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So is the BBC 'anti-politics'?

Nick Robinson | 10:36 UK time, Wednesday, 20 December 2006

My friend Steve Richards has written a characteristically challenging and thought provoking attack on the BBC’s coverage of the cash for honours investigation in his column in the Independent (you can read it here). Before I tell you where I think he’s wrong and where he has a point let me say that I know that his worries are shared by others who, like Steve, I respect.

Richards calls the BBC’s coverage of Tony Blair’s interview with the police last Thursday "one-sided". There was, he says, "little attempt to explain, place the event in context or question what the police were up to". The BBC, he goes on, "breathlessly" described the events "without qualification …as one of his [Blair’s] darkest days" while not questioning whether the police were "behaving with appropriate propriety" or setting out the context of the "build-up to the last election, when the main parties were battling it out for funds".

Predictable or not, inevitable or not – and not so long ago it appeared to be neither - the police’s first ever interview of a serving prime minister was a major news story. The context that had to be set out on that day was the fact that Mr Blair had not been cautioned, was not being treated as a suspect and that he, and indeed everyone else involved, may never face charges.

It was not – in the limited time available that day – vital to discuss whether or not the police have been briefing the media or the history of the fund-raising difficulties faced by all parties at the last election. You may recall that there was no shortage of news that day – the government’s decision to close post offices, build new runways and give prisoners the vote, not to mention the inquest into Diana’s death. One result of Downing Street’s decision to invite the police in on this day – and, yes, it was their choice – was to limit the space for that added context!

Now, having said that, I think Steve’s arguments should make us pause for thought. We do need to find opportunities to set out how all parties have had problems with fund-raising; how all hate the choices forced upon them and how this is a desperate problem faced by every major democracy. Hayden Phillips’ report into the future of party funding will give us the chance to do that in the New Year.

It is also right to reflect on the challenges posed to political journalists by an ongoing police investigation. Every development it throws up, every new interview or piece of evidence which emerges can be presented as if the net is closing in on the guilty when no-one may turn out to have been guilty of anything. Since most of those being investigated have been advised by lawyers to stay silent we sometimes have only the bare facts of those developments to report together with the occasional – though significant – briefings given by Yates of the Yard to Members of Parliament.

It is not right, however, to suggest – as Steve Richards does - that this story is being driven primarily by police "spin". Let us recall where it began. It started when politicians - the Lords Appointments Commission - refused to approve Tony Blair’s nominees for peerages and it took off when another politician - Labour’s treasurer Jack Dromey – blew the whistle on the use of loans to bypass his party’s own legislation on the funding of elections. Clearly, though, stories about who’s going to be interviewed next about what are more likely to have come from someone on the prosecution rather than the defence’s side.

As it happens, the story the BBC broke last week about Sir Christopher Evans keeping a note that Lord Levy had talked to him about a "K or a big P" emerged not from some secret police briefing but because several witnesses (politicians I might add) had those words presented to them by the police. Good old fashioned journalism meant that my colleague Reeta Chakrabati heard about this and we reported it.

Steve Richards ends his column with his most worrying and, I believe, inaccurate charge. The BBC, he writes, "has inadvertently become anti-politics" in our desire, he suggests, to make waves. "Senior politicians," he writes, "are accused with casual complacency of being corrupt. No wonder the fanatics in the BNP and elsewhere rub their hands with glee." This simply won’t do.

A senior police officer in charge of an investigation which is unprecedented in British political history has stated publicly that his inquiry team has "significant and valuable material" and hints that charges may follow. At the same time, it is now virtually impossible to find a senior politician who will defend, in private or in public, the way loans were raised in the run-up to the last election. On all sides politicians agree that the system of party funding must change. A Commons Select Committee warned this week against the "further erosion of public confidence due to the increasing appearance of money buying power and influence". The BBC is not being “anti politics” when it reports those facts.

PS. Today we can reflect that whether you agree with Richards or me, this inquiry is unlikely to produce anything remotely like the revelations about the life former Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey lived. The Moriarty Tribunal has just revealed that his yacht, personal island, race horses, mansion and lavish lifestyle were funded by bribes from businessmen!

PPS (1233 GMT)
I shouldn't have singled out Steve Richards. I overlooked this critical column by another friend, John Rentoul (yes, really, they both are friends who once worked alongside me at the BBC).


  • 1.
  • At 11:10 AM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • ken from Gloucester wrote:

Speaking as a retired senior police officer with a great deal of experience in criminal investigations I can a say that only those with something to hide will hide behind ' no comment' when being questioned by police in the Presence Of A Solicitor!!!

It is impossible to stop the innocent from talking!!

That tells me everything I need to know about this particular enquiry.

  • 2.
  • At 11:14 AM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • David Williams wrote:

There are days when the number of times one or more members of the cabinet appear in radio and televison studios so much that you wonder if they actually have a substantive job. I presume they are there because they invite themselves rather than the media invite them.

There are other days when they simply ignore the tens if not hundreds of journalists and photographers in the street trying to ask questions.

And then there are days such as that now in question when so much news is generated by the Government that there simply is not sufficient time for the media to digest and comment on it all.

It would be wonderful if once, just once, the media could make a concerted decision to avoid a specific cabinet member on a day when he/she seeks to spend it entirely in studios.

A similar tactic should, of course be adopted with all of the parties to avoid accusations of bias. But wouldn't it be nice for the media to show that they are not a salmon with a political party hook in their collective mouth?

  • 3.
  • At 11:18 AM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Malcolm wrote:

As we have seen over the years the political system is easily corrupted by spin, by money, by abuse of power, by international blackmail, by other foreign leaders, by simple deceit; and as a result it has the capacity to turn politicians into basically crooks, which in turn simply reinforces political corruption.

Left unchecked this cycle of corruption will eventually permeate through-out government and will in the end become institutionalised.

  • 4.
  • At 11:31 AM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

This stupidity is mind boggling. A news organization's reciting of facts without any context or understanding for its audience to gain perspective or make any meaningful judgements of their significance is worthless. Was a visit by the police to question the Prime Minister about the propriety of awarding peerages in return for political support among Tony Blair's darkest days? Astounding. Tony Blair's darkest day was July 7, 2005 when terrorists struck the London underground raising the spectre that Britain was under massive military attack from within. His second darkest day was September 11, 2001 when the United States was under attack by terrorists and the future of Britain which relies heavily on America was placed in doubt. Those were dark days. No context, no understanding, no value whatsoever when the possibility of a minor political scandal in a politician's waning days in office overshadows the reality of the dangerous times we live in. Is that what you learned in the BBC school of journalism? Get your tuition money back.


Journalists I hope report the news as best they can. What is interesting to Journalists is often interesting to the public, me being one of them. Reporting in a telegraphic manner provides little insight to bold facts. The purpose of Journalism is to capture the facts and introduce analysis and interpretation. Or is it?

Whether we are political supporters with an agenda, or indeed an editor, we make what we can of news and facts and what lies beneath.

As to the questioning of a Prime Minister, on or off the record, reporters bring in some bias based on experience and judgment as to what the public want to know, and more often what you and other journalists desire us to believe?

I suppose the challenge is fair play, and still to report and hold the interest of the consumer of information.

As many of us have access to multi media, we are fairly sharp in discerning bias and where it lies. I enjoy the diversity and emphasis of reporting by all media. It forms a good basis for others like me to make our own small contribution when we get a chance.

What is the beef in all this? Surely we are not that thick that we cannot discern personal peak or indeed bias based on information received?

We are all in the same boat. As Labour in this case have blown their own whistle on events, and the fall out hurts all parties. It means they must look to themselves (the politicians) and examine their behaviour and what they will take a lead doing in future.

All parties are entrapped in this snare and the public don’t appreciate the implications of honours for mates, or indeed pensions for discreditable people who have not served the public, and more often lined their own nest in ways available to MP’s and their cohorts.

Ask someone on the bread line what they think and feel about MP’s these days and you will find their utterances unprintable and unable to speak them.

Politicians need no defending, its their job to do that. As to bias, it comes from experience of this lousy lot in power. And whether we favour you or another view, there is much to complain about as fat cats get fatter and the poor get poorer. New Labour, new future? New Labour, no future for many in this country who have to make do with higher prices and fixed incomes.

And all we hear is the crack of the whip, as many unable to work for whatever reason are again demonised by Labour. And what of immigrants and all that entails. As far as race relations go, well need I suggest more?

No to squabbles in the press and media, get with reporting with views and whatever turns up. As for editors and proprietors their role is as marked in fact as anyone’s cards.

Give us a break for being able to sift through the obvious bias and carry on in my view. There is nothing better than argument and debate, its called democracy, and lets hope it stays that way.

  • 6.
  • At 12:01 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Simon Leyland wrote:

Nick I totally agree with the sentiments of Steve's article. I wouldn't however limit the anti-politics label to the BBC.

The Westminster media and politicians are in a mutually destructive cycle, driven by cliche, 10 second slots and personality.

Let me give you two examples:

1 - On spin, how many times has 'hug a hoody' been referred to on the media? Yet a) he never said the phrase and b) this came from a several thousand word speech (and I am no Cameron or Tory supporter by any means).

2 - How many times has bin collection, car parking, speeding fines, lack of police on the streets led your news?

I've been purposely asking ordinary people over the last 6 months what their priorities/hot topics are and funnily enough among normal ordinary people they never mention Iraq, Party funding or Global Warming, but do mention the above (along with education and possibly sometime the NHS).

Real issues take time to explore and don't provide good copy, which is why they don't get on air and why the public dislike politicians and journalists so much.

  • 7.
  • At 12:22 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • David wrote:

Whilst I can see both sides of this argument, I do not believe Nick's defence of the BBC is wholly successful. The important issue here, so far as I am concerned, is that what Steve Richards is pointing at in relation to the BBC's behaviour is now showing a consistent pattern. If you read this story in the context of the appalling judgement by Adrian Van-Klaveren over the publication of the interview relating to the Suffolk murders you will see what I mean.

Both stories appear to show that there is an increasing tendency for the editorial approach by the BBC to be aimed at trivialising stories for a ratings or sensationalised benefit.

I am not by nature a participator in matters of this kind, having only once previously commented, but I was so outraged by the BBC's publication of the Stephens interview yesterday that I responded to the disgraceful self justification by Mr Van-Klaveren. I was somewhat surprised that it appeared to have been censored - presumably by AVK - at any rate it was not published.

This is serious issue which the BBC needs to address, particularly after its performance over the Dr David Kelly affair. Will the BBC look at its editorial policy over its increasing tendency towards publication of "cheap thrills"? This is not about freedom of the media, it is about our national news medium not behaving in an appropriate way, and becoming far too easily swayed by the opportunity to titillate and chase ratings.

As a number of others have very succinctly put it, there is a huge difference between what the public is interested in and the public interest. The BBC either does not appear to understand that or it does not care.

  • 8.
  • At 12:24 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Matthew wrote:

He may have a point about being anti-politics, you know.

Politics makes good news when Blair and Cameron are slagging each other off in the House, or when some MP or other gets found with their fingers in the pie. Alternatively, it makes good news when some group or other express their dissatisfaction with politics in general. If the BBC is forever reporting politics as either a twopenny punchup in the Commons, another sleaze story, or in crisis because no-one cares about it, then is it surprising that Joe Public thinks that politics isn't worth caring about?

That said, the print press also likes to do the same, and indeed to reduce political debate to the exchange of sound-bites, so it isn't all Auntie's fault.

  • 9.
  • At 12:27 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • John Galpin wrote:

Well I suppose when Blair was finally interviewed by the police it was news, but really only to confirm what had been expected for months. There had certainly been plenty of opportunity in the run up to the actual event and again in the days thereafter to fill in the context from whatever perspective various commentators held and I seem to remember you having done some of that yourself Nick.
It seems a bit OTT to call reporting and providing context "antipolitics" , especially since the Beeb is hardly the only source.

I am though much more concerned about the anti democratic nature of our whole system of governance that this scenario is but one tawdry facet. Far too many events say to me that we are faced more by government versus the people rather than governance on behalf of the people. I've commented before that no politician in the western world would accept a third world government as a legitmately elected democracy if it took power with only 36% electoral support. And yet what is not good enough for a Banana Republic is supposed to be seen as fair representation of the people here? This kind of institutionally rigged system is the root cause of the inevitable disconnect between the people and their administration. When I then here discredited old party hacks like Prescott calling for public funds to defend the staus quo of the current party system then I really start to fear "Big Brother" ensconcing himself at my cost whether I like it or not.
I accept the transition may be difficult but we shouldn't be put off by claims from those with an interest in maintaining the current situation that all forms of PR must lead to weak government , eg Germany hasn't done too badly since 1945 and look at what they were like before then! Not only that but its inconceivable that Blair ( or whoever follows him as PM from any party) could have got away with Iraq or many other "spun" events if he had to engage and keep the trust of others to take a programme forward. There would inevitably be more openess and transparency. What is undoubtedly true is that the current parties would have to substantially realign , and that is of course a problem for the time served party dogmatists who have always put their wishes above those of the electorate. I'm surely not the only one who thinks that the right wing of labour is closer to the left wing of the Tories than either party is to their own radical wing. Within a decade politics in this country could look hugely different and much closer to the people, but there is no chance unless we change the system of selecting a truly representative government at its most fundamental level.

  • 10.
  • At 12:57 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Athena Murphy wrote:

Well a far more common and credible criticism of the BBC is that it is one-sided in favour of the government - where's your blog to discuss this Nick?

  • 11.
  • At 01:01 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • rob wrote:

If the BBC is not 'anti-politics', why to tedious stories containing strong criticisms of the existing structure, like the "cash for hunours scandal", take precedence over real political stories like the Tories' latest opinion poll lead, which has been totally ignored by the BBC today?

  • 12.
  • At 01:05 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

The problem is not being "anti-politics" but occasionally, the BBC appears to under-report political events. The front page of this site, for example, often contains stories that many would regard as trivial. The BBC is not a tabloid and therefore does not need to be "popular", the organisation is charged with reporting in an unbiased way, and not with reporting the stories that people necessarily "want" to hear.

  • 13.
  • At 01:09 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Ant Hopkins wrote:

There is some interest in the argument about "Weakness" in PR governments. Surely it could be said all our current system does is pretend these arguments don't exist and spills them out into other, less well regulated and infinately less useful fora. It forces anyone with a moderate, yet different, view into the same boat as radicals and allows governments to brush off opposition with accusations of extremism.

  • 14.
  • At 01:11 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • John Galpin wrote:

Well I suppose when Blair was finally interviewed by the police it was news, but really only to confirm what had been expected for months. There had certainly been plenty of opportunity in the run up to the actual event and again in the days thereafter to fill in the context from whatever perspective various commentators held and I seem to remember you having done some of that yourself Nick.
It seems a bit OTT to call reporting and providing context "antipolitics" , especially since the Beeb is hardly the only source.

I am though much more concerned about the anti democratic nature of our whole system of governance that this scenario is but one tawdry facet. Far too many events say to me that we are faced more by government versus the people rather than governance on behalf of the people. I've commented before that no politician in the western world would accept a third world government as a legitmately elected democracy if it took power with only 36% electoral support. And yet what is not good enough for a Banana Republic is supposed to be seen as fair representation of the people here? This kind of institutionally rigged system is the root cause of the inevitable disconnect between the people and their administration. When I then here discredited old party hacks like Prescott calling for public funds to defend the staus quo of the current party system then I really start to fear "Big Brother" ensconcing himself at my cost whether I like it or not.
I accept the transition may be difficult but we shouldn't be put off by claims from those with an interest in maintaining the current situation that all forms of PR must lead to weak government , eg Germany hasn't done too badly since 1945 and look at what they were like before then! Not only that but its inconceivable that Blair ( or whoever follows him as PM from any party) could have got away with Iraq or many other "spun" events if he had to engage and keep the trust of others to take a programme forward. There would inevitably be more openess and transparency. What is undoubtedly true is that the current parties would have to substantially realign , and that is of course a problem for the time served party dogmatists who have always put their wishes above those of the electorate. I'm surely not the only one who thinks that the right wing of labour is closer to the left wing of the Tories than either party is to their own radical wing. Within a decade politics in this country could look hugely different and much closer to the people, but there is no chance unless we change the system of selecting a truly representative government at its most fundamental level.

  • 15.
  • At 01:13 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Jon Pollard wrote:

Well said Steve. Nick (in common with worryingly significant sections of the BBC and media in general) is very good at making an interesting story but not so strong at providing a balanced picture of the reality of a situation based on fact.

I must have seen at least 5-10 of his broadcasts relating to the so called 'cash for peerages' story and they are almnost always characterised by innuendo and hype. The Police have released barely any information relating to this investigation and as a result there are few facts in the public domain. A classic example was when the police did say something: that they had gathered significant and valuable material. How does this hint that charges may follow? How did you Mr Robinson draw any conslusion from that?! The significant and valuable materials could well indicate that everyone has been totally above board and that the media hype around this has been just that.

Nick's pieces frequently convey that he thinks it is very likely that the Prime Minister and his people are guilty and thus that the reader should think this as well.

The BBC describe him as a commentator, but I'd say a more appropriate title would be "Imagineer" or "Storyteller".

  • 16.
  • At 01:15 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Greg wrote:

I think you are wrong about the impression the BBC's reporting gives to the public Nick.

My test for this will be what the reaction is when (as now appears clear) Blair is not charged by the CPS with any offence.

Will the public reaction be to assume that Blair has been cleared of all charges? Or will the coverage of the BBC and others over recent days mean that the public reaction is to assume another whitewash or that Blair has somehow escaped or been let off the hook. When its the latter I hope you will concede that the coverage up to that point has been misleading and build a false impression.

Or will the BBC be reporting to Blair has somehow escaped charges?

I don't believe that the BBC is anti-politics. Anti-politicians, maybe, but not anti-politics.

  • 18.
  • At 01:16 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • John wrote:

I have real concern about the political reporting on BBC news. The current pattern seems to be: anchor announces new event/initiative by Blair (30 seconds), video of Blair speaking (20 seconds), you come on and cynically mock initiative (2-3 minutes), I go to make cup of tea. OK, I know the BBC fell out with Blair over the Gillighan thing, but I think viewers deserve better. Given a choice, I'd like to see the balance shifted towards hearing more about the actual event/policy. If the opinion/analysis part can't be more balanced, then cut back on the time given to opinion.

  • 19.
  • At 01:17 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Brian wrote:

Nick writes:

It was not – in the limited time available that day – vital to discuss whether or not the police have been briefing the media or the history of the fund-raising difficulties faced by all parties at the last election.

How about pointing out that despite the headlines about "cash for peerages", as if individuals were pocketing brown envelops for their personal use, the story has nothing to do with individuals receiving cash for personal gain.

Secondly, why is it not pointed out that every government since the war has appointed successful supporters of their party to represent them in the House of Lords, so if the police are going to be fair they should now go back and investigate every single one of those governments. That's the context I was looking for. It's never mentioned that political parties are hardly NOT going to select successful people who support them; if they are successful supportes then more than likely they will have helped out with funding, otherwise they can't be much of a supporter, no? Tell the people about it.

  • 20.
  • At 01:18 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Mike wrote:

Nick's analyses are always to the point. The inherent weakness in TV news reporting is that in the space of 30 minutes it can only really deal with headlines - something junior correspondents should be sensitive to when trotting out their cliched closing lines. The BBC's news website is the place where more detailed analysis should take place as opposed to just, for the most part, carrying the same content as TV news. Occasionally more in depth articles are offered. I would like to see far more of this. I think the BBC is missing an opportunity to inform us better.

  • 21.
  • At 01:19 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Pat Oddy wrote:

I read Steve Richards piece - he's written earlier in a similar vein about comedians and satirists creating a climate in which politicians are despised and distrusted. My guess is that the mass of people in the country have never had much time for politics or politicians, and in fact it's the people who care passionately about politics who are most disillusioned nowadays - including comedians like Rory Bremner and Mark Steel. Maybe it's just age, but I can remember Cabinet members resigning on principle fairly regularly. I find it incredible that not only have none of the principle players yet resigned over Iraq, but they are still incapable of any honesty at all in response to the situation there. Carne Ross on Channel 4 News last night quite movingly accepted personal responsibility for not doing more to stop the move to war. Margaret Beckett on the other hand huffs and puffs and denies that 'we' ever did anything other than claim Saddam was a 'threat to the region'. (Oh look - just was Blair is saying today about Iran ...)

  • 22.
  • At 01:25 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Alan wrote:

I actually thought the BBC coverage was rather restrained in the circumstances.

I also think some questions should be asked about whether it's appropriate for the PM's spokesman to issue a briefing about what he said to _the police_. This interview wasn't part of a parliamentary enquiry - some political event to be spun in the PM's favour. It was part of a CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION.

To say the BBC is anti-politics is to forget the very gentle handling the first Blair administration received at the media's hands. Only since the Iraq war has the level of criticism increased, and that I believe is in line with public opinion.

If it seems at times that it is the media who are leading the opposition to the government rather than the opposition parties, perhaps we need to be asking some questions of Messrs Cameron and Campbell rather than of the likes of the BBC.

  • 23.
  • At 01:27 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Brian Clark wrote:

I'm sure Steve Richards was more refering to Kirsty Wark's coverage on Newsnight rather than your good self. Newsnight does have the chance to expand but they couldn't seem to get past the fact that Blair had been interviewed to explain anything.

  • 24.
  • At 01:29 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Paul Najman wrote:

Hi Nick,

I think there definitely is something in what Steve Richards says. You only need to recall Paxo's comment about the 'liar's lying' for some evidence.

John Humphreys' complete and utter disrespect for every politician he interviews is another example. His stance is similar to Paxo ... I'll assume (s)he's lying and start from there.

John Pienaar is another BBC journo who I have heard actually revelling in the downfall of MPs ... including Estelle Morris, who was widely considered to be an honest, thoughtful and decent person.

I don't think the BBC is any different in this respect to most of the media now ... but that is exactly what I'm afraid of.

I don't want to go back to the old days of 'Has the PM got something to us?' type of questioning, but surely there's some middle ground.

  • 25.
  • At 01:32 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

The BBC anti-politics? It seems to me that BBC is too political. Night after night we get fed the message: Blair bad, Bush bad. Iraq war bad, war on terrorism bad, Israel bad etc,; followed by Saddam's Iraq much better, "peace" activists good, (whose motives and politics are never questioned,unlike supporters of the war), terrorists never to be actually called terrorists etc.
We are fed the BBC's political agenda with a shovel every night. The sad fact is that most people accept without question what they are told about Iraq, Afghanistan etc (shades of the dodgy journalism which began in Vietnam).
The BBC can never be accused of being anti-politics......

  • 26.
  • At 01:33 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Brian Outhwaite wrote:

There is a legitimate story of course in the cash for honours problem. It is right to give it fair and objective reporting. What is fair and objective reporting can depend if you have an axe to grind. Some would say that the BBC have an axe to grind with the government for obvious reasons - so their political coverage of any issue of controversy involving the government may be affected by that. There is a big difference between a report pointing out that the PM was interviewed because he is a vital witness despite his position as PM and a report that seeks to emphasise or create an impression of wrong doing or guilty knowledge by overstating the point that this is the first time a PM has been interviewed in this way. So what! He was interviewed because of the peculiararities of this enquiry, he is a witness like any other. A good report would not have sought to draw attention to the irrelevant with a suggestion by so doing that mischief was afoot.

  • 27.
  • At 01:34 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Graham James wrote:

My problem is not so much with the BBC per se, it's more with Nick Robinson.
He has an unfortunate habit of turning every political news story into a major event and his spin is always always always negative.
I do not know his history (although I know he was once on Radio Five which might explain a lot - tabloid journalism at it absolute worst) but I gain the impression that he was weaned on the red tops and everything has to be sensationalised. Compared to the balanced, level headed reporting of Andrew Marr and the others who have gone beofre Nick Robionson is a bit too shocking to take.

  • 28.
  • At 01:34 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Brian wrote:

I fear that Nick Robinson response to Steve Richards column betrays Nick's prejudices towards politicians in general and the labour Party in particular. Surely the most salient point in the whole cash for honours Police Enquiry is the fact that the investigation was initiated as a result of a complaint by the SNP. Perhaps this is inconvenient to Nick, but I would suggest that at the very least, the SNP have an interest in discrediting their principal political rivals in Scotland, ie. Tony Blair's Labour Party.

When the Poilice Inquiry is viewed in this context, perhaps the BBC's and Nick's 'breathless' reportage of the net closing around Tony Blair does seem to be informed from an anti Labour, if not, anti-political bias.

Noting the ever-thinning line between "promoting cynicism" and being a "propaganda poodle", I suppose you can have some sympathy. Don't waste it, though - it's a dangerously finite resource! :-)

  • 30.
  • At 01:57 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Pauline Rodmell wrote:

There was a time when I had some confidence in the integrity and objectivity of BBC reporting on major subjects like political problems,religion and public policy. However I have become very disenchanted with the news reporting especially in the last 5 years. Perhaps the compilers of the news reports and the news presenters are too rushed in their decisions due to the fast technology that they now have. Many stories lack indepth research and consequences are not thought through about the immediate effect on the general uninformed public audience.
We have now reached popular magazine level with our news reporting which should be on a different show.
I feel so alienated now that I am unhappy about paying for my television licence for the first time in 40 years.

  • 31.
  • At 01:59 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • P Thomas wrote:

Ignore them Nick. You got it spot on.
A cynical attempt to bury bad news by a cynical group of self-serving propagandists was thwarted by intelligent reporting in the interests of the Nation.

Well done.

  • 32.
  • At 02:00 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • alan milne wrote:

We have a rather irrelevant discussion. The media in total - not just the BBC, have been totally ineffective in bringing to book a Government which has managed to wriggle out of any wrong-doing for a number of years.
To name a few, WMD, Hutton and of course BAE in the last few days. I would also criticise the opposition parties who have been unable to lay a 'glove' on a sleasy government.
When you have the ultimate Law upholder in the land - the Lord Chancellor - who it can be argued is the PM's stooge - as the final arbiter - can anyone doubt that Scotland Yard will be rolled over just as the SFO et al have been.
Come on media - show us you are not just toothless wonders - stop bickering amongst yourselves about the niceties of coverage and make sure justice is done!!

I read Steve's piece and almost wrote a letter to the Indy to congratulate him on it. I think his main accusation - that the BBC is helping to poison politics in the UK - is well founded. You and your fellow journalists have certainly fuelled the "all politicians are scheming rouges" cynicism that infests so much of so called debate nowadays. His point that this aids extremist parties as people are made disillusioned with mainstream ones was also well made.

The shame is that many people I've spoken to think that their local MPS are fine fellows but believe that the other 650 must be real crooks.

One explanation may be that the BBC is desperate to show that it isn't the government's poodle so it tends to go too far in the other direction. An explanation but not a valid excuse...

  • 34.
  • At 02:08 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Charles E. Hardwidge wrote:

This is a very difficult issue but I remain convinced a cooler approach will generate a better quality outcome in the long-term. The reasoning, here, is simple. A broken system, populated by broken people, in low-trust relationships, can be improved by developing a better tone today.

Tomorrow is always a day away, and calls for change, commissions, and policy development are, merely, expensive procrastination. Counter to conventional mainstream political intuition, this is an expensive, time wasting, and frequently ineffective investment. Better can be done cheaper and quicker.

Perhaps it’s the Daoism, Buddhism, and martial arts getting to me, but investing in the “low road”, keeping a calm head, and discipline seem worth developing. Better this than an ego driven arms race between the politicians, authorities, and media, which only leaves the public more disenfranchised.

Reflecting on politicians, authorities, and media people starting off with ideals, and slowly being conditioned, or corrupted, by the wider system, this is something that can befall anyone. An accumulation of damage leads to more damage, and so on. Better side-step it and invest in steadily developing quality.

My personal belief is the mainstream agenda is developing along those lines, so get the feeling my comments aren’t necessarily accusatory. Indeed, they may be entirely redundant. Going further, mirroring Le Pen’s Front National in France, it’s possible the BNP et al may sniff this wind and get on the same page.

Irony is one of those facts of life and I can’t help think, while wrapping this comment, that the whole exercise is just another one of those learning exercises and I shouldn’t be so smug and judgemental. Yes, there’s a lot of finger pointing and foot stamping going on but deep down, I’m sure, more people are on the Cluetrain than not.

  • 35.
  • At 02:12 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • richard wrote:

One suspects that the BBC has to be careful, given Hutton/Gilligan and the current licence negotiations.

But we are all waiting for ths sting in the tale. Clearly J Humphries rankled Margaret Beckett enough on Radio 4, and Carl Ross this morning was pretty lucid. Could this be the start of revenge.

I like the idea that the BBC keeps its powder dry on the cash for honours until they have all the facts, and then socks it to the government, one suspects that Blair will go in the nick of time, a little like Campbell after Hutton.

What is clear is that all inquiries are a whitewash and 30 years on Sir Humphrey was right you never hold an inquiry unless you know the outcome. The inquirer must also be on the governments side.

Nicholas Stern has learnt this the hard way.

As Terry Thomas once said "It is complete shower!"

  • 36.
  • At 02:13 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • John Brewer wrote:

What I found most irritating about this whole chapter is Number 10's constant briefings on the subject - saying Blair was going to be interviewed and expecting it to be less of story when he finally was. The Alastair Campbell school of media management has been very damaging for relations between government and the media. I hope the passing of Blair will give Brown and Cameron a reason to dump this patronising approach. I would like to see all conversations between government officials and journalists a matter of public record. Politicians should not use their spokesmen as a way of putting out messages they are too scared to say with their own mouths. Equally journalists should stop accusing ministers of endless ‘u-turns’ or of saying ‘Minister X admits y and z’, as if they were declaring their guilt in courtroom. When John Reid stated that he had dumped the pointless and expensive new ID cards database the news was welcome and clear. I did not need a discussion about whether this was or was not a u-turn.

  • 37.
  • At 02:30 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Hendrik Krouwel wrote:

The most worrying thing about this exchange is the failure of an established BBC reporter to acknowledge even the mildest criticism of his 'house style'.

Taking BBC reportage in the round there really does appear to have been a worrying lack of objectivity across several themes over recent years.

It parallels a rise in the tendency of ambitious newscasters, including this one, adopting a sort of populist celebrity style.

I would have thought that in what is, after all, a BBC News context the aim of providing entertainment should be subordinate to that of education and information. This means a duty, however awkward, of providing sensible balanced reportage.

Why not just take the hint and get back to being a decent reporter?

We can't all be Ian Hislop.

  • 38.
  • At 02:36 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Paul Halfpenny wrote:

Nick, whilst it was not 'vital to discuss whether or not the police have been briefing the media or the history of the fund-raising difficulties faced by all parties at the last election', it would, for the sake of impartiality, have been sensible to outline the actual consequences of the police interview.

If the interview was not held under caution, and the view that this means that charges will not be brought against the PM, this is surely a far greater story that the twist that the BBC led with.

Journalists often talk about 'spin' and the way that politicians look at a story from a particular angle to present it in the light that they want it to be seen.

With this story in particular the BBC is just as guilty as those they protest against. The BBC has managed to present the PM in a light that indicates he is under suspicion and that there is some 'wrongdoing' that cannot be discussed yet.

However the opposite would seem to be true. Rather than being a dark day for the PM, surely it is indicative of him not being involved and coming out of the investigation cleanly?

Perhaps if the BBC had decided to offer up an alternative point of view that outlined the above, the news broadcasts could have been seen as impartial? Instead the BBC has decided on its own viewpoint and brought in figures to back up their point.

  • 39.
  • At 02:41 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Nick Kirby wrote:

What I find most depressing about this issue is not the events, but that we are now so inured to it.

No longer does sleaze, corruption,"jobs for the boys" and such like bother the public.

We, the public elect groups who continue to lie, cheat and steal from us continually through tax rises that are crippling real people as we watch politicians drawing £150,000 expenses on top of enormous salaries.

Perpetually, politicians lay waste to the people they serve. The labour party hands out peerages like sweets when tens of thousands of recent graduates are crippled with tens of thousands of pounds in debt and struggling to find these magic jobs.

Yet the constant river of sewage flows in the form of lies, blame and counter blame coming from all sides of a juvenile, personal-power hungry excuse for government. We'll vote on policies that'll change as soon as the presenting party gets into power, crying foul - hell, the Labour party are still trying it even now, ten years on.

But we don't bat an eyelid. We watch our right to protest eroded and we don't fight. We see profiteering in the Civil Service, and ignore it, or, more likely, watch as the "committee" assigned to investigate is the best mate of man responsible for the perpetration.

Depressingly we no longer care. It's not like we can hang Tony Blair and co. Prison? That'd interrupt his lecture circut debut! Imagine all the councillors, ministers, businessmen missing out on the kickback from promoting him? Neither could I.

No. The crime - as with all things political - will eventually be forgotten until it is committed again. And again. And again...

But then, in an age of endless crass "flop-idol", where the stupid make money for the clever, does anyone really understand the consequences, let alone care about the problem?

  • 40.
  • At 02:42 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Richard wrote:

Did Steve Richards also write a column wringing his hands about recent press coverage of the arrests of suspects in the Suffolk murder case, including the infamous broadcast by the BBC of an interview?

I am getting increasingly sick of pompous, self-righteous hypocrits who have cheered this government on while it does away with the presumption of innocence (civil standards of proof and evidence and use of hearsay in ASBO cases), introduces detention without trial and seems to wish to do away with the whole concept of that pesky little thing called "rule of law" (John Reid's recent comments about introducing legislation to prevent criminals having their convictions quoshed on appeal if they're "obviously" guilty), who then, without any apparent sense of irony, write columns complaining about how their political friends are treated when they're caught with their hands in the till (see also the columns these people published at the time Blunkett's cavalier attitude towards disclosing payments he received was becoming public).

You describe the column as "thought provoking". Sick making is more like it.

  • 41.
  • At 02:48 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • KP wrote:

I’ve just read Steve Richards article and it is spot on.
Blair being interviewed by police was only a ‘dark day’ because the BBC had built it up and reported it as such. I don’t recall any of the BBC’s coverage starting out by saying 'as a witness not a suspect’, leaving the readers and listeners to
interpret what ‘not under caution’ implied, by which time the casual
reader would have already received the intended headline ‘spin’ that
Blair had done something wrong. Usually witnesses helping the police are doing a public duty and are rightly praised for it, how come then, Mr. Robinson, the PMs interview wasn’t reported as ‘the PM doing his duty’ instead of one of
his ‘darkest days’. Clearly no political motive involved on the BBC’s part; don’t make me laugh

  • 42.
  • At 02:49 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Maggie Thatcher Fan wrote:

Being a Tory, I have never thought the BCC antic democratic, just anti- Tory.
Time and again where I have seen bad news for New Labour highlighted in the media, a quick look at the BBC news website, and there is either nothing, or is hidden below a story about Bus services in Timbucktu.
Until the BBC give both parties a fair crack of the whip, I wont be using the BBC as my initial news source.
Guido is currently reporting that more letters have been sent to politicians re the Cash for Honours enquiry,where is it on the BBC wesite... low down on the politics page, It should IMHO be a headline!
Do readers really believe Blair's call for an alliance over Iran the major political story. I think not.

Forgive me, Nick, I am with you on this one. Stve and John can go hang.

It is right to report the questioning by the police of the PM, as it is the first time it happened, and it is also right to say there was lots and lots of other news to report.

As for the corruption of politicians, well the current government does not look "purer than pure" does it? There is so much more than this one incedent one could go on about.

Still, the cash for peerages saga looks set to be in the news over Christmass as there is not much else going on, and people like me will keep blogging about it!

  • 44.
  • At 02:54 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Andrzej wrote:

Further to John Galpin (1.) It may also be noted that the current Government was put into power (once turnout is taken into account) by 23% of the electorate. Some mandate?

If the second chamber was entirely elected by popular vote it would avoid the current rumpus over the alleged sales of seats in the lords. Public funding of political parties should be fiercely resisted to avoid artificially maintaining the status quo.

  • 45.
  • At 02:58 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Meazza wrote:

I have to say that I think the BBC is a bit light on politics at the moment.

There is the Daily Politics which is a good program, but on at a time when anyone who works will miss it. Newsnight and Question Time are reasonable, but they're more about politicians spouting predictable flannel than an in depth discussion of the issues.

My pick of the week's political programming is This Week which has far more engrossing discussions and varied angles of approach. Regrettably the debates are perennially cut short by a mere 45 minutes being given to discuss a weeks worth of politics and this is further impinged upon by the frequent overrun of Question Time at one end and adverts for future programs at the other. Also an 11:35pm time slot is hardly primetime and I feel that the BBC has pushed politics to the margins of the schedule.

For the record; I'm never out my bed in time to watch Sunday AM.

Maybe we should have politicians performing each week in parliament, competing to get the public vote. The winners could get a lucrative 4 year contract to run the country and the losers shown the door. It could be called EleXion Factor and perhaps that would be worthy of more coverage.

  • 46.
  • At 02:59 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Paul Knight wrote:

I personally find Nick Robinson's style of covering politics a little tedious. It just seems to be one piece of Westminster tittle tattle after another with him. I think that as Political Editor of the BBC he should cover news items a little more responsibly. He might think that his approach helps to 'de-spin' stories but I feel that he is just making matters worse and encouraging this general feeling of anti-politics. How could an ex-leader of the Young Conservatives even get this job in the first place? Bring back Andrew Marr!

  • 47.
  • At 03:00 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • John Smith wrote:

Who cares what a couple of anonymous newspaper writers think?

Frankly it's the BBC's decision to broadcast the interview (against journalistic law) with a man being questioned by police, which he was given guarantees that it would remain anonymous and not be broadcast that is the most shocking piece of broadcasting that has come from the BBC this week.

This will have huge fall-out should he be released without charge for the BBC ever trying to get an anonymous interiew.

  • 48.
  • At 04:29 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Brian Tomkinson, Bolton,UK wrote:

Steve Richards is a Blair/New Labour sycophant. What he really means is that on this very rare occasion the BBC did not conform fully to the Labour spin machine as he does routinely. There are massive problems facing this country following almost ten years of this rotten Government and these issues need to be properly addressed. People are contemptuous of politicians because of the deceit and dishonesty witnessed on a daily basis and because they are seen to continue in office regardless of their misdemeanours or incompetence. There is a continuous erosion of personal liberty. If other parties are becoming more popular as Richards fears, has he ever questioned whether this is a result of the move to the so-called middle ground in politics to which he is so wedded? There are severe dangers facing this country’s democracy and they have been created by politicians.

  • 49.
  • At 04:31 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • John wrote:

There is much in Steve Richard's argument.
There appears to be an increasing tendency in the media - including but not exclusively the BBC - to try to create rather than report the news. Fine in a "discussion" programme but not when it is under the guise of a "news" programme.
I do feel that the advent of 24 Hour News programmes contributes in some part to this. There isn't 24 "News" and so the time has to be filled, which leads to speculation presented as fact and a general cranking-up of the level of language used resulting in an increase in sensationalism at the expense of accuracy whether intended or not.
This can be seen in other areas besides the political scene. A current example being the Suffolk murder enquiries.

  • 50.
  • At 04:41 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Rex wrote:

Nick, This is a free country where free speech is allowed. The BBC is free to report any story from any angle and if some don't like it then tough. The critics can go and watch it on Al Jazera or Sky and maybe one of those will say what they want to hear.
I don't always agree with things I hear but I always want to be free to make up my own mind.
My only proviso is that they should stick to the truth and I cannot see any reference to any untruths being told by the BBC regarding the questioning of Blair.
Perhaps the critical comments and scrutiny would be better levied at the government and perhaps the government should have a charter to tell the truth similar to the charter imposed on the BBC.

  • 51.
  • At 05:06 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Nick Thornsby wrote:

I have to admit that I dont have the greatest of respect for news organisations. I dont really think that it is individual journalists who cause some of the biased news reporting that we get but it is the actual way in which we hear the news and the news organisations choosing the most sensational stories. I think the problems boils down to having very little time to report the news and the increased type of daily mail reporting that picks out the most controversial news that puts people in the owrst light possible, normally politicians. For example in ITV news last night they went on about how John Prescott wpent £600 on a door plate or something for quite a while, and of course the sensational news of the murders in Ipswich. This is actually why I choose to watch newsnight because they normally give a rounded and in depth view of the news. I dont agree necessarily with what this guy was saying about the BBC's coverage last week but I think they actually over- egged the situation somewhat but it is so obvious to all that it wasnt just a coincidence that the news was dominated by that diana story that day. Once again another example of the media jumping on a sensational story which didnt actually tell us very much.

I think media coverage of news, and especially politics doesnt help with the dissalusionment with poltics that is causing such problems in our society.

  • 52.
  • At 05:36 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Yo Robinson! I think you are far wiser to be irrelevant on your side of the pond than impudent on mine. On your side you have here a peanut gallery packed with sycophants who will not desert you on your darkest days.

  • 53.
  • At 05:53 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Dean 24 from oxford wrote:

The problem with modern day political coverage in the media is often the media personalty considers himself more important than the issues at stake. Instead of allowing intelligent conversation about the problems and issues which have to be dealt with, presenters such as Paxman, John Humphrys and Andrew Neil seem far more interested in making themselves look big and clever. It's a trend which is detrimental to intelligent political debate and has completely undermined the publics faith in the politicians which they elected. It's a bizzare situation. Another knock on affect of this agressive, dismissive approach to jounalism is that it automatically puts the polititians on the defensive, instead of discussing the issues of the day in depth you end up with one argument about one tiny part of the issue or problem. It's a technique which underminds the integrity of an elected official (rightly or wrongly) while at the same time gives the public no information or detail of the actual issues at hand.

I'm a 24 year old politics post graduate who loves the subject and who is tuned in to politics, but i'm in the minority amongst my frineds and age group. I'm not surprised by this considering the nit picking style coverage of politics and issues that all networks provide us with.

  • 54.
  • At 06:36 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

John Smith's reference to Steve Richards as an 'anonymous' newspaper writer tells one everything one needs to know about his level of intellectual development.

He is an excellent newspaper journalist.

However, there is an element of 'shoot the messenger' here. Television news cannot, and should never be, a substitute for more detailed analysis of political events. Whether through radio, newspaper, the web or analysis shows like 'Newsnight'.

TV is a better medium in some ways, such as showing pictures of the devastation in New Orleans.

The immediacy of the internet and radio is useful for developing news stories, such as releasing requests for assistance by police in Suffolk.

Newspapers are always needed for the more in-depth analysis required to fully understand a story. Sadly many people rely on the telly to get their news fix, and then Nick Robinson gets the blame. He is only on for a few minutes - he can't be expected to do in that time what, say Jim Naughtie or John Humphrys do on Today.

What I would say to John Rentoul is that constructive feedback is always useful, but don't go talking yourself out of a job ! You guys print words on dead wood, that does NOT mean you are 'Dead Wood'.

  • 55.
  • At 06:59 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • billy wrote:


At 01:29 PM on 20 Dec 2006,

Paul Najman wrote:

John Pienaar is another BBC journo who I have heard actually revelling in the downfall of MPs ... including Estelle Morris, who was widely considered to be an honest, thoughtful and decent person.

You forgot to mention thae one quality that brought about her downfall - she was useless. Over promoted and not up to the job.

  • 56.
  • At 08:17 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • michael krug wrote:

Dear Nick, You're right a lot of the time and wrong a lot of the time - just like the rest of us mere mortals in a complecated and confusing world. Humility is a virtue worth cultivating; simply because it attempts to stop us making complete asses of ourselves with potentially disasterous consequences for ourselves and for those around us. Two ideas for you to mull over this Christmas. First, I think we are entering the Post Democratic era. Second, the Age of Enlightenment is, unfortunately, also a thing of the past. Have a nice Christmas.

  • 57.
  • At 08:23 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • bernard powell wrote:

The acid test of this will be IF the police/cps decide there is no case to answer.Will the public believe them? Of course not!The media coverage-as typified by BBC reporting-will ensure that.As for the nonsense about 'the first serving PM 'etc.,if Nick Robinson has time on his hands over Christmas perhaps he can work how many previous PMs would have been questioned underthe present rules brought in by Blair.
It's not true we are governed by the media;governance involves making decisions.The British media can only knock them.

Thing with the extra context is even when there's space such as on the it's not used.

Nick Assinder yesterday wrote a really good piece about David Cameron's calls for a General Election when Blair steps down on the grounds that the successor would lack a mandate.

BUT as I said in an email to Nick A I don't understand why he and indeed anyone at the BBC ever seems to mention that:

1. the next Labour leader would be the first 'midterm' Prime Minister to elected by a one-member-one vote of the whole party membership so would be the most democratically elected 'midterm' PM in our history

2. it's not that long that new PMs/Leaders were just agreed upon by a few wise heads

3. the last PM was elected by a couple of hundred MPs and in fact he didn't win the 'round' under the Tory party rules - his opponents withdrew from the contest to bring the matter to a close.

4. David Cameron worked for Major before the 92 election (i.e. before he had a mandate of his own) and therefore is saying one thing when he practised another.

Surely that's the very type of context the news bulletins can't provide and web reports should?

  • 59.
  • At 08:32 PM on 20 Dec 2006,
  • Alice wrote:

The main BBC news bulletins are 30 mins each. The problems with going really in-depth into stories are logistical ones- there isn't the time! Things have to be condensed somehow, otherwise the news would be three hours long- a little too much methinks.
This is an organisation that has 24-hour rolling news with analysis, comment etc., 4 big news bulletins a day, Newsnight, shows such as This Week and the Daily Politics that offer a slighly different reportage of the news, as well as a dedicated parliament chanel, and shows such as HIGNFY that include a fair amount of politics, not to mention the BBC website and this very blog.
So the BBC anti-politics? I think not.

  • 60.
  • At 01:00 AM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Seamus wrote:

Nick, I don't expect you to be across every political scene in the world, but still.. "revealed" that Hughey's life was funded by bribes from businessmen!

The word you're looking for is "confirmed", or posisbly "stated the obvious in reporting after 9 years that".

Also, it's Taoiseach, not "Irish Prime Minister".

  • 61.
  • At 09:54 AM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Elizabeth wrote:


As a matter of fact the police called upon Mr. Blair at a time and place of his choosing. His spin doctors misled the press about whether or not such a meeting was due to take place that day.

What the police asked Mr. Blair is not a matter of common knowledge nor should it be. The investigation continues. The precise nature of the investigation and the tatics involved are none of our business. That is a matter entirely for the police at this stage.

If prosecutions arise then the actions of the police will be open to review by the lawyers acting for any Defendant's.

It looks to me that instead of taking the obvious way forward the police have decided to take a statement from Tony Blair that prevents him coming along as a surprise defence witness.

I think that the real story here is the issue of a potential investigation into parties deliberately compromising the police enquiry. Perverting the course of justice even in this day and age is very serious.

Finally, as a practising lawyer might I ask about the lack of action by one of the most pathetic Att Gen's we have ever had. Please stop the press destroying the police investigation in Suffolk. What the hell is going on!

  • 62.
  • At 10:30 AM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • grumpy wrote:

Anti politic reporting maybe just another sign of the dumming down which has been happening.When you see that Panorama has been slowly strangled and moved around you wonder if the BBC actually wants to fully investigate what is happening in the UK.
There are plenty of problems out their to dig into,much sleaze,bad government,too much spin etc..I think there is also a feeling that the media as a whole(not just the BBC)was happy to attack the old tory administration and it sleaze,then fell in love with the New Labour whiter that white government only to find that it is even more sleazey.

  • 63.
  • At 10:37 AM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • chud wrote:

Steve Richards wrote a good report. He is right . That doesnt make you wrong. I would score the debate at about equal.(except that the wording is all cocked up; "anti politics" surely not!) I therefor declare a draw .

On the specific political furore surrounding the money for peerages(probably almost impossible to prove) I doubt whether most people really care one way or the other..If a person walks into your party office with a million pounds in a large box and at some point down the line is given a peerage...for services to the party...whats wrong with that?

  • 64.
  • At 10:41 AM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Mark Dunning wrote:

Steve Richards is choosing to deflect an appalling news story about Tony "Im a straight kinda guy" Blair by attempting to shoot the messenger. I wonder if Mr Richards fulminated quite so strongly in the 1994-97 period when the media (the BBC included) had Mr Major and his supposedly "sleazy" Tories in their sights. By any measure the criticism around this story should be directed not to the BBC but to a government and a Prime Minister that have ruthlessly manipulated the news media - including appointing their own Civil Service media advisers and spokesmen in the months after the 1997 election. Obviously, there was going to be a hue and cry raised over the consequences of the Prime Minister's behaviour with relation to the raising of party political funds, but this must also happen over the attempt to bury such bad news story beneath the blizzard of announcements and other events slated for last Thursday. If the government wishes to complain about the BBC's coverage then, frankly, they only have themselves to blame - the biter bit??

  • 65.
  • At 12:54 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Mark Latchfoed wrote:

Who is Steve Richards & why should I care what he thinks about anything?

  • 66.
  • At 01:59 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Derek Barker wrote:

Steve, rewind to 1997 general election and labours chief organizer Peter Mandelson,under him spending on elections went through the roof,under Mandelson it turned from a manifesto choice to a razzmataz glossy choice and dont forget those interviews he gave,always threatening the media;so yes! your absolutely right too question how certain events are published and yes! there is clearly a fear factor with some events,but to question the BBC as inefficient is utter nonsense and you no it!!through out the last three years it has been the BBC that has stood alone against the Mandelson fear factor of political reporting and of course dont forget Nick's very courageous questions that he put to President Bush.At the end of the day Steve i'm astonished that an independent reporter like you,who's hands are not tied(murdoch)didn't run with the police meeting of TB;i mean you just sat back and shot the messenger rather than taking on the political giant you thought this event was....

  • 67.
  • At 03:32 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Big Dave wrote:


Please give due weight to these words from Normblog.

From Tony Blair's speech in Dubai:

"Here are elements of the Government of Iran openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process, trying to turn out a democratically elected Government in Lebanon, [flouting] the international community's desire for peace in Palestine - at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire a nuclear weapon capability: and yet a huge part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It would be bizarre if it weren't so deadly serious."

He's optimistic. Much of this 'opinion' is not merely indifferent; it treats concern about such matters as fabricated or alarmist.

  • 68.
  • At 04:12 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • jack maclean wrote:

I recall how starry eyed and with the fervour of a lottery winner the News presenter exclaimed "...he(PM)was not arrested...!". A footnote later it was added that the PM had been interviewed only as a witness.
This villification,broadcast,broadband and satellite(the UK is now the back yard)goes beyond the man himself and sullies the Office,Britsh democracy and even national security. The
lemonade must surely have been flowing into the setting moon.
Lord Acton knew what he was talking about.

I was also concerned about the Newsnight coverage of Blair's interview, Nick, and I do agree with Steve Richards and John Rentoul in many ways.

Richards says, 'Newsnight described the police interview as a "bombshell"'

It was only a bombshell if you had been out of the country and didn't expect it. To most of us it was inevitable. I found Newsnight far too tabloid in this approach. I don't think I saw your reporting on it, Nick, but I expect you played it in your usual way of sounding even-handed but leaving us all hanging on for the next episode with the titillating expectation that there will a nice juicy ending for the condemned man. (But, I didn't hear you, so I shouldn't presume.)

The right-wing papers here were really soaking in it, though. And of course these days The Independent is as anti-Labour (or anti-Blair) as the Telegraph or Times. I took a google subscription to receive reports around the world concerning Blair's police interview and now have more than 50 in my inbox. Most of them are quoting our papers, although a few point to the BBC reports.

I've long complained about the whole police exercise as a waste of resources since this cash for peerages stuff is the norm in our political scene and always has been, sadly. NOW, it will be changed, you can be sure.

John Rentoul's comment:
"Once launched, however, the investigation was bound to acquire a life of its own" is an echo of mine which I wrote weeks ago at my blog:

There certianly is something of the "let's get Blair for something, ANYTHING" approach going on that I find disconcerting. I expect to find it on silly blogs like Guido Fox's or even the Guardian's Cif articles where they are now largely anarchist so dismayed are they by the "evil" of this government. There, whatever Blair does is described as "criminal" by many or as coming from a madman. I wonder whether this blogging culture has pushed the usually sensible Beeb to try to compete. It shouldn't. The BBC always has been and should continue to be impartial and at a distance.

Rentoul also says:
"If people really, really disapprove - of Blair's decision to join the invasion of Iraq or to try to give seats in Parliament to party funders - they describe it as "criminal" and try to find a law that has been broken. That is fine as rhetoric, but something has gone awry when it diverts police resources from catching people who really are criminals."

This "search for bodies" by such people is contemptible. So far, somehow, most disinterested voters haven't succumbed to Blair's "war criminal" label. I wonder how long before Newsnight looks at using this phrase too?

Off topic, but doesn't it say something that two lefty journalists at the Indie, described not unreasonably by blogger Dumb Jon as the paper 'for Guardian readers who've forgotten to take their medication', are both ex-BBC ?

I agree with you about the foolishness of the 'aiding the fanatics in the BNP and elsewhere' bit - but what's this 'and elsewhere' bit ? Does he mean the BNP aren't the only people blowing up buses ?

  • 71.
  • At 01:37 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Terry wrote:

It's great listening to all of these demands for re-thinks on how politics is presented, however those with memories like mine can't fail to forget how every foible of the Tory party made the top of BBC news bulletins throughout the Major years, to the point of being a disgrace, given the news that such items preceded. In those days, you didn't just have the BBC news reader present the views of the Labour opposition, but more often than not you were also treated to a Labour politician, trade unionist, Liberal and a concerned member of the public as well. Invariably these days, exactly the opposite is true: you receive the government view on a wide range of subjects and no-one elses! Maybe the likes to Steve were complaining in the past, too? Somehow, I think that this wasn't generally the case. Maybe in this case the BBC are carrying on in the same vein - however, I should think Tony should thank his lucky stars that on the whole that isn't the case.

  • 72.
  • At 05:44 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Stephen Edenborough wrote:

It is beyond belief that anyone would think that the BBC is harsh on either Mr Blair or the Labour government. On the contrary, I am left angry and disappointed with the lack of depth by the BBC in respect of the supposed investigations of the problems encountered by both Blair in particular and the government in general. In fact some of the material presented on either the 6pm or 10 O'clock news is infantile in it's analysis. All too often, a difficult story for the government appears around 20 minutes into either programme, by which time a proportion of viewers will be doing other things having grabbed the sensational news items on less important issues. I would also like to agree with John Smith in respect of the reporting of the Suffolk murders. Only the BBC would act in such a dismissive way of personal agreements. I am speaking from personal experience on this issue.

  • 73.
  • At 11:57 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Robert Wooller wrote:

I wish people would stop moaning about the BBC. In thIS country with most of the press being conservative, I think the BBC is the best thing we have. And it is so good value for money. You only have to pay a small licence fee, possibly not even that and you get to watch lots of good quality programmes, aimed at alsorts of people. My best comedies are made by the Beeb and nothing beats the news coverage of the BBC. I wish somebody would moan about Murdoch from time to time. With all the money we pay for Sky tv and all the rubbish there is on there. What about the Sun newspaper which is full of nasty right wing views. People should get their priorities right. Keep up the good work BBC.

  • 74.
  • At 08:48 AM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Nick Bird wrote:

Lets grow up shall we?

We really want to ravish a Nun but can only find a whore plying for her trade. So we dress her up in a habit and are shocked when she demands payment.

  • 75.
  • At 06:23 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • |James Siddelley wrote:

Just as well it's a privileged JOURNALIST who did the commenting, isn't it? He gets responded to, and his (Steve Richards) views are deemed worthy of a reaction. The views of Joe Ordinary plainly matter far less, even though we consume the product.
Isn't this whole piece just another example of incestuous copy, of non-news, masquerading as worthy of attention whilst in reality it's just more clutter?
James Siddelley, STOCKPORT

  • 76.
  • At 12:17 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Craig wrote:

If I was Tony Blair then I would make no comment as everything je says is misconstued or taken out of context. It seems that he is not able to obtain a fair hearing, especially from the right wing press in this country. I would also contend that the BBC and the media i general are sensationalists. They look for a story where there is none, exaggerate every small point out of proportion. They know and I know that Blair is guilty of nothing but still they persist with their lies and inuendo in an attempt to tarnish his reputation. Unfortunately, too many of our citizens are oh so keen to accept every word they are fed. It is a shame!!

  • 77.
  • At 02:45 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

"So is BBC anti-politics?" NO! Quite the opposite as can be seen so often in its skewed reporting of the news and obvious selectivity of background programs which clearly express its own political point of view. Its problem in playing the money for honors game is that it has no money to play with. BBC is not a source of money for politicians, it is a sink hole of money for government finances, and quite a considerable sink hole too from what I understand (BBC calls it license fees, how quaint and laughable a ploy.) But of course, BBC has other compensating advantages in influencing the public debate. Having a quasi monopoly on two powerful media outlets radio and television, it has by far the biggest mouth in the UK. When BBC speaks, Britain has no choice but to listen. How glad I am to be just on the fringe of shouting distance, all I get are the faint echoes.

  • 78.
  • At 11:58 AM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Chris Haynes wrote:

My comment is primarily aimed at BBC news, not all of the company. As previous comments indicate I think the BBC news is biased and sensationalist. The agenda seems to be
1. Iraq ; Payback Kelly WMD.
2. Heath Service(patient found fossilised on bed!!)
3. Education crisis
4. Bird flu(are the helicopters and twenty reporters ready to go!!)
5. Global warming(Tony Blairs fault, no more holiday flights)
If you watch the news it is amazing how many times this sequence occurs. This is not what people talk to me about, yes they have concerns about the heath service, but most people who receive treatment say how good it is. The media should get back in touch with the public rather than trying to MAKE the news. Also dare I say it, how about some positive news for the people out here to combat "news deppression".

  • 79.
  • At 07:17 AM on 16 Jan 2007,
  • jim evans wrote:

Dear Nick

This country does not want Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, he has to be stopped no matter what.Should he ever get there then Britain will return to the dark ages of communisumn, this man will manifest himself as a dictator, that is ten times worse than Thatcher and Blair, bewarned.

  • 80.
  • At 11:19 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • Ken wrote:

You will always be the target of criticism while you persist in commenting, forecasting, speculating and gossiping instead of reporting straight facts. I personally don’t think the job you do should exist at all on the BBC. It is up to us to make our minds up about what is going on in the world – something that we can do perfectly well armed with unfettered comprehensive news coverage – something sadly lacking at the BBC.

Your regular comments on the airwaves and on the internet are bound to have an influence on politics. The more influence you have, the less the rest of us have. No, not anti-politics, more anti-democratic.

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