Mark Thompson: BBC has 'lessons to learn' from Jubilee

The Queen's launch makes its way down the river Some 10.3m viewers watched BBC One's coverage of the Thames River Pageant

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BBC Director General Mark Thompson has told MPs that the corporation has "lessons to learn" from its coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

More than 4,000 people complained about the coverage, with most criticism focusing on the river pageant.

Mr Thompson acknowledged that there were "some inaccuracies in the commentary that we shouldn't have had".

However, he added that he thought it was "a really good piece of broadcasting" on the whole.

The broadcast from the Thames pageant was widely criticised in the press, with some commentators branding it "inane" and "tedious".

Mr Thompson told MPs that bad weather and technical difficulties had hampered the coverage.

"The weather had the specific effect of making communications between our cameras very difficult," he said.

"We lost most of our cameras for a period on the boats and some of our cameras on dry land as well, and that meant in the middle of the coverage we were spending a bit less time on the river covering the event and a bit more time away from the river than we would have liked.

"We also had one or two - not many but one or two - inaccuracies in the commentary which we shouldn't have had.

"So I would say, as with any programme, I'm sure the team can go away and learn some of the lessons."

Mr Thompson was making his final appearance before the House of Commons Culture Select Committee before stepping down as director general later this year.

Approval ratings

MPs asked him repeatedly about a segment from Tuesday, 5 June, in which Fearne Cotton and singer Paloma Faith discussed Jubilee memorabilia, including a sick bag.

However, Mr Thompson insisted he would not "talk about individual elements" of the coverage.

He pointed out that audience approval ratings had been high - remaining above "eight out of 10" across all four days of coverage.

And he addressed criticisms that the BBC had lost its reputation for authoritative coverage, drawing attention to Andrew Marr's documentary about the life of the Queen, and a programme in which Prince Charles paid tribute to his mother.

Mark Thompson Mark Thompson succeeded Greg Dyke in the afterrmath of the Hutton Inquiry in 2004

"The idea that that wasn't full of history and archive and celebration of this remarkable story of one woman and her family… I thought we captured all of that," said Mr Thompson.

The session also saw Mr Thompson questioned about other aspects of his eight-year tenure at the head of the BBC.

He was quizzed about an interview he had given to the New Statesman in 2010, in which he said there was "massive left-wing bias at the BBC" when he joined in 1979.

"I said the BBC I joined in 1979 did have some issues," he told the committee. "Not on the air, but in the make up of the people who worked there. In the Current Affairs Department there were an awful lot of people who came from a left-wing perspective and not many from a Conservative perspective."

But he said things were very different now. "Four ministers in the present government are former BBC alumni. All Tories, chairman, by the way," said Mr Thompson.

The director general also said one of the hallmarks of his time in the post was the return of programmes the family could watch together.

"People said that wasn't possible, that that age was over," he said, "but Doctor Who and Merlin would be examples.

"I think the BBC's got a very interesting role to play in finding pieces which work for children and work for parents as well."

Asked when he expected to leave the BBC, Mr Thompson said "I would hope the handover would happen sooner rather than later," suggesting September would be the earliest possible date.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Let's be honest, the flotilla was a disaster and a mess - it wouldn't have been any better on a sunny day. The BBC struggled to cover what was a pretty dire event. On the other hand the concert outside the Palace was fantastic..

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    I agree with a lot of this but I would also make the point that Clare Balding was sidelined on the barge when she would have made the best front person for the whole shebang surely? She can relate to anyone is used to retaining masses of information to draw on at will and is highly intelligent to boot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    I thought the whole day was fantastic and so did all my friends. I think the majotity of people who complained were nit picking. alright fern forgot the name of the ex army man SO WHAT is she not allowed to make a mistake. I thought the whole day was great. weel done BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I was by the river watching the pageant and there was lots to see and of people were checking their phones for BBC coverage and information (things like 'what is the steam loco on the bridge?'). The BBC coverage was truly uninformative: if the BBC thought that people would be bored with lots of boats, it shows just how out of touch with the audience they are: people travelled miles to see it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I watched the inane commentary and compared it with the Coronation coverage of 1952, with its deferent politeness
    Whilst not a great lover of the Monarchy, surely the BBC could have risen to the occasion, and to say the cameras failed as an excuse, the commentators mouths certainly did not fail.O that they HAD!
    I hope the Olympics have different commentators, as inanity anywhere is embarrassing!


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