and moral failures, and the human consequences of those failures, that loom large. But don't lose sight of the second half of the paradox when you consider how British journalism should respond to the events at the News of the World.

A few days ago John Witherow, the editor of the Sunday Times, launched what was, under the circumstances, a brave defence of investigative journalism. He claimed that, at its best and when directed in the public interest, investigative journalism and its ability to uncover wrongdoing and deceit can be a powerful force for good. He acknowledged that achieving that good can sometimes mean breaking the rules. And he worried that the understandable political and public backlash against phone hacking at the News of the World might make the best kind of investigative journalism more difficult to conduct.

I believe he's right. Had it not been for the Sunday Times and the separate series of investigations by Panorama, we simply wouldn't know about the scale of wrongdoing inside Fifa. He's right also to point to the realities of investigative techniques. One recent Panorama uncovered appalling abuse of patients at the Winterbourne View in Bristol. The programme led to arrests and an immediate stop to the abuse, as well as to an overdue national debate about standards and oversight of all care homes. It was a serious piece of work, manifestly undertaken in the public interest. Yet it necessarily involved secret filming and someone posing as a care worker.

At the BBC, such techniques have to be approved by senior editorial managers and take place within stringent controls. Even with the best of intentions and the most precise of guidelines, investigative journalism is difficult. In Panorama's case, mistakes have been very rare, but when they occur - for example, in a programme about Primark, the inclusion of a sequence of film that could not later be substantiated - they inevitably lead to a close review of our procedures. The ability of the BBC Trust to scrutinise BBC investigations and publish its findings, good or bad, means that our values and tradecraft are held constantly and openly to account.

Whatever the ultimate conclusions of the Leveson inquiry, it is important that the ability of serious investigative journalists to do their work is not blunted or unnecessarily constrained.

Nor I believe should we automatically assume that newspapers should be held to the same level of regulatory supervision and constraint as the broadcasters. Plurality of regulation is itself an important safeguard of media freedom.

The BBC is paid for by the public. Because of that, we would never have paid for the stolen information that helped the Daily Telegraph to uncover the MPs' expenses scandal. The privately owned Telegraph took a different view and was able to publish a series of stories that, taken as a whole, were clearly in the public interest. It is not obvious to me that newspapers that people can choose to buy or ignore - and which, should they break the law, can always be prosecuted after the fact - should be held to the same level of continuous supervision and accountability as broadcasters who reach out into every household in the land.

But there are still searching questions for British journalism to answer. Many newspapers with strong investigative teams and many notable journalists with an outstanding record of holding other institutions and walks of life to account showed a marked reluctance to explore the phone-hacking story until events and the public furore made it inevitable. In some cases, they not only refused to investigate the story themselves but heaped opprobrium on those that did. According to Stephen Glover, writing some months ago in the Independent, for example, "the BBC has conspired with the Guardian to heat up an old story and attack Murdoch".

Even in recent days, there's been an attempt in papers that have nothing to do with News International to suggest that our coverage of the story is far more extensive than other news providers and motivated by spite or glee rather than proper news priorities.

The Daily Mail quoted an Ipsos Mori poll misleadingly this week to suggest that public interest in the story is low. On the contrary, our tracking data suggests it is widespread, with more than 54% of adults claiming to follow the story closely. According to the BBC's critics, we are devoting much more time to the phone-hacking scandal than others. Untrue - the stopwatch reveals that the BBC's Ten O'Clock News has devoted fewer minutes to the story over the past fortnight than News at Ten on ITV1, and our BBC News channel fewer minutes in the key 1700-1800 hour than Sky News. We asked a sample of the public last week how important it was for the media to cover the story: 81% said it was important. And by a wide margin, among the broadcasters they gave the BBC the highest marks for trustworthiness and impartiality in our coverage of it. This is an awesome responsibility that we have to live up to.

Perhaps it's inevitable that newspapers and columnists who are already parti pris on the subject of the BBC find it impossible to judge our coverage except through a distorting mirror of imagined conspiracies and motives. The British public take a more straightforward view and on this, as on every other major story, they simply trust the BBC more than any other news provider to tell them the plain unvarnished truth. I also believe they will give short shrift to those brave souls who are already trying to run the argument that the "real" story revealed by events at Wapping is about the dominance of Britain's public broadcaster and that the right public policy response to phone hacking and criminality at the News of the World is - but of course! - to hobble the BBC.

I believe that what the public want, what this moment demands, is not another round of self-serving hypocrisy or internecine strife from Britain's journalists, but a serious discussion about the difference between good and bad investigative journalism and a complex but necessary debate about where the boundary of acceptable journalistic practice lies and how it should be enforced.

Mark Thompson is director general of the BBC.

This article was first published in the Times.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Mr Thompson is absolutely right, and I speak as one who abhors the current BBC groupthink, underpinned by a faux liberal Marxist narrative. What we are talking about here is politics, and politics, being about power, is never clean. Blood may not be spilled in political conflicts in Britain, but careers can be ruined.

    The freedom we enjoy in this country rests on many legs, the Reformation, Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and the Pamphleteers, whose current incarnation is the Red Top newspapers. The fact that it was the Sunday Sport that took most of the NotW's readers indicates that (as with the Pamphleteers), the salacious is the loss leader for the crusading. Therein lies the problem, Horatio, in our souls.

    For all its faults, which are the reflection of faults that lie in us all, the Press must not be regulated by bureaucrats, and certainly not by politicians, lest we have politicians like DSK.

    However, I think the current focus on Murdoch is seriously misplaced. One hack seriously crosses the line in the NotW, but hacking is, according to official statistics, far more extensive in the Mirror and Mail. Time for Newsnight to have a look there perhaps, instead on wheeling out morally flawed celebs to bash the Emmanuel Goldstein of Oceania?

  • Comment number 2.

    Don't think there is "good" and "bad" investigational reporting, but can be summed up by does the means of getting the information justify the end story?

  • Comment number 3.

    Thank you for this article. I am usually very critical of the BBC higher management (as in saying that if you Deliver Quality First all your problems will be solved) but I agree with the thrust of your article.

    Today all the main UK papers are covering the corporate angle of the scandal with a degree of gusto. It must continue and the BBC must resist any political pressure to diminish reporting during the long inquiry. I am sure their is far more political fallout to come, not as any party matter but as an institutional embarrassment across the establishment.

    Something to consider in the "Hackgate" story is that internet based independent news and comment providers had been at least two years ahead of the mainstream media on this story. This is where open reporting and social media come into their own. Let's hope that Leveson as well as the vested interests of old media do nothing to undermine this position.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    The obvious answer to most of the issues that Mark raises is not so much to consider what is or isnt a valid investigative technique (although there obviously there must be limits), but rather to put the spotlight on the elephant in the room which underpins all of this. What actually is in 'Public Interest', per the lgeal definition? i.e. is something being done for the good of the public, or just because the public is interested in it, as the two are very different things.

    If you are exposing political scandal or abuse at care homes, then it is clearly in all our interest for this to take place. But far too much of what the press, especially the tabloid press, does is not really in anybody's interest. It's just gossip that people are interested in.

    For any of these techniques to be used, there should be a solid justification as to why, and that justification should be a bit more than "cor, look at that, that'll sell some papers!"

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    4. At 11:56 22nd Jul 2011
    "We reserve the right to fail comments which...
    Contain links to other websites which break our Editorial Guidelines."

    While I understand this policy to a certain extent (I put the link in a separate comment as I suspected rejection) it is ironic that I was commenting on aspects of free press and investigation in relation to the DG's article!

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    5. At 12:01 22nd Jul 2011, Ian wrote:
    ...far too much of what the press, especially the tabloid press, does is not really in anybody's interest.

    I totally agree with you that all media including the BBC should be editorially certain of the difference between the two versions of interest. My take on the ones that tend towards the salacious is that it must be correct to point out hypocrisy in public life. The issue is how to do so without collateral damage to those close to the hypocrites but not guilty with them.

  • Comment number 10.

    The ultimate breakthrough - the Milly Dowler hacking story. The Guardian, despite its relatively small circulation (280.000 vs. 3M for NotW), brought down its full clout. In the interim, the Guardian got a boost from The New York Times, which documented in its own investigative report re the extent to which Scotland Yard had colluded. Within a few days, Times reporters were sitting in a Guardian meeting room as Davies did his best to catch them up. The Times reporters took their time - months of exceptional, painstaking work that verified everything Nick had said & written. The story led to another halfhearted police inquiry that went nowhere. But the fact & solidity of the Times investigation gave momentum & courage. One of the two victims began lawsuits. Vanity Fair weighed in. The Financial Times & The Independent weighed in. A wider group of people began to believe that maybe, just maybe, there was something awfully wrong at News of the World.
    Is all of this this a knock on new media?
    Yes & no.
    May be there will come a new journalistic model model - a place for more protection, more assistance - when a journalist's own newspaper does not see merit in a story, or is simply afraid to pursue it...because good investigative journalism can change the world, will the change the world IF we, the public, demand it.

  • Comment number 11.

    Wow Alcuin, 'faux liberal Marxist narrative', you evidently are an ancient briton, certainly your political perspective is purely early medieval.

    The BBC is, despite it's status as a quasi state organ, remarkably independent, and having spent a week being subjected to Fox news recently, I thank my lucky stars that I live in a country where there is some honesty in broadcasting,


  • Comment number 12.

    We need a clear definition of the 'Public Interest' as oppose what 'Interests the Public’:actual wrong doing as opposed to the fact that a 'B' list celebrity is drunk/drugged up/having an affair

  • Comment number 13.

    Mr Thompson totally ignores the difference between “breaking the rules” and breaking the law. News international is in trouble not because criminal acts were committed, while Mr Thompson offers no assurance that his journalists obey the law in this country and abroad or that he sees the law as any barrier to ‘investigate’ journalism

    His belief that you can distinguish between ‘serious’ journalists (ie the BBC) and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ journalism seems to be because we are the BBC we can and should do things we would condemn if used by tabloids

  • Comment number 14.

    I think the problem with a market driven press is that "public interest" is often used as a term for "profitmaking story". When could it ever be in the public interest to find out what Milly Dowlers family had been trying to say to her on her phone or what the families of dead servicemen said in their grief or what disease the Prime Minister 4 month old baby has? Knowing any of these does not benefit the public in any shape or form so how can it possibly be a public interest story?

    Personally I don't think the press should be able to print anything until the truth of the story has been determined be it in a court of law if it's a criminal case or unless the subject doesn't contest it. At the moment, trials collapse because papers publish evidence and the trial by media often means many people come to conclusions with no where near enough evidence to form an opinion. Even today there are people that think Jean De Mendes was shot dead because he ran from the police because he was an illegal immigrant as reported in the press the day after he was shot. The fact that he neither ran from the police, nor was an illegal immigrant, got no where near the same amount of press coverage, yet one could argue it makes the story far more of a "public interest" story, and less of a politically motivated one.

    If you want a free press then you need to stop charging money to buy them and money from advertising, since both make the paper anything but free. The former will encourage the printing of stories that will sell, the second prevents the paper investigating companies that advertise in their pages.

  • Comment number 15.

    I really struggle with this "article" as to me there are two completely separate threads within it.
    The first half, as the headline suggests is dealing with investigative journalism. The second half however is little more than a defence of the BBC in their reporting of this story (I won't touch on this as I feel that it has little to do with the main topic).

    I do feel that using the Panorama special on FIFA as an example of "investigative journalism" is a mistake however as that program showed us nothing new but simply dragged up things that had been reported on the internet over 5 years before.

    For me the issue with investigative journalism is that there always needs to be a story, otherwise all of the time and effort is wasted. For every success such as the care home neglect we are subjected to 20 "investigations" where they find no evidence and simply present a lot of hearsay and rumour as fact. All of these "investigations" are are started with the purpose getting a story at the end, and if there isn't really a story, many times minor things are twisted to try and present some huge scandal.

    If investigative journalism were simply about getting impartial facts I would have no problem with it but now everybody in the media has an agenda and if facts don't fit that agenda then there are ways of reporting them that will.

    Why shouldn't the newspapers be regulated properly by people who aren't in the newspaper business? How many front-page headlines have we seen that later turn out to be completely fake but the retractions are one paragraph in size 8 font on page 28. The job of the news (and this includes the BBC) is to report on facts and let people make up their own minds, what we have now are the news outlets trying to tell us what to think, with so-called experts "interpreting what we are hearing" in stories all the while pushing their own agendas.

  • Comment number 16.

    Oh and does anyone else spot the irony of pre-moderated comments on an article from the Director General of the BBC in which he condones breaking the rules when necessary.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think you might be surprised how many people are not really concerned with phone hacking news and have assumed it has gone on within society for years. The populist masses are unlikely for the most part to be considered interesting or important enough to be hacked! They would of course be largely correct. However I feel it is important that a firm set of rules are determined and clear boundaries set not only to protect victims but to protect journalists themselves from future recriminations. Many innocents have suffered because of this and their rights must be protected first and foremost, then the rights and freedom of good investigative journalism.

  • Comment number 19.

    Why is it seemingly so difficult to come up with rules for rule-breaking investigative journalism?

    The BBC, at least in the mind of its director general Mark Thompson, sees itself as more restricted, and therefore in need of complementation by freer risk-takers.

    In his on-line BBC News article, today 22nd July 2011, Mr Thompson reacts to the irritation felt by 'necessary risk-takers' over BBC coverage of the 'risks-for-sensation' scandals now unfolding.

    Moving on from survey-support for the BBC's news judgement and trustworthiness, the article looks forward to 'a serious discussion about the difference between good and bad journalism', ending on the note of boundary enforcement.

    Whatever the outcome of our 'complex but necessary debate', the potential for 'supervision' will remain foremost in proximity, in the possibility of conscience exercise, by ourselves, our colleagues, witnesses and regulatory bodies, ideally before the stage of scandal, justice late and rough, and Parliamentary bolting of stable doors.

    Neglect of proximity potential, of the freedom of conscience that might exist behind sixty million pairs of eyes, makes arguably inevitable our continued subjection to recurrence of scandal, and to repeated half-hearted address of 'impossible complexity' in the perfection of supervisory relationships.

    Part of the 'impossibility' is from wise and proper recognition of runaway risk from burdens so excessive, in reporting, assessing and enforcing, that net harm results.
    In the considering the hierarchy of supervision, we tend to discount the part that justified trust might play, not just in journalism but across all society.

    The hierarchy is in fact a circle, its efficient function dependent on democratic control over government. We cannot 'properly' trust our government, or its works, or each other, without secure democracy, without universal security of civil status.
    Without such 'proper trust', without 'the vision thing', as has been well said, 'the people perish'.

    Rather than leave so many brave colleagues out on a limb, and rather than move to scapegoat those perhaps 'obliged' to act from regrettably mixed motives, might the BBC feel able to speak, if necessary over the head of supervisory voices, to assert a preference for Truth and Reconciliation in the context of support for a Democratic rather than Money-Managed future?

    I would ask of the director general and of all readers: "If all others were happy to live with the security and representation possible only with equal income-shares, would you seek either a special dispensation or a general return to the rule of Fear and Greed?"

    It will be appreciated that the 'complexity' of debate on Balance and Bias would be afforded a similar perspective given universal freedom of conscience.

    I commend attention to the conditions for enduring democracy.

  • Comment number 20.

    I think the issue is not the occasional use of dubious or illegal methods to expose wrongdoing in the public interest. The issue is using a single illegal method in a 'production line' manner to attempt to expose information about celebrities and victims of crime. This cannot in any way be justified as 'in the public interest'. People bandy that phrase around, but did the ends justify the means 'in the public interest'? I think in the case of the NoW phone hacking scandal, we can safely answer no.

  • Comment number 21.

    20. At 14:00 22nd Jul 2011, MarJay1980

    You refer of course to "fishing trips" that the fisherman will become addicted to as they find snippets of potentially useful information. I believe that this is the root of the current scandal. Those snippets have built up and may well have become a power over others. At the extreme we may find manipulation or even blackmail.

    Interestingly we may never know without further journalistic prying.

  • Comment number 22.

    I have never understood why the media should have license to break/bend the rules or even the law in pursuit of a story. Who has granted them that authority? They grant it themselves of course.

    No matter what they might say (and I worked inside the BBC all my life!) they don't do it for the benefit of society, they do it for their own kudos and ratings.

    That some "good" comes out of it appears to justify it, but if this can really be the justification then surely it MUST be independently mediated as it will never be possible for media organisations, intent on pushing the boundaries and getting their stories, to regulate themselves.

  • Comment number 23.

    MarJay1980 @20

    For journalists and the public, what seems at first proper investigation may prove unfortunate, and what starts as questionable may prove of importance.

    Even if each Paper enclosed a common 'gossip supplement', contributed to equally by all 'news teams', still there could be race-to-the-gutter competition for prominence and pay as 'gossip columnists'.

    Despite any 'guidelines' a spectrum of observance is always likely, with downward drift leading to the next rash of scandals.

    Clearly, powerful new 'rules' will emerge, as recently with respect to Millie Dowler and fallen soldiers, but at least until enquiries are completed I will keep in mind the possibility that lines were overstepped not from heartlessness, but from desire to assist towards the apprehension of a serial killer and towards the proper equipment if not the withdrawal of troops still in Afghanistan.

    Beyond the extreme hurt of some, and the distress of many more, we have to address the deepest question, that of inappropriate sampling and possible misrepresentation of political thinking, such as to undermine what little debate we are allowed.

    These issues should be pursued, preferably for Truth and Reconcilation, and certainly in the context of progress towards meaningful enduring democracy, as suggested @19.

  • Comment number 24.

    Gotty @22

    On breaking / bending the rules: "Why the media?"

    The question could be re-engineered: "Why the need for the media?"

    The victims of crime can be unaware or frightened, and the police can be far from engagement. Who, given the power, would not wish to be of help? And given high stakes for victims and / or society, who would not consider effective action even if need for 'public interest defence' is incurred?

    Whatever the need of journalists to earn a crust or secure a future, whatever the extremities of Fear and Greed they may have for the futures of themselves and their families, still their work may prove of great value beyond 'mere sales-boosting'.

    I suspect that only a 'good' experienced fellow-journalist editor could give really helpful competent advice on everyday issues for investigative journalists. Perhaps all discussions and decisions in this realm should be documented, to allow a degree of freedom that is externally 'supervised' - as needed - in retrospect.

    Good to have inside voices on this.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    '25. At 15:20 22nd Jul 2011, You wrote:
    Your comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

    When, as it will have to, this appears, the fact that the only explanation as to why it was referred at all proves everything one could fear about a media monopoly.

    Either there are folk waiting on anything that appears and leaning, or the internal fear is such it gets leaned on just in case.

    Meanwhile, an apposite tweet, ironically...

    @benarchibald - Given that BBC now gets its news from Twitter, can we just dump the BBC News?

  • Comment number 27.

    Dear DG,
    You will I hope understand that the Media Enquiry terms of reference will allow those who already distrust the BBC's liberal coverage to attempt to use it to do down the BBC. Please don't give them any more ammunition than they need by visiting 10 Downing Street in your official capacity. Such meetings should be held in the brightest of spotlights e.g. at the House of Commons in front of a select committee.

  • Comment number 28.

    27. At 16:15 22nd Jul 2011, Wizzy

    No no no......

    If the PM and DG need a chat then it should be policy that it happens in Salford.

  • Comment number 29.

    You have in house rules for comments...

    if the rules of this board are based on guidelines from the BBC's regulators as a broadcaster, and yet the web sites of the print papers are based on the, desirably different, rules and guidelines of the paid for press -
    ...this surely illustrates the complexity of establishing any new regulation?
    not to mention the regulation of freelance web users on twitter and the like

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    Very measured and spot on, and I dread the day that politicians use this episode to implement some level of control over our media. Let's keep some perspective on this and work towards a positive outcome for the press and public confidence in it.
    As an aside, if anyone thinks for one moment that the practice was confined to the NoW they are seriously deluded. As freelance in Scotland I worked on many stories that I know now were clearly generated by hacking.

  • Comment number 32.

    Global hacking being run by US & Great Britain dwarfs anything that Rupert Murdoch's News of The World (TNTW) ever dared. British Prime Minister David Cameron MAY DENY he knew TNTW was tapping phones of members of UK's Royal household or those of American 9/11 victims, but CAN HE CLAIM THAT HE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT ECHELON, which, according to Washington journalist Bill Blum, is a “network of massive, highly automated interception stations” that eavesdrops globally. Like a mammoth hacking machine, the National Security Agency(NSA) sucks it all up - home phones, office phones, cellular phones, emails, telexes...satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications traffic, microwave links, voice - anything & everything that are captured by satellites continuously orbiting the earth and then processed information by swirling, whirling, high-powered computers.
    This is the greatest invasion of privacy ever. Endless, illegal spy system sucking up perhaps billions of messages daily, including those of PMs, the Secretary-General of the UN, the Pope, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, embassies, transnational corporations & if possible the private prayers between you and God.
    Pre-Iraq in 2003, the US listened in on the conversations of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, & all the members of the UN Security Council. Launched in the 1970s to spy on Soviet satellite communications, the NSA & its octopus arms in Canada, Britain, Australia, & New Zealand operate ECHELON, which is a network of automated interception stations covering the globe at the expense of the taxpayers.
    Across Britain, Miliband says, “there is a yearning for a more decent, responsible, principled country”. Okay, will he start of by leading against ECHELON?

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    "In Panorama's case, mistakes have been very rare, but when they occur... they inevitably lead to a close review of our procedures. The ability of the BBC Trust to scrutinise BBC investigations and publish its findings, good or bad, means that our values and tradecraft are held constantly and openly to account."

    I note with considerable interest your remarks concerning procedural reviews for the Panorama programme Mr Thompson _ and feel duty-bound to take issue with the not inconsiderable 'inaccuracy' of your assurances. As far as I am aware no review of the Panorama programme 'Death in the Med' has been carried out and nor, despite a barrage of complaints directed at the BBC afterwards, has the BBC Trust 'scrutinised, investigated or published' any findings concerning its deplorable content.

    In actual fact the only element missing from 'Death in the Med' was UNBIASED investigative journalism _ characterised by the culpably clear discrimination of the main reporter, Lady Maples (aka Jane Corbin) who has on public record a series of close ties with israeli interest groups. I would be fascinated to know whether her enrollment for a programme which clearly required considerable sensitivity, not least because of the nature of the killings that happened; should be classified as a 'bungling error of the grossest proportions' on behalf of Panorama's editorial team, who presumably selected her, or whether we should continue to consider the use of Lady Maples as yet another indication of a deliberate and insidious BBC policy.

    Since many of us who monitor the BBC have good reason to suspect the corporation you govern of maintaining a pro-zionist agenda, I wonder if this is not actually the cause of a lack of response to the public outcry against the programme, either from the Panorama team themselves, or indeed the BBC Trust, in whom you are suggesting we should all place our unquestioning trust. It would be good to finally get a response from no less a personage than the governor general concerning these matters, though i will not hold my breath while waiting. However, and until such time as a full investigation is carried out, and it's findings publicised, then we will be forced to continue believing, and in educating others, as to the lack of fairness that, under your leadership, has become an inherent and detrimental characteristic of an organization that was once a beacon of openess and accountability.

  • Comment number 36.

    I use the BBC as my first port of call for news and am probably therefore part of your trusted readership. I do not however trust the BBC I think you are left wing biased and I factor this into what I read or see on your news output.

    Indeed you are not even covering the major UK news items that I am currently watching, nor the EU meltdown, due to your eagerness to hit News Corp for voicemail hacking. If an idiot cannot change their default password what do they expect.

    There is no news in that, just prevents covering the real stories.

  • Comment number 37.

    Mr Thompson,
    I am afraid your article just highlights that those in positions of privilege and power, in this country, treat 'rules' with impunity when it suits their own agenda.
    We see examples from yourselves, other media outlets, politicians, bankers, lawyers, industrial leaders almost on a daily basis, all claiming that they and what they do are 'special' and therefore the normal 'rules' need not apply.
    This seems strange when many ordinary people work under stringent 'rules' and any deviation from these lead to the sack and/or prosecution.
    Is there an imbalance, if there is, is it healthy for society?

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    '25. At 15:20 22nd Jul 2011, JunkkMale wrote:
    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

    Please do... explain (no email as yet)... how a post can be instantaneously referred because of immediate perception of 'possible' contravention of 'House Rules' (one presumes, it's hard to tell - 'He acknowledged that achieving that good can sometimes mean breaking the rules') but then end up placed in referral as suits the narrative for a considerable period.

    That is dishonest, at best.

    if this is meant to be a forum for only platitudes and carefully selected 'balance' when the boss makes an outing, fine. No different to a Newsnight guest or 'give us the views we want' plea from Sian.

    But please, if I have to pay on top of being denied another opinion, that is injury over insult too far.

  • Comment number 40.

    Would it have been acceptable for an investigative journalist to hack the phone, or otherwise spy on, of the right wing Christian extremist who appears to have murdered over 90 people in Norway?

    Initially the gut reaction is, yes ... but think a little more... shouldn't the journalist have notified the police first?

    The interesting question is why the police are not told of the suspicions in the first place. Is this perhaps because we as a society do not trust the police to do the investigation properly and protect us?

    This set of arguments is why we prize a free press. Now, to have a free press there are certain costs to us all and one of these is intrusion into our private lives. It is all a question of the balance of evils (or goods). Every so often things bet out of balance and this is the case when there are excessively powerful dare one say megalomaniacs abroad in society and we have to accept as a society that we have occasionally destroy these men (and they are mainly men!). That is how society balances itself. The process is ugly and brutal and may involve stringing up dictators from lampposts, but that is part of the dynamic and the balancing system in society.

    All megalomaniacs fail and all dictators die (see Libya etc. soon please!) The trick for a society is to keep open mechanisms that permit this change (see News Intl.'s little problem) but that is as it should be.

  • Comment number 41.

    Why has my post criticising Jane Corbin and the BBC management been referred?

  • Comment number 42.

    The BBC is one of our greatest institutions but it is being destroyed from within by a management lacking in integrity.

  • Comment number 43.

    '41. At 09:50 23rd Jul 2011, Jackturk wrote:
    Why has my post criticising Jane Corbin and the BBC management been referred?

    Like so many aspects of its operation, the BBC has 'unique' interpretations. Critique of market rate talented BBC management probably falls under 'hate speech' and can be dealt with using anti-terrorism laws.

    For the rest, there's the FOI exceptions. Time to bale, an then...

  • Comment number 44.

    John_from_Hendon @40

    I like this questioning approach!

    Investigative journalism, checking out the questionable on society's behalf, can go a long way without resort to 'spying', but when criminality, violence and terrorism are reasonably to be feared, then covert methods become both prudent and socially commendable, proportionate to status and skills, 'civilian', 'investigator', 'official'.

    So much for principle: but what, as you ask, of desirable trust, without which our problems may be compounded to infinity? Inability to trust even ourselves can be seen as both cause and consequence of 'corruption from democratically agreed or agreeable ends'. The extent in our world of serious political mischief, of criminality, and of frank dictatorship, should give more than pause for thought: might we follow Mammon's gleam over some hidden cliff? I put the matter thus, briefly, to ensure full 'compromise'!

    Though immediately perhaps irritating to journalists and politicians and readers, all 'obliged to live in this real world', the deeper questions point to more than mere prevention of the random. The hour is later than most think. Even greater woes may be 'very nigh', from population growth, resource depletion, and climate change, all requiring a democratic context for 'sharing and surviving'.

    It would be at least helpful to 'the cause of investigative journalism', if practitioners were explicitly committed to 'journalism for democracy', similar commitment coming from all other 'transmitters of understanding and culture', Parliament, Parties, all 'learned bodies', all of us.

    Amongst the first priorities in research and presentation would be the checking out of meaning and conditions of viable democracy, checking out the state of education and misinformation on those conditions, and framing every report with democratic perspective, exploring the democratic orientation of central figures in all stories, being 'tough for Reconciliation'. but 'tough also for relevant Truth'.

    A free press without ever a free people will, along with the people, perish.

    We cannot have freedom of conscience, cannot have a rational basis for general and sustained trust, in fact cannot have other than the rule of Fear and Greed, until we let go of the Greasy Pole and get down to life together. Check it out for yourself: that means a market not 'for the average', but transformed by equality. The bin marked 'selected potatoes' may still empty faster than that for the standard priced, but all will have fair access!

    We require more than past levels of 'trick'. The truly opened society will take care of itself - educating each new generation to understand the choice of democracy.

    I almost forgot - the appreciation due to those who give their life-times and even their lives to bring us the BBC view from beneath the radar and all around the world. We must ask more of ourselves and each other, but, "Thank you!"

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 46.

    I see no chance, nor any point, in trying to define, rationalise or sanitise "public interest".

    What saved us this time and many times before, was the breadth and richness of journalism in the UK. You can argue that both these characteristics have reduced in recent years and are under threat. You can also argue that the internet broadens and devalues journalism to such an extent that it will kill it.

    But over the last 20 years, I would say it has improved. But that is not to say it is, by any means, perfect.

    In our haste to clear up journalism, let us not stifle it. That would leave us poorer and more vulnerable.

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 49.

    Like others I still fail to see why the BBC insists on pre-moderation.
    But, have to say that the ability to read these comments in sensible line-lengths and without jumping to and fro and scrolling about (in the correct direction on the differing blogs) is a joy - I believe the Beeb confused change with progress when it implemented its makeover.
    No shame in admitting a mistake and reverting to the old format.

  • Comment number 50.

    49. John in Kent wrote:

    "No shame in admitting a mistake and reverting to the old format" (of blog)

    Totally agree. The new twitteresque format 400 character brief blogs are dysfunctional, their worst aspect is the way that brief rants become the standard of communication. This has already had dire consequences of driving reasoned debate supported by facts and reference off of the blogs and this is in turn is the gateway for extremism. It is no coincidence that the right wing Norwegian Christian fundamentalist extremist chose to announce his terror campaign on twitter.

    The BBC should take note that discussions limited to twitter lengths give rise to an increase incidence and propensity for unchallenged fundamentalism. Whereas the old format blog let the other contributors challenge the extremists and show how wrong they were - alas the BBC has chosen the path that amplifies extremism.

    Give us 5000 Characters!

  • Comment number 51.

    Good article and some realy good comments. I too think the format and number of characters available to be used is great, I find the format on the HSY comment sites irritating to say the least, all that faffing about.

    I wanted to pick up on the part of the article that refers to people saying the Beeb is devoting to much time time to the "phone hacking" story, though the article uses evidence to disprove this, I wanted to stress that under no circumstances should this story be relegated to the back of beyond. This story is no longer about Journos listening to voice mails, it is about apparent corruption involving the Mdia, Politicians (of both major parties) , the Met and who knows who else. There are a good many people who would breathe a huge sigh of relief to see this story buried and that must not be allowed to happen.

  • Comment number 52.

    At 16:46 23rd Jul 2011, Lemog - I wanted to stress that under no circumstances should this story be relegated to the back of beyond. This story is no longer about Journos listening to voice mails, it is about apparent corruption involving the Media, Politicians (of both major parties) , the Met and who knows who else. There are a good many people who would breathe a huge sigh of relief to see this story buried and that must not be allowed to happen.

    Fully agree. However, what for preference would be nice as well is that either the demands of ratings-assessed bonuses (even in the public sector) or tribal dogma (anywhere) does not again see various 'newsworthy' events filtered to visit preconceived narratives. Fat chance.

    As the events around Milly Dowler's case were used initially but then rather casually parked as 'unfolding events' suited, today I am seeing an awful lot of opinion masquerading as 'analysis', with an unhealthy dose of still major unknowns being called up in complement as support for rampant interpretation of cherished bandwagons.

  • Comment number 53.

    Investigative journalisim into issues that affect the majority of the country shuld be encouraged. Journalisim to find out which public figure is breaking their marriage vows or having sex is tittle tattle and no benefit to the majority, ok it allows the ordinary member of the public to snigger at a "celebrity" but I don't think that is news - its normally called gossip. So are they newspapers or gossip rags?

  • Comment number 54.

    I ask again - as I asked several months ago and got no answer - How do you decide whether a story that you run will allow comments or not?

    Another frustrating example is on your pages now;
    I can, apparently, comment about the death of a - very troubled - singer to my heart's content.

    However, I cannot comment about the absurd statistics - and falsehoods - you report regarding the possible detection of the Higgs Boson by the Large Hadron Collider.

    Hmmm, one singer dies - I can comment. Challenging your reporting of the possible answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, I cannot comment.

    Who makes these decisions?

    If you are not the person that I should be directing my ire towards, please redirect me to someone more ire-friendly.


  • Comment number 55.

    53. monic1511 wrote:

    "So are they newspapers or gossip rags"?

    To say that that kind of story is news and another gossip may be true from your perspective, however we are bless with a huge variety of people with a huge range of this division between news and gossip. Just becasue it may seem to you that one class of story (and they are all stories!) is news and another gossip does not make this true for everyone! Why shouldn't people with a different view to you also be supplied with stories that appeal to their particular sensibilities?

    OK in the spectrum of things there are trivia and things of importance in both 'news' (your definition) and 'gossip' (your definition). The certainty of life are always important (death). In my view, the corruption that impedes the proper functioning or a fair meritocracy is also important as is its twin the institutional abuse of power, but that is my view. You could believe that with money you can always buy power and people and this is how the world should be, but again that is not my view.

    Different people are interested and curious about different things and that is how it should be, but corruption and abuse of power is, or should be, 'newsworthy', but I am a bit of puritan with definite Leveller tendencies! Perhaps many people like being stomped on and treated unfairly by other people and a perfectly happy in this state - I don't know, but I am willing to bet that if they find out about it they would see it as wrong, and so this, in your definition, is 'news' even if people don't know that it is!

    I am, in short, unhappy about your definitions.

  • Comment number 56.

    #54. drvagin wrote:

    "I can, apparently, comment about the death of a - very troubled - singer to my heart's content.

    However, I cannot comment about the absurd statistics - and falsehoods - you report regarding the possible detection of the Higgs Boson by the Large Hadron Collider."

    Simples - moderating death is possible and easy - however moderating science (which is anyway poorly covered by the mass of arts graduates at the Beeb) is very hard.

    Here the fear that we, the bloggers, should actually know more about something than the beeb is unacceptable to the beeb it scares them it shows them up as a power elite without a firm foundation of actual knowledge!

    Again also note that the form of blog (400 characters) makes it almost impossible to discuss anything in a subtle, sophisticated and knowledgeable manner - something else that the Beeb fears!

    I repeat give us 5000 characters in areas that need such scope.

  • Comment number 57.

    After last year's disgraceful Panorama programme by Jane Corbin when she effectively blamed the peace activists on the Mavi Marmara for their own murders by the Israelis, she should have been sacked by the BBC. Yet there she was again in a later edition of Panorama ‘Death of Bin Laden’ presenting another biased account.

    This is extremely serious and it means that someone in the BBC has their own agenda and it should be the subject of an investigation. We cannot have our BBC taken over by second rate journalists and a management pushing their own propaganda.

  • Comment number 58.

    '54. At 21:38 23rd Jul 2011, drvagin wrote:
    Who makes these decisions?

    A popular meme, broadcast daily, revolves around the notion of 'questions are being asked'.

    Often it is unclear who, exactly, as it often seems more a very small group asking, maybe within the editorial meeting, but 'they' need another, greater 'us' for whom 'they' speak to justify the direction chosen.

    No such issue here. As with the 600+ questions asked here recently, and barely addressed (despite promises) before closing, one has to accept that, when inconvenient, senior BBC management does not 'do' answers in the same way it demands of others.

    Maybe more than someone in the BBC has their own agenda and it should be the subject of an investigation.

    How, on earth, it is felt to be 'better' that a story like this has comments enabled with 'iikes' and 'dislikes', informing 'Editors' Picks', is 'interesting'.

    That it also gets double a Robinson (enough to 'speak for the nation' in some minds) shows the twitterisation of 'news' is near complete.

    I'm also intrigued how a comment gets to be second most disliked before 'the moderators found it broke the house rules'.

  • Comment number 59.

    57. At 00:39 24th Jul 2011, Jackturk - We cannot have our BBC taken over by second rate journalists and a management pushing their own propaganda.

    Well, some of 'we' may be happy to note it is being addressed, steadily...

    So Middle east reporting doubtless will be in the frame too.

    Just... will all feel the direction taken is, actually, an improvement?

    '...presenting another biased account.'

    And I am not one who subscribes to the view that if there are two extremes unhappy, the result can be viewed as 'balanced'.

  • Comment number 60.

    Investigative journalism is arguably both essential and a feature of what passes as democracy. But with the freedom to investigate should also come responsibility, and a responsibility in terms of the means employed and the focus of any investigation. On both counts, recent revelations have clearly demonstrated that with some journalists this has not been the case. And with the result that the reputation of investigative journalism has been compromised alongside that of the Met Police, and of course politicians, mentioning no names. But these aside, there is the abuse of privacy of people like the Dowlers, which is inexcusable.

    Good investigative journalism should always be welcome as a balance and check against those would act against the interest of others for self interest. But, bad journalism should never be accepted or condoned.

  • Comment number 61.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 62.

    The comments here make plain that the 'rules of engagement' for investigative journalism must be addressed in terms of politics.

    As well as with infinite complexity of cases, we have to deal with difference over principles, over thresholds of application, over proper presentation of arguments, and still, in the end, the existence and impact of 'bias' in policy and enforcement.

    It will be well appreciated by any parent or teacher, any leader in any sphere, that after careful listening to the parties, resolution and prevention of conflict depends much on agenda development, a 'biased' process towards positive and civilised relations.

    We cannot pretend that today's conflicts, however misguided or spurious they might be seen from afar or one day in retrospect, are easy to resolve either in address of detail (bargaining) or by transcendence (sharing).

    From the 'biased' viewpoint of a 'universal parent' / 'citizen of the world', we should at least have 'an agenda of transcendence', a genuine agenda such as to give real hope and reassurance of context for any 'negotiation' of trade-offs.

    Unresolved conflicts generate ever more grounds of argument and reproach - even over the reporting of fresh incidents. As we consider social exclusion, extremism and crime, and look further to 'the conflicts' (the sums of many complexities) in Eire / N Ireland, the Middle East, Tibet, are our first thoughts wrong, for the underdog?

    In a world ruled by Fear and Greed, our world as it is, encounter will never be rare of reason to fear or to want even more, driving or tempting many into extremities of defence and pre-emption. Our 'human rights' being 'in real time' social constructs, whatever their relation to 'God' or the forces of Nature, 'our' views of 'right' can vary, but would not most subscribe to hopes of 'security and prosperity', a 'birthright' for all whatever the wealth or dispossession of their parents or cultures?

    At first sight a 'giant step' for ''us', a small but powerful example to others, might we at least debate fixed and equal sharing of what we together inherit and produce?

    Against any social progress, with almost inevitable short-range perception of 'rough justice' for some (divine-right kings, death-dutied estate inheritors, media-moguls, God's-own-purifying-Religionists), will come the burners of strawmen, and a few incited or self-appointed demons such as Mr Breivik (of Oslo infamy). In case not already evident, fair-sharing of our world would not be in absurd literal terms, but with respect to market access and influence, in the security of equal income-shares.

    I commend transcendence - in genuine democracy - looking forward to supportive context and self-regulation in freedom of educated conscience.

  • Comment number 63.

    What might investigative journalism reveal from Oslo? A random event, or another message from another canary?

    What character or scale of investigative journalism, or police surveillance, might detect the drift or precipitation of apparently 'ordinary' citizens, into overwhelming fear and despair, into crime and corruption, into suicide and murder?

    And who would watch the two sets of watchers? Each other, or our leaders, or ourselves? We should reflect on our journey so far, before we 'place all our bets' on the perfection of rules and their enforcement. Advance can be assisted by awareness of liability to error.

    For millennia it mattered not whether the Earth was flat, or that our planet orbited the Sun. For decades many thought it of little moment whether our politics also orbited the Sun. Today we see value and potential in knowing things, far and wide, as they 'most truly' are, recognising that beyond logic, even in 'perception' and 'science', we rely on 'reports and models' that are ever to be tested, perhaps, refined, transformed or entirely supplanted. But what of Democracy versus Mammon?

    Unfortunately, of those with time to think and research and communicate, most of us have been 'too busy', looking to the stars, making our ways, watching our backs, and relying on established centres of social life, community activities, churches, charities, causes, political parties, learned societies and family-care, somehow to evolve and express coherent priorities for progress.

    Aware from the news, and from unedifying banter in much of politics, that 'things are not right' and that 'no-one has a grip', we cling to inherited or successfully-worn loyalties, drawn then into expressions of antipathy or appeasement towards others, harmless or otherwise, in material conflict or minority scapegoating, activities of displacement from the facing of Mammon.

    Whatever the levels of journalistic and police activity to satisfy 'public demand', it seems probable that the character will be highest, and costs the lowest, in a society to which all feel they belong, with secure equality of voice in both the power of personal spending (of course with centrally agreed equal Individual Political Donation Accounts, for 100% disbursement and 100% tax relief), and the free expression of conscience in all that we do.

    We do have 'a way to go'!

  • Comment number 64.

    At 14:20 24th Jul 2011, All for All wrote:
    What might investigative journalism reveal from Oslo?

    Be nice to find out, as most of what i have seen so far seems to be 'any old guessitmate' journalism, with some gratuitous helicopter shots, whatever an 'expert' found in a cupboard in the green room 'thought' and... that's about it.

    Until the latest ratings soars subject gives his ratings whores conference I doubt any will be much wiser, and even then not so sure we'll be much further ahead.

    But the 'analysis' will continue, unabated.

    This at least offers some intriguing insights, if not as to the mindset of the perpetrator, but surely those that 'comment' on others' actions.

    The moral equivalence aspects have and will be interesting.

    Will this person's actions, though decried, be seen as 'daring' and 'audacious', as I have found previous terrorist atrocities described.

    Certainly if solo, one must acknowledge some logistical planning expertise. Plus, unlike the old men elsewhere often lauded for their skills in sending younger folk to do their dirty work, this chap has participated up close and personal, as it were.

    However, it is hard to see much to admire in secret assaults without warning on unarmed civilians as a means of 'getting one's message across'.

    I also ponder to what degree his motivations will be discussed, seeking understanding with a view to future prevention, or 'understanding' due to misplaced empathy.

    Pretty clear this cove was angry and frustrated, and hence managed to turn lack of engagement to a level he demanded into a more direct, deadly protest.

    Will media cheerleaders be as keen to 'explain' his motivations in such terms as one can often find with other such events?

  • Comment number 65.

    Junkkmale @64

    With regard to average or 'normal human empathy', recent neuroscience has at once raised and questioned prospects of gross anatomical / functional determination of character / behaviour. The researcher having found his own brain-pattern to match that of his more problematic subjects, we are thrown back on the importance of 'upbringing', and the context of our adult lives, the immediately personal and whatever is understood of the general.

    There are studies on-going of life-paths. Perhaps positron emission tomography could be triggered for most-at-risk individuals, with due consideration of ethical responsibilities, for the benefit at least of parents and teachers and the subjects themselves. If someone 'like' the Oslo perpetrator had known from youth a special need to think more of general empathy, there might have been lesser attachment to the narrower 'loyalties' apparently being 'defended', perhaps a spectrum from national customs and religious rituals, through the requirements of a local 'gang', to neo-nazi target-culture and / or an external agent of some sort.

    In a more general direction, it would be interesting to know whether there is any correlation between inherited 'brain pattern' and patterns of 'progress' in political affiliation. Would empathy lean to the left but experience then take to the right, as for Winston Churchill; and might lack of empathy first lean to the right, but through intellect then turn to the left? Will there be sex-differences, racial differences, local concentrations? Will knowledge prove helpful - or be exploited for more efficient 'inhumanity'?

    Whatever might be the 'moral equivalence aspects' of psychopathy or 'sincere atrocity' (an unlikely subject of interest even for a projected 'Creator' with infinite time on his / her / its hands), for prevention and response, for public safety and justice, I would look to fully-conscious democracy, its safeguard the guarantee of full equality of means to all not self-disqualified (in training, in work, in sickness, in retirement). The degree of psychopathy or delusion likely to 'explain' the long pre-meditated cold-blooded murder of non-violent non-threatening and defenceless fellow-citizens, would make thought of any release from custody unimaginable with respect to our current powers of medicine and psychology.

    Awareness of particular emotional or intellectual or educational deficits will always be proper considerations in 'punishment and rehabilitation', but the main message of Oslo is that of the canary, the need for all to put our 'non-human' attachments (especially those allegedly 'God'-sanctioned or 'scripture'-sanctioned or 'partial-history'-sanctioned) into 'human' perspective. With heart and head in-gear we might reach for democracy, drawing-in even those today consumed with anger or delusion or 'hatred-in-pointlessness'.

    Ordinary reporting is ongoing from Oslo, the investigative no doubt underway, the deeply questioning to be hoped for before long - on 'belonging' (to the human race) in 'even' a wealthy country, and on the need to resolve 'wealth and faith issues' in terms of universal respect, justice and species-viability - equality for short!

  • Comment number 66.

    To concentrate on the topic ‘Investigative journalism and breaking the rules’. There seems to be precious little good investigative journalism on the BBC these days, although one of best examples is ‘File on Four’ on Radio 4. This programme should migrate to BBC TV.

    But whose ‘rules’ - the BBC’s?

    The term ‘balance’ is often trotted out by the BBC but what is it? Is it ‘balance’ if the perpetrator of a wrong-doing is given as much time as the victim to justify their actions? Obviously not but in many cases this is exactly what happens.

    Is it ‘balance’ when the BBC repeats parrot fashion, Government propaganda without challenging it?. We may have been saved the ignominy and consequential loss of life if the Government’s case for invading Iraq had been challenged more forcefully by highlighting and investigating the obvious, as they were at the time, lies and deceptions that the Government promulgated.

    Is it ‘balance’ when the BBC produces opposing ‘experts’ to argue a case but one of them is out of their depth? yet they are wheeled out time after time because they are ‘safe’ by not being too controversial or not too well informed. BBC panels on ‘Question Time’ etc. are notorious for this.

    Is it ‘balance’ when Paxman, who like almost everyone else on the planet, has his own biases and opinions, is supposed to be neutral when questioning protagonists? Why not have openly partisan interviewers of whatever persuasion questioning politicians etc. having opposite views?

    We the people own the BBC and it should speak up on our behalf without fear or favour from Governments or lobby groups. It should campaign strongly on its own behalf and if it upsets powerful self interests it should appeal to the public who will support it, only, I might add, if it doesn’t shoot itself in the foot by paying its executives and ‘stars’ obscene sums of money.

  • Comment number 67.

    To Mark Thompson

    Message just received here, I fear.

    While I think it vital to make the case everywhere possible for universal freedom of conscience, and while it might be the case that 'whatever the rules' particular scandals will somehow find the light, your language suggests a sharper concern than I first appreciated of imminent threat to serious journalism and perhaps to the BBC's independence of editorial judgement.

    I note the 'bravery' of John Witherow, in his 'defence of investigative journalism', and the 'attempt' by some non-NI papers to encourage simplistic reaction against the extent of BBC coverage, the Daily Mail quoting 'misleadingly' to that end.

    Your article will I hope have alerted many to BBC defence if need be, and it should be welcomed as a fair defence of a degree of plurality in regulation.

    That said, history will not I think look back kindly on even the BBC if need for universal freedom of conscience remains only 'between the lines'.

  • Comment number 68.

    6. At 12:13 22nd Jul 2011, ChrisW7 - 3 days
    8. At 12:27 22nd Jul 2011, BluesBerry - 3 days
    17. At 13:20 22nd Jul 2011, Jebedee - 3 days
    25. At 15:20 22nd Jul 2011, You - 3 days
    30. At 17:12 22nd Jul 2011, minuend - 3 days
    38. At 09:32 23rd Jul 2011, Jackturk - 2 days
    48. At 13:55 23rd Jul 2011, Space - 2 days

    Add your comment.

    Actually, I'd be interested more in yours.

    The BBc is getting rather a reputation for spinning the line 'questions are being asked' without being too clear by whom.

    No issue here.

    Who is doing the referring?

    Why is the consideration taking so long?

    So far, no email. Suggesting that whatever it is, no one knows why but just did it anyway.. in case.

    Oh, and... 'we asked the BBC's Director General but he declined to comment' will be another neat petard to hoist.

  • Comment number 69.

    Alcuin @1
    Journalists - through the NotW closure - have already been the main job-losers from the hacking scandal.

    New jobs may be found, but 'our freedom' to be 'ruined' has been underlined as a freedom 'shared' by 'good and bad', a potent cause of defensiveness and aggression and compliance with the questionable.

    Our mode of being 'in tit together' involves job loss for many, with more threatened, not least in the Armed Forces. We have need of 'a serious Press'.

    Large numbers of daily readers clearly wish a cheap and quick and entertaining daily look at the progress of those who carry their hopes and fears, the glamorous, the heroic, the villainous. To what extent the popularity of 'serious' pamphleteers in the past depended on tittle-tattle, as opposed to the poking of fun, must be left to historians. If, however, today's entertainment is the main channel of news for large numbers of voters, potentially 'our masters' as swing voters, then there is need to ensure 'fit and proper' control to secure at least 'a balance of opinions' if not 'truth unassailable'.

    That we cannot expect 'headlines' to come in pairs, one 'for the Right', one 'for the Left,' makes 'escape from fairness' ever a possibility, political philosophies being brought low by erring supporters, and 'balance' only being assessed in quite long retrospect - 'too late' perhaps.

    Would breakfast and meal-break digestions be too much disturbed by requirement of all Papers to publish Triple Columns, 'this week's For and Against' and comment from readers on previous columns? Would 'we', should 'we', be frightened by the exposure of all to arguments from the most popular / clever / wise on 'both sides' - 'too clever by half'? With the safeguard of multi-channel presentation, arguments should reach 'appropriateness' of content and style - guided by comment feedback and sales.

    The problem of misrepresentation, recognised of things we know, perhaps not even suspected of things beyond our experience, will remain even with the best will in the world. Our best hope, so much the better as probably to be critical for our survival, must be in universal freedom of conscience - not St Rupert's prescription of a massive salary to put the Leader beyond corruption!

    Can focus on 'Murdoch' be 'seriously misplaced', more so than focus on Goldstein (Orwell's fictitious?) or Snowball (Orwell's vilified Noble Pig)?

    The curtain has been lifted a little on the stage of 'politics and journalism and commerce': competing forces, as usual, will seek to make events the opportunity for change. Politicians should act for plurality as well as 'decent limits'.

    Will our political parties be 'on the same side' or divided, for good or ill? What measures will be proposed from the professional and self-interest of journalists and proprietors? Who will win the support of readers and listeners?

    Thanks to 'the BBC' for its coverage and the encouragement of debate.

  • Comment number 70.

    'Thanks to 'the BBC' for its coverage and the encouragement of debate.

    I write something but, well, irony precludes.

  • Comment number 71.

    Think about this question 'Auntie'...

    Do short-form blogs encourage and foster extremism?

    I believe that this isa pertinent, newsworthy and thus relevant question. (Given the appalling events in Norway.) Is there such a thing as the 'Twitter-extremist'?

    I argue that there is, and the rise of short from blogs encourage extremism. The reasoning behind my suggestion flows from the nature of the short from blog that is the very brevity allows essentially daft ideas to be promoted at the same time as preventing reasoned contradiction. That is, idiotic slogans substitute for well founded logical, reasoned and factually supported arguments.

    The subsequent development of this arguments is that organisations that deliberately and wantonly create and environment for such short-form exchanges do so knowingly with the deliberate intention of developing and fostering extremists. BBC this means you!

    Give the bloggers 5000 characters NOW, let us challenge the extremists and abolish the 'dangerous' 400 character limit experiment!

  • Comment number 72.

    63. At 14:20 24th Jul 2011, All for All wrote:

    “What might investigative journalism reveal from Oslo? A random event, or another message from another canary?”

    Investigative journalism would reveal that the hateful views of the Oslo killer are similar to those espoused by many of the Murdoch owned Fox News contributors such as Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. They are often founded on religious and political bigotry which sees violence as the solution to getting their own way.

    Norway has a free, open and enlightened society but in the case of Breivik, what he failed to appreciate was it is the Norwegian way of dealing with politics and social responsibility that produced the conditions he wanted to protect in the first place and it was that system that would have found an equitable solution to future questions.

    A major problem occurs when greedy people with power see and exploit primitive views such as those of Breivik for their own ends and encourage others to adopt similar opinions. This leads to fragmentation of society and can result in whole countries such as the USA wanting to impose its ‘values’ on other much weaker countries as we have seen in many instances.

    We need a few more singing canaries such as Bradley Manning.

  • Comment number 73.

    Jackturk @66

    We should respect but not exaggerate 'the difficulties' of finding and researching and presenting 'stories' of both interest and importance.

    We have also to be 'charitable' when energies flag, and when stories perhaps 'have to be presented' though overblown, already invested in.

    The demanding format of File on Four puts it specially at risk, for some affecting to be 'pre-prosecution', to some with recourse to 'barrister-techniques' of tone and juxtaposition?

    We fall back on plurality as our best bet, but there is a question of 'punch-pulling'.
    Might journalists and politicians hesitate to offend great power? Might they think twice if careers in 'the exposure and righting of wrongs' seemed threatened, by the offer of effective prescription for a single root cause of all social ills of national salience? Are we drip-fed when we should be allowed the whole truth?

    Hypothetical? Do we not, as a society, create the 'wrongs', not least the so-called 'inequities of outcome', that the Press 'delights' to explore and politicians claim to address?

    There will be plenty of 'good work' for journalists even after the ending of poverty and war and disease! At the very least there will be need to give news and context, to educate each new generation, to remind against need of the freedom we have in belonging, the freedom to help, to challenge, and against evil to resist.

    As to 'BBC pay', who can tell what the balance of advantage for society in having 'strong voices' with 'a little in reserve', against hard times? Problematic to attack the unequal without address of inequality! Natural selection tends to deliver 'the fittest' for 'the job'. Whose fault will it be if 'the job' is "to be safe", or "to parrot", or "not to challenge"?

    We are back to democratic versus non-democratic 'control', to freedom of conscience.

  • Comment number 74.

    Junkkmale @70
    Have you ever been, are you not, a 'wage-slave'? No, not a Marxist question!

    If from wealth or vows of poverty you have escaped, may you be congratulated or saluted! You comment from deep concern, and maybe you 'know' your targets, but please have a care for the rest, unknown lesser villains?

    Beyond the courage of youth, with family responsibilities having to be balanced against diminishing hopes of 'real difference', are we not 'in lesser matters at least' obliged to compromise?

    I do not say capitulate. I say democracy - in Charity, Truth & Reconciliation - is the answer that should frame all other answers. With unassailable logic?

    John_from_Hendon @71
    Well observed and well put.

    The 400ch limit does not put off the automatic writer.

    We should 'afford' better debate, and room for a little leaven.

    Some defence needs to be set against 'swamping', and though a sometime victim I see the BBC's rules as plausibly well-meant.

    The task of moderation cannot be easy: my own plea would be against the cutting of across-thread generally relevant political / comical exchange.

    Jackturk @72
    I have no reason to doubt the implication of your comment, that Norway may be amongst the most 'free, open and enlightened' of societies.

    Clearly there can be no remotely sensible excuse for the attempt by Mr Breivik to 'start a revolution' by an act of violence in a society such as his own.

    While expressing solidarity against atrocity, we should not lose sight of weakness shared across cultures of the West' as of the rest of the world, hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, sensible thought hanging back from engagement with bigotry and sheer ignorance.

    While the gift of North Sea Oil might have been well managed, a crowning blessing
    for Norway more than for others we could mention, I have not heard that the power of Fear and Greed, and the dominance of money in politics, have been anywhere removed.

    The openness, like the democracy, of 'Western liberal democracies', is more 'relative' than the word 'liberal' might suggest, and openness, without the fullest democracy both at home and abroad, equates to a 'necessary naivety'. In a world effectively non-democratic, there will be grievances and selfish ambitions that seem to justify suicidal atrocity and invite what are seen as gang-land takeovers.

    I short, we are all 'in the frame' for self-examination: we are both supporters and victims of Fear and Greed, over-casual with respect to the 'primitive views' that divide us, wide-open to 'exploitation', 'fragmentation', blind self-destruction.

    To the task?

  • Comment number 75.

    There is a relevant BBC News round-up of world Press comment on the Oslo atrocity, 'Almost entirely united in condemning the attacks.'

    One line from Russia appears to address either 'multi-culture' or the 'idea of multi-culture, tolerance and satiation' as 'suicidal'.
    Article in Russia's Moskovskiy Komsomolets

    Another line from Russia advises that 'the multicultural model of development of Western Europe has to be given up as a hopeless case… (in at least certain cases bringing) conditions favourable for neo-Nazis'
    Vladislav Vorobyev in Russia's Rossiyskaya Gazeta

    From France seems to come the idea of 'opposite end of the spectrum' relation between 'fundamentalist' Bin Laden and 'murderous fury' Breivik.
    Pierre Rousselin in France's Le Figaro

    A line from Berlin mentions Denmark's position as 'Europe's most affluent country', and laments how vulnerable 'every democratic and open society is.'
    Gerd Nowakowski in Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel

    We might be reading mix-ups in writing or translation. There seems much of motes and planks, but there is no doubting the potency of poverty alongside immigration.

    Money, it seems, may not buy peace.

    Neither even generosity or charity?

    Not even 'less inequality'?

    Good to hear from China: "The world seems to have come a long way to reduce unfairness and prevent mass killings." 'There was hope for some time that long-lasting peace was possible', but "such hopes are fading as society can easily be terrorised by one deranged individual."
    Editorial in China's state-owned Global Times

    And attention for democracy?

    Directed towards and distracted from 'by one deranged individual'. Not just one.

    But the time is now for grief and recovery of momentum.

  • Comment number 76.

    Not for the first time, interesting to see a round-up of international Press comment.

    Relevant to analytical if not investigative journalism.

    Apologies if use of quotations not allowed.

  • Comment number 77.

    '74. At 12:24 25th Jul 2011, All for All wrote:
    Junkkmale @70
    Have you ever been, are you not, a 'wage-slave'?

    Employed post Uni. Then the late 80's recession prompted me to get on my 747 and look for work where it could be found. Freelance mostly, then a decade as an employer.

    Back home richer but not wiser to look after parents, plus a a bit of freelance when I can get it, whilst raising my sons and busying self making stuff and saving more in hope of improving their future.

    Asked for and taken little (save the cost of my BSc.) and trying to give back more.

    It informs some of what I choose to comment upon.

    Currently keen on level playing fields and equal standards applying.

    From laws that only apply to some, depending, even in knowing breach, while those ignorant get hammered, to 'unique' systems that seem at best unidirectional, I sadly have much that exercises me.

    Hence this thread not yet closing is a blessing.

    If lack of response from 'on high' again disappoints, if not surprises.

    And the cynical limbo of multi-day 'referrals' in lieu of admitting censorship.

  • Comment number 78.

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  • Comment number 79.

    Our need for good journalism, factual, investigative, analytical, is well illustrated in Gavin Hewitt's reflection on Oslo.

    Elsewhere it is suggested by some that the thinking of the Oslo perpetrator should not receive any publicity, should not be dignified by broadcast, should not be allowed to add to family grief or minority fear, or to encourage other warped minds. We do have to consider carefully the case for 'bias' and 'censorship' in educational and general publication. It is one thing to research the vile, another to pollute our 'thoughts of the day', another to 'shield from the truth'.

    While it was thought that Breivik acted alone, we might have left his psychiatrists to look 'at some leisure' for any lessons in his state of mind. With the claim now of 'other cells', there is immediate as well as longer-range preventative need to share the results of assessment. Journalists will have a part to play, complementary to that of no-doubt stretched authorities.

    Being wise after repeated events is not so difficult. We can sympathises with Gavin Hewitt, now the BBC's Europe Editor, looking back to his impressions of Oklahoma, of 'a strong strain of paranoia' that mostly 'reflected the margins of society and could easily be dismissed'. Perhaps 'easily' but not 'safely'… and not really 'properly'. We should have canary-rights in mind anyway, but when the bird stops singing… really time to think.

    It is not impossible that Breivik had rational concerns, perhaps even humanely rational concerns, about the fate of immigrants, and of the recipient communities, and that only when 'easily dismissed' he abandoned hope in mainstream political address and eventually 'turned' to ultra-simplistic neo-Nazi 'solutions'. Through his lawyer he has said as much.

    Gavin Hewitt begins to join the dots, looking beyond the pathetic self-dignification seen in Breveik's 'dressed-up' self-portraits, not acknowledging the primacy of unemployment and low pay in unrest, but noting 'strong and growing concern about immigration and threat to identity'.

    From 'even' the 'most affluent of European countries', we have yet another warning as if that of 1930s Germany and our own riots over the decades were insufficient. We cannot afford from the leafy lanes to 'dismiss', for 'paranoia' to fester, and for the limits of hope and tolerance to be breached.

    Give peace a chance, with equal dignity, and people will grow together. Those who today think to lead the disaffected into racism, or frank psychopathy, would find their 'mission' no longer 'needed'. Their relative ordinariness would probably ensue.

    Junkkmale @77
    Thanks! You know the score!

    In the privacy of this thread, from perhaps a way further down the line, I should say that as a base for democracy and analytical self-respect I doubt that you can be let down by equality, but that 'even you' and almost certainly your sons should not breath-hold in anticipation, or be premature in evangelism, or give-up the day-job!
    In quiet reflection, even the most sadly 'right wing' may admit they would be content with equality, but being aware of bigger fish above and mobs of smaller below, they see a better society coming only through the shock of a fall. George Bernard Shaw retreated to gradualism, and misread the 'success' of inegalitarian Soviet state capitalism. We cannot give up hope, but planetary stress and a species fall do now seem likely. There will be survivors, perhaps large communities and even states, and not all quite mad! Do take care - and comment as you can - with sympathy for the moderators! It all may help!

  • Comment number 80.

    79. At 16:40 25th Jul 2011, All for All wrote:
    Our need for good journalism, factual, investigative, analytical, is well illustrated in Gavin Hewitt's reflection on Oslo.

    I read the piece but was a bit disconcerted by "The nation state stubbornly remains the focus of most people’s identity."

    Does the BBC editorial line follow the non nation future in Europe, if not wider?

    Who are we to be loyal to if it is not selfish self at one extreme or nation at the other?

  • Comment number 81.

    #80. Kit Green wrote:

    "who are we to be loyal to if it is not selfish self at one extreme or nation at the other?"

    There is a natural hierarchy of loyalties from the self, family, town, city, region, county, country, federation, continent, the human race and our planet. Onwards from that does not trouble us much yet sentient aliens haven't made themselves known to us yet.

    'Subsidiarity' is an excellent idea and applies to all of these levels of loyalty does it not comrade!!!!

  • Comment number 82.

    Kit Green @80
    My country right or wrong?

    I take Gavin Hewitt's remark, that 'the nation state stubbornly remains the focus of most people's identity', to signal the regret of a British citizen, with a loyalty to the world and all its people, witnessing the persistence, even the increase, of a narrow but understandable siege mentality at all levels of the European dream community.

    From the prevention of World War III, to efficiency through strategic integration, to quality of life through a social contract, to the advancement of neighbours by offer of Community Membership, the European project has not been short of worthwhile ambition. Like the Rich Young Man addressed by Jesus, one thing only has been lacked: the very basis of democracy, the sharing of security and hope, the effort of hundreds of millions as equal shareholders with equal influence in the market, the vision together to bring inclusion to all in the world.

    In what terms Gavin Hewitt would enlarge on his own implicit disappointment, I do not know. I suspect not too far from the above, but greater 'knowledge of the world', its size, its variety, and the evident sway of 'possession', might have limited even early hopes.

    Clearly the BBC will recruit and retain reporters comfortable with a BBC Reporter's dedication to objectivity and humanity. Who knows what further qualities sustain in these demanding lives? Friendships around the world must have a profound influence. I doubt that BBC staff would have difficulty in advocating or adapting to democracy if liberated to do so.

    We need not, cannot with any sense, chose between self and others. The value of our lives, for ourself and others, is well reflected in the confirmatory advice: "Love thy neighbour as thyself". We are stuck with ourselves and our 'social contracts': "Love your neighbours near and far, and treat (parish, district, national, continental) borders as administrative and traditional" might serve to guide human "loyalty"?

    If it comes to conflict, we have to weigh good and evil and trust. Any 'loyalty' to military command will come at first for the defence of family, friends, and allies (in today's world a matter of great complexity for some), soon (with even half-worthy comrades) to the fighting unit, or so I read and can well imagine. Armed conflict will reflect political failure, the absence of democracy, in one party or both. It is our clear duty to adopt and so to teach democracy.

    The tradition of the BBC is such as to keep hope alive! Can we help to liberate?

  • Comment number 83.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 84.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 85.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 86.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 87.

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  • Comment number 88.

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  • Comment number 89.

    I'm really not sure why the Director General of the BBC should be writing an article like this. Investigative journalism at the BBC so often does not amount to more than waiting to see if it is safe to go in the water. In the mean time, it will just carry on re-printing what Reuters and Getty Images sell. That is defensible if it is acknowledged that it runs on public money and does not wish to suffer the indignity of losing occasional law suits. It is conservative (with a small "c") and cannot afford to take risks.

    But please don't pretend to be more than that when it is not the case.
    Much was published, for many years, about FIFA before England didn't win the right to host the World Cup again. The BBC themselves (Panorama) had a history of criticising FIFA and Herr Blatter, but BBC moderators certainly didn't want to let me quote the BBC itself on this matter. I've had other posts deleted where, as far as I could tell, it was not possible for me to have libelled/slandered anybody because I hadn't named or identified any person or organisation.

    I was one of a small minority of people who didn't take the invitation to heap praise upon the script writer of "Only Fools and Horses" after his death. I preferred to think that the programs merits (such as they were) were actually due to the outstanding actors, not the writer. I was even so rude as to use the word "rubbish". The comment was deleted. If the BBC didn't want anything other than fulsome praise then I wish they had said so.
    Of course I'm sure it some might argue that I had overstepped some kind of boundary, but since when did the dead deserve more respect than the living? On that subject there's other stories I'd like to discuss, yet seriously wonder if I could do so without getting "moderated".

    Perhaps I'm just growing to be like Victor Meldrew. But when the BBC invites comments on a subject, and a BBC editor selects some of them to be highlighted as meretricious, and a BBC moderator later deletes them as breaking 'house rules', then it's nothing to do with me, Mr Thompson, is it? It's the BBC making a fool of itself.
    I certainly don't pretend to be a journalist, but I think the BBC is missing a trick by not capitalising on the skills and knowledge of it's readers and viewers. They may not last.

  • Comment number 90.

    Good journalism, combining to-the-moment news relevance with to-the-truth endeavour, will always be 'investigative', expending effort as far as is necessary to check facts and to explain their meaning, with readiness in doubt to probe more deeply the nature, connections and motivations, of sources and subjects of fair and legitimate interest.

    Bad journalism grates, its stories awaited from others, its lateness with no redeeming depth of analysis, and its own motivation being not of service to the public, but rather to a sectional interest or a shallow exploitative commercialism.

    Good journalism, recognisable as such by the vast majority, will necessarily be explicitly pro-democratic and so pro-active in movement towards and maintenance of universal freedom of conscience.

    Awareness of the nature and conditions of true democracy will inform all good reporting to some extent, vitally so in the case of government and party news.

    Thus, for example, with respect to the launch by the Office of National Statistics of a debate on what matters for people's sense sense of well-being, the investigative journalist will probe the validity and expected uses of the government-envisaged 'happiness index'. Whereas, the public will tend to contribute at the level of 'index ingredients', the investigator will think of the constraints of horizon, the risks of under- or over-expectation, and the interaction of any putative trends with any major event impacts, disasters, wars, economic bonuses, accidents and misadventures.

    From such reflection it will become apparent that well-being is the product of freedom, its quality continuously refined as choice is informed further by shared knowledge and experience. A free people, its citizens of equal power in the market and its decisions all made in representativeness, will naturally provide for its members, prioritising in accordance with universal needs and expressed economic demands.

    Even in a real democracy, construction of an academic index of well-being would be problematic, subject to the usual data-to-statistics hazard of 'rubbish in, rubbish out'. Tolerable validity being possible only from the informed views of a free people, current government priority for well-being should be education and agreement for the establishment of democracy.

    That such establishment would make the proposed index functionally redundant, if not potentially misleading, could usefully have been brought to public notice in the BBC News report of 25th July. Further questions could then have been addressed as to the involvement of the Office for National Statistics and the generation of government policy.

  • Comment number 91.

    I'd like to see some journalism rather than the regurgitation of press releases.

    The ONS, the IMF, the OECD, AgeUK, The Fawcett Society, The Halifax, The Nationwide some other organisation or some other bustiness no sooner issues a press release than it is reported on as facts, data and news.

    Invariably, this 'news' is presented without clarification, comment about where funding comes from, what data is being used, whether it comes from surveys, who runs the place etc.

    I have sent regular emails to the BBC news teams to suggest that when they report Halifax and Nationwide house price data they state that this data is based on those companies' mortgage lending figures but this does not happen.

    Likewise there is endless casual commentary about 'growth' without any reference to what is being measured (growth in spending), how that data is collected or indeed whether GDP could fall without terrible consequences.

    In the past, it was at least possible to make reasoned comments on editor's blogs but I would have had to have made at least 4 separate entries on say the Peston or Flander's blogs to deliver this message. In the past, contributors would have refuted what they understood to be nonsense.

    To be honest decent, honest, straightforward, unbiased reporting is all I need
    from the BBC but you know what, if the BBC enabled citizens to comment as they once did, there'd be plenty of material to investigate or pursue without the need for peeping tom type activity.

  • Comment number 92.

    'This article was first published in the Times.'

    Poetic that, on clicking the link, one cannot read it without engaging in a further ritual and, supportive transaction.

    '89. At 23:06 25th Jul 2011
    But when the BBC invites comments on a subject, and a BBC editor selects some of them to be highlighted as meretricious, and a BBC moderator later deletes them as breaking 'house rules', then it's nothing to do with me, Mr Thompson, is it? It's the BBC making a fool of itself.

    Fool one once, shame on them... fool all more...?

    It must be nice to control the edit suite.

    I have had an email about my concerns on the move from immediate referral through much pondering to unspecified House Rule breaking.

    It says I first need to specify the code on the email from them advising why.

    Which I did not get.

    Which is why I emailed to pursue the matter.

    Were he still with us, Douglas Adams would doubtless see the ironic humour to be had from the latest example to be filed in the cabinet in the basement room signposted 'Beware of the Leopard'.

    'First it was referred, and I spoke,
    Then 3 days' passed while it was 'considered', and I spoke,
    Then it turned to a breaking of rules, and I speak,
    But still there is no explanation to justify it to me.

    Learn your history.

    If not, you are doomed to repeat it.'

  • Comment number 93.

    Another case today crying for good journalism - investigative with little need for 'rule breaking' - is the call of the cross-party Parliamentary Health Select Committee for NHS staff to 'report concerns or risk investigation'.

    This morning on Radio-4's Today, Niall Dickson for the GMC made clear that while 'more guidance' could be published, a better culture of improvement will always depend on individuals. Relaying this thought, Jane Draper in her article today for BBC NEWS Health, wisely invites comments.

    Staff and patients will know, and others can be helped to imagine, the infinity of matters to be considered and questioned daily in NHS care. We do depend on individuals, and towards all aims - in the NHS and all other spheres - the critical objective for the maximum of fulfilment, is in respect of every individual, the release of talent and energy, initiative and enthusiasm, conscience and life-time follow-through.

    In the NHS, teaching by example, and learning from each other, from colleagues of whatever status, and from patients and relatives, are ideals at the heart of daily life and progress, subject to variable realisation. All has not been well, some will say from under-finance, some will say from financial indiscipline: we might agree that both can be factors, even simultaneously, but what is it at the level of individual function that 'goes wrong'?

    In complex matters, in the end, some single individual or some small body of individuals may have to take a decision based on judgement. Towards better decision-making, I would suggest that those used to hearing other viewpoints, in less urgent or final circumstances, could reasonably be expected to have 'more voices in their heads' and therefore greater depth of judgement when 'on the spot'. How might we secure free communication as 'normal'?

    The answer lies in the conditions of freedom in general. Some might think freedom can be commanded, making the warning of possible folly a responsibility of all, despite the existence of penalties for contradiction in general. My own suggestion would be to make freedom real. This would not be to assert that all questioning should necessarily be welcomed by all teachers, or to assert that repeatedly daft questioning should be supported in terms of continued employment in a particular role. The need would be to ensure for every honest 'worker', student or teacher, security of means (principally of income) for personal and family life, such that questions can be 'risked' as contributions to our shared enterprise.

    The prescription of egalitarian freedom, if 'correct', is not just 'the best way' or even 'one way' of perhaps achieving democracy: it is the permissive condition of genuine democracy, 'the only way'. Imagine, freedom from fear and preemptive greed, freedom to seek amongst possible contributions the best in your own judgement, the freedom - in due authority - to counsel or command as to misplacement or redundancy, knowing that families are safe, that the world is one of rich opportunity not of exclusion, misery, 'sudden death competition'.

    Could I rest my case?

    The NHS has achieved a remarkable degree of 'creaky co-operation', trading on such assets as 'vocation' and 'post-war pluck', despite deficits of freedom with sometimes scandalous impact. I doubt that 'more freedom', for innovation and auto-regulation, can be commanded within either within today's structures or in a system of institutionalized competition.

    In the latter case, still a threat, I would expect a drift or spiral of decline into 'expensive' chaos, the everyday worry of all being not just 'how much insurance / tax can I / we afford', but 'will the particular service needed, good / adequate / poor, be even in existence when we need it?' We come back to need for democracy.

    In lieu of courage from others, we look to our journalists at least to raise and keep alive vital questions.

  • Comment number 94.

    '86. At 22:32 25th Jul 2011, All for All -
    I too struggle with 400 characters - you may have noticed criticism of my so-called 'poetic' brevity

    Basically the 'new' system is like a written version of Newsnight interviews or Jeremy Vine show 'discussions', only without a live chairperson doing anything but moderating and actively egging on sets of folk specifically selected to spiral to extremes.

    Hard to square with any stated desire to bridge cultures and strive for a more balanced, understanding society.

    I saw Mr. Paxman last night attempt to bait an interviewee based on who might have tried to associate themselves with his organisation, even as he decried the person's actions.

    On this basis the BBC seems in choppy waters.

  • Comment number 95.

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  • Comment number 96.

    The March 2010 terms of reference for the BBC's latest Impartiality Review, just published, on science coverage, restate the general guiding principles from the 2007 report on Safeguarding Impartiality, thereby suggesting that the BBC Trust might be held to, and should be protected by, both the explicit and the implicit commitments to be read from the Royal Charter and Agreement.

    In March 2010, the BBC Editorial Guidelines were under review. and in the new Guidelines, published October 2010, it is to be noted that from the old quoted 'commitment to reflecting diversity of opinion', there is an elaborated commitment to 'the highest standards of DUE accuracy and impartiality', interpreted further as to 'reflect A breadth and diversity… so that no SIGNIFICANT strand of thought is KNOWINGLY unreflected or under-represented'.

    Temptation might be seen for new employment to be of staff either likely to be ignorant of certain opinions, or likely to see them as 'non-significant'. A little unfair to quote here, but the point is slightly illuminated by Gavin Hewitt's recalled thought from Oklahoma in 1985 that, before Timothy Veigh's atrocity, thoughts from 'the margins of society' could be 'easily dismissed'. The importance of staff 'selection pressure', and of 'need not to know', has recently been highlighted with respect to the News of The World and John Yates' briefing offer.

    With respect to the need, identified by Mark Thompson, for a 'complex but necessary debate about where the boundary of acceptable journalistic practice lies, and how it should be enforced', I would like to underline the assertion of duty to consider and share 'the democratic option' - even if only against the possibility of some help from emulation of the outcomes to be expected with universal freedom of conscience. Such emulation could extend and reinforce the 'public interest' defence of staff who come under attack from offended anti-democratic quarters.

    Without an adequate definition of democracy, even the emulation of a credibly democratic view of 'public interest', is wide open to spurious but troublesome challenge, such as perhaps necessarily worked around in the 2010 Guidelines revision.

    In the October 2010 announcement of the new Guidelines, Mark Thompson put well the ideal to be aimed for: "In a perfect world, the Guidelines would consist of one sentence: use your own best judgement. The Editorial Guidelines are there to enable programme makers to make those judgements and ensure that our output meets the high standards of quality and creativity audiences expect of the BBC." In fact we should understand that however wide-ranging and detailed the Official Guidance, in any walk of life, it is the individual who second-by-second has to use 'best judgement'.

    We should therefore consider seriously the possibility of a social context affording genuine freedom of conscience to all. As demanded in medicine, why not in journalism, that staff should be held 'responsible' for the conduct of colleagues as well as themselves? And why not, as in a 'sensible' world of full employment, emulate the humane and non-wasteful treatment of 'offenders', with 'rehabilitation' as appropriate for their skills? Emulation might go so far as to allow 'all ranks' freedom to have 'guiding words' with 'all ranks' without first-recourse to 'the official' and without fear of unfair reaction to 'oppression' or 'insubordination'!

    There should perhaps be tests of coherence and commitment for the inclusion of 'significant' viewpoints in the range to be reflected by the BBC. I hope that in reflection on the above it will be borne in mind that 'we' have been working towards democracy for thousands of years, and that many have given their lives in the often dangerous advocacy of full citizen equality.

  • Comment number 97.

    In case All for All @96 seems a little harsh:

    The BBC Royal Charter guarantees the editorial independence of the BBC and sets out its Public Purposes. These are defined as:
    • sustaining citizenship and civil society
    • promoting education and learning
    • stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
    • representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
    • bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
    • in promoting its other purposes, helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services and, in addition, taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.

    No mention here of Democracy - risks being taken as a Charter for "sustaining citizenship and civil society" as it is, precluding advance as well as defending against assessed retreat.

    The BBC is by the Agreement accompanying the Charter "forbidden from expressing the opinion of the BBC on current affairs or matters of public policy, other than broadcasting or the provision of online services", implicitly placing a 'public policy' veto even on 'broadcasting policy' expression. No government endorsement of democracy, no BBC 'view' allowed to be expressed?

    For educational purposes, without endorsement, the BBC could and should ensure that the egalitarian representative democratic option is at least understood, even if it happens to render absurd any 'other kind of democracy', even if that 'absurdity' equates to the rule of Mammon at the expense of human direction and survival…!

  • Comment number 98.

    BBC Editorial Guidelines - "Highly Commended", despite concerns…

    Transposable for Press?

    On Impartiality:

    "Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of 'balance' between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles."

    "The term 'due' means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation."

    The terms "democratic" and "fundamental" are not here defined.

    But note well: impartiality does not demand "detachment" on democracy

    And further: "democratic principles" are "fundamental".

    On Due Weight:

    "Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item. .  Instead, we should seek to achieve 'due weight'.  For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.

    "…the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC's impartiality.  Decisions over whether to include or omit perspectives should be reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied editorial judgement across an appropriate range of output."

    When was "the alternative to inequality" last included, even with "due weight" against the (ignorant?) "consensus", as "an important perspective"?

    On Controversial Subjects:

    "When dealing with 'controversial subjects', we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact."

    Have "sensitivities" of "belief and culture" militated against the educational exploration of egalitarian representative democracy in BBC output?

    On Major Matters:

    "In addition, we must take particular care and achieve due impartiality when a 'controversial subject' may be considered to be a major matter. 'Major matters' are usually matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy that are of national or international importance, or of a similar significance within a smaller coverage area.  When dealing with 'major matters', or when the issues involved are highly controversial and/or a decisive moment in the controversy is expected, it will normally be necessary to ensure that an appropriately wide range of significant views are reflected in a clearly linked 'series of programmes', a single programme or sometimes even a single item."

    Fair enough! When?

    On Politics, Public Policy and Polls:

    Seems no (good) reason here to avoid Debate on Democracy with all invited

  • Comment number 99.

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  • Comment number 100.

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