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Feedback: Crisis at the BBC

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton 09:38, Friday, 16 November 2012

Roger Bolton


Am I the only BBC presenter who hasn't expressed his view about the present crisis at the BBC?

Perhaps I should join some of my colleagues on Twitter so that you can enjoy my immediate, uninformed, and prejudiced response to events about which I know little. Actually I do have some understanding of what journalists in the BBC have been going through.

I edited Tonight (the predecessor to Newsnight) Panorama, and Nationwide, and still have the scars to show from it. I also managed to get myself disciplined and ultimately fired, or as the Corporation put it, made redundant. (Of course later they re-employed me, in a different capacity).

In my case it was over the coverage of the Troubles in Ireland.

One row was about a programme that didn't go out, the other about one that did. Along the way there were arguments about lines of authority , who said what to whom, and the relationship between the journalists, the management and the Governors ( who have now become Trustees).

There wasn't was much of an argument about the facts, only about whether and how they should be reported, and how independent of Government the Corporation should be.

In all of the rows about who said what to whom, and whether the key attribute of a Director General should be the ability to put John Humphrys, the Beeb's "attack dog", back in his kennel, one principle needs to be adhered to ruthlessly.

The BBC must always tell what it believes to be the truth to its audience, regards of how difficult or dangerous for the institution that is.

If the BBC now pulls its punches in an attempt to see off its critics, then its existence should be questioned.

I don't think it will pull back, at least not in the long term.

All we can do here at Feedback is to guarantee not to censor your views, or to do private deals with BBC bosses and producers which protect them from answering your concerns.

Which doesn't of course mean that the BBC always does what its audience wants , fortunately for Feedback.

This week I went to the annual Radio Festival in Salford, to discuss what sort of relationship producers really want with their audience.

Three of our listeners came with me: Paul Beckwith, Andrew Tonkin and Sandi Dunn.

Feedback is off the air now until January, but please stay in contact. We read everything you send to us. That's another promise.

Roger Bolton

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

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  • Comment number 1.

    It strikes me as odd that the DG chose to be interviewed by John Humphrys given the precariousness of his position. One story wrong, nine hundred and ninety-nine right, result: resignation. That said, great care must be taken not to wrongly label someone a paedophile. Many of the things I've read about the matter point to the need for a deep clean programme targeted at BBC Management.

  • Comment number 2.

    Have you read this ?

    The bit where he says

    McAlpine's advice on dealing with the media? Spread false defeat to gain public sympathy; or false accusation and then arrange for it to be exposed as such - so the accuser will forever be treated with suspicion.

  • Comment number 3.

    Roger, thank you for this thoughtful contribution, reminding us of past 'editorial difficulties'.

    Will important further understanding emerge, I wonder...

    "The BBC must always tell what it believes to be the truth to its audience, regards of how difficult or dangerous for the institution that is."

    Has this really been the "one principle… adhered to ruthlessly"?

    By the original Charter & Agreement, the BBC was bound to uphold the 'fundamental principles of democracy'.

    Was 'the BBC' or were its journalists, informed or asleep when this founding principle was down-graded, to 'explanation of British parliamentary democracy'?

    The down-grade makes it hardly worth asking, but where has been 'the BBC', and where its "attack dogs" to support 'a press for democracy' - freed for responsibility - as might have been our hope from the Leveson Inquiry?

    Some hope of "welcome" for regulation, a "grim embrace", comes with the analysis by Charles Moore in yesterday's Telegraph, but worryingly he uses the royal journalistic "we" unqualified: "appalling… any say in whom we appoint".

    If the press "we" were to be 'free journalists', people at the top of their professions making their livings supported by 'equally free citizens', then it would be madness not to take account of their expert views in the making of editorial appointments.

    Editorial freedom could though be bolstered, rather than constrained, by statutory requirement to give column space for at least a defined range of diverging external voices, for rational 'extremes' as well as mainstream parties, such 'representation' ensuring adequacy of debate.

    Substantially, of course, journalists today are no more 'free' - can be no more free - than any others, citizens or subjects, from the influence of Fear & Greed. Even Lord Justice Leveson (praised be his name if courageous) has had to deliberate on remedy within the same social context as arguably was responsible for the misdeeds addressed.

    Such is the insecurity of all, we can hardly trust ourselves to frame, let alone the panoply of press, police and politics to follow, the honest diagnosis and prescription that reason would suggest.

    "Ruthlessly", hardly fearlessly, can it be said: inequality corrupts?

    Only equality will liberate conscience.

    For 'a free press', a free society!


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