Tuesday, January 25, 2005

BBC Chairman Attacks News Output

You can't get well if you don't admit you're sick; a position the BBC finds itself in.

Since the Hutton report people have come and gone but nothing has changed. The BBC's unabashed attacks on America and Israel continues unabated. Their cheerleading of the Palestinians while downplaying the Iraqi elections are evident daily.

BBC chairman, Michael Grade, just gave a speech to the London College of Communications, praising his organization. I'll get to my take in a minute.

First, here are some notes from The Telegraph.

Grade in attack on BBC news output

The BBC chairman, Michael Grade, vented his frustration with BBC1 news last night, effectively acknowledging that it had "dumbed down" in a misguided attempt to improve ratings.

Michael Grade said that journalists and editors were ‘confused’.

In his first major speech on the state of BBC news, Mr Grade said the corporation had "unwittingly contributed" to the decline in serious news values because of its preoccupation with audience accessibility.

"Vented his frustration", BBC1 News "dumbed down", "journalists and editors" confused and a "decline in serious news values".

Before you go thinking Grade has admitted his beloved propaganda machine is unwell you might want to read his speech.

This crisis originated in a failure in the BBC's journalism. In a way, it's a measure of the weight and significance attached to BBC journalism that a single mistake, in a single report, broadcast very early one morning, should be able to precipitate such a cataclysm.

Got that? Someone at the BBC was up early and made a single mistake that resulted in a journalist firing and the two top executives at the BBC leaving (fired). Can you say denial?

But as the the Hutton Report sets out and the BBC acknowledged at the time, there was a systematic failure not just a single failure. That same system is still in place today.

Editorial system at BBC was defective in allowing Mr Gilligan's report to go to air without editors seeing a script

BBC management failed to make an examination of Mr Gilligan's notes of the interview with Dr Kelly

There was a defect in the BBC's management system relating to the way complaints were investigated

BBC governors failed to investigate Mr Gilligan's actions properly

Grade's own back slapping continues with his praise for "The complaints handling system across the BBC has been changed to make it speedier, fairer and more accountable. "


There's now also a valuable Notes and Corrections section of the NewsWatch website. So if the BBC gets things wrong, there's now a place where corrections can rapidly be posted.

Go there now and you will not find a single "correction". You will find, under "Notes", 5 articles defending the BBC's position.

Incredibly, Grade uses the blatant bias of one of the BBC's Middle East correspondents, as proof that the BBC is more accountable.

Three months ago, a BBC correspondent in the Middle East - a good correspondent with a strong record - made an inappropriately personal remark about the death of Yasser Arafat in an edition of From Our Own Correspondent. [Note the defense of the correspondent]

The BBC received many complaints [Over 500] . Its first response was the old one - a public statement that defended the output come what may. That was the wrong response - it reflected the instincts of the old culture.

When the new Director of News, Helen Boaden, heard the statement she was surprised. It did not reflect her expressed view about the piece or that of her senior team.

So she changed it - to make clear that aspects of the broadcast had been misjudged. And knowing that would raise eyebrows, she went on Radio 4's Feedback programme to explain herself. It was time, she said, for BBC News to have an adult relationship with its audience. That was in October.

You see? The correction wasn't made because of over 500 complaints from the public, it was made because it did not reflect Boaden's views. Riiiiight.

What was the "inappropriately personal remark" and who was the good BBC correspondent?

The Telegraph reports how the BBC was swamped with complaints about its' Middle East correspondent, Barbara Plett's on air admission that she cried when Arafat left for France.

"When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry . . . without warning," she said.

Plett still works for the BBC.

If anyone has any illusions that the BBC, under Grade, is going to morph into bastion of journalistic integrity, I've got some "genuine" Bush national guard memos I'll sell you.

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