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 55.

    Same old same old ' lessons will be learned' Politics, Police, NHS Banking, sick of hearing the phrase now, does anybode nowardays stand accountable for anything?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Has anyone looked at the Editor Pick???
    He reckons the coverage was great, even though the Pick has more minus signs than positive!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The BBC's prime audience target group are the 16 - 35 yr olds and they are accorded the biggest slice of the revenue. Hence the dross of BBC3.
    Pandering to the celeb culture was inevitably going to dumb down and lead to a disaster some time sooner rather than later. The Beeb snatched failure from the triumph handed to it on a plate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    well i for one thoroughly enjoyed all of the jubilee coverage. yes the pageant broadcast had a few problems, but for a live show with garbage weather and planned events not happening as they should i think it was great. much much better than itv with its random nonsense.

    some people just aint happy unless they are complaining. its like they sit looking for something wrong and make a list. :/

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The coverage was inane, the weather was bad and it did (finally) have someone other than a Dimbleby presenting.

    However, it prehaps illustrates the need for the BBC to develop talent better and to maybe look again at its lack of serious content and presenters.

    Documentaries and investigative journalism is thin on the ground for such a well funded broadcaster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    LOL good old Mark Thompson, what a pity he didnt give the coverage of the Jubilee. Wimbledon and the olympics to Sky. I mean it only took him 10 minutes to agree to give F1 away!
    Watch this one get moderated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This is only one of the recent problems that seems to indicate that the BBC is losing the plot in terms of it's broadcasting standards. The Pageant coverage had far too many Z-list "celebrities" and presenters to the point where the Pageant received limted coverage. I'm sad to say that I watched in on Sky. The programmes seem to be taking second place to the presenters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Given there was nothing to cover (and I avoided what there was) I assume the BBC did its usual, 'carriage drives past while boring voice intones unctuous platitudes'. What else can they do? Didn't they grovel enough?

    Oleaginous TV at its best I'm sure. Well done auntie Beeb!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    No excuses, the coverage was inane, completely out of keeping with the tone of the event and the producers and managers should be ashamed of themselves. The rain soaked choir belting it out on top of that boat reflected perfectly the slightly bonkers British spirit, you have to laugh but you are kind of proud..... The babies, memorabilia, transvestite knighting etc was just an embarrassment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    The 'commentators ' were more interested in themselves and in showing off than they were in the pageant.
    "Look how cute and slightly cookie I am. Doncha love me?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    It wasn't just the river pageant. The BBC cut off the end of their coverage of the Jubilee concert and fireworks display to show a long list of BBC staff names then an advertisement for football!

    Their reply to my complaint was that it was a matter of opinion.

    That shows all that is wrong with the BBC. Self-obsessed and failing in its duty to be a public service broadcaster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

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

    So this was no worse than any other program, so the criticism wasn't valid.

    What a patronising, evasive, weasely response.

    Better: "I'm sorry, it wasn't very good, we will do better in future."

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    If Thompson thinks the pageant was good broadcasting thank heavens he's going. It was tripe. Like much of TV these days. The standard of the 'presenters' was low, low, low, it made nonsense of the whole event. Not one had done their homework and I agree, none should work for the BBC again. Including Thompson. Thank goodness for what remains of the World Service (which he decimated).

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    6. Frater Ananda
    When we consider the cuts the BBC has had imposed on it, it's hardly a surprise.
    But that still have loads of money for The Voice !

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The real issue with the coverage of the river pageant was the obsession with celebrities (not exactly A listers either) who would have been there whatever the weather. The best that can be said of their input to the event was it was banal and self serving, always a danger. The coverage of the other days was pretty good though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Surely this isn't an issue at all; the BBC should not be wasting their licence-payers' money on covering any royal jamborees at all, so as long as they bear that in mind then this particular type of fiasco will never happen again anyway. Simple as, end of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    If the Olympics have Fearne Cotton or Chris Moyles or some other raving loon as anchors simply to please the 'yoof' then MT is surely deluded or trying to recreate the best naff show The WWWooorrd! God Help us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    The reaction to the BBC coverage surprised me as well as the Corporation. We viewers are treated as seven year olds every day, so why should the pageant presentation have been any different ?

  • 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!

  • Comment number 36.

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


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