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Yes, the BBC got it wrong, but its journalism is as robust as ever

Date

Madeleine Morris

Beware those who want to stick the boot into the public broadcaster.

JOURNALISTS love to write about other journalists. I can say that because I am one. We especially love to write about other journalists messing up, because it makes us looks better.

But this whole wailing and gnashing of teeth about how the BBC is fundamentally broken, and how its flagship current affairs program Newsnight needs to be canned and how trust in the world's most famous public broadcaster will evaporate has to stop. It hasn't, it doesn't and it won't.

Don't get me wrong: Newsnight cocked up. Twice. In very close succession. This is obviously appalling for the innocent victims of those mistakes - the prey of paedophile Jimmy Savile, as well as Thatcherite politician Lord McAlpine who is definitely not a paedophile - but it should not be taken as an inevitable outcome of a corporation that has lost its way. They are results of very human errors that blight all institutions that are under constant external scrutiny and internal pressure to do more with less and faster.

The errors in editorial judgment from the coalface should have been pulled up by the bloated management class that sits in endless meetings at Broadcasting House. This is where the true fault lies, and this is the real problem with the BBC.

I worked as a reporter on Newsnight over summer last year. The standards of journalism were exceptional. It's not without its flaws - too many middle-class white men in endless discussions about the euro, if you ask me - but the producers, reporters and editors I worked with are among the most experienced, thorough and dedicated I have met. This is true of the vast majority of BBC journalists, who could certainly teach a thing or two to the more mediocre elements of the Australian media.

The BBC has been put under tremendous financial strain in the past couple of years. At the World Service, where I spent a large portion of my 11-year BBC career, virtually all the support staff and hundreds of journalists were lost in an effort to cut costs by 20 per cent.

The result was producers doing administrative tasks such as paying stringers and booking satellite feeds instead of finding stories, verifying and reporting them. At Newsnight, producer and reporter jobs have been slashed too. Same result. That's why a major investigation into a potential political paedophile was contracted to an outside journalist working for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Between the cost cutting and the lamentable management structure I'm surprised there haven't been mistakes of this magnitude earlier. The Newsnight acting editor who was at the helm for the McAlpine fiasco was under tremendous pressure. Her boss had been stood aside pending the investigation into his shelving of the Jimmy Savile story. Her co-deputy had just left for another broadcaster. Suddenly she was alone during one of the rockiest periods facing the program. I note that replacements have been found immediately for all the management class who have been stood aside over the past week, but who was sent in to help Liz Gibbons when she went from a management team of three to one? No one. That, sadly, is typical BBC.

We also need to remember that none of this has happened in a vacuum. Politicians, including Boris Johnson writing on this page on Tuesday, are loving the chance to stick the boot into a program that has bedevilled them for decades. Many MPs, particularly on the right, have an ideological issue with the BBC.

The same goes for the Beeb's competition, the newspapers who have recently been the focus of uncomfortable scrutiny in the Leveson inquiry into press standards. You can almost hear long-time BBC loather Rupert Murdoch cheering as the focus shifts from his newspapers' phone-hacking ways to Aunty. Sweet revenge for the pollies and the journos, but let's bring some perspective.

Yes, Newsnight failed, but the rest of BBC journalism is as robust as it has ever been, as is evidenced by its own coverage and revelations of the Savile and McAlpine affairs. The world would be much poorer without the rigour and dedication of the majority of BBC journalists, including those on Newsnight.

Yes, senior BBC management needs a cleanout. Getting rid of the BBC lifers and losing a layer so their inflated salaries can be put back into quality journalism would be a good start.

The BBC deserves much of the scrutiny it is getting, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the real scandal here is how a man was allowed to abuse children for decades, while hundreds of people in positions of power turned a blind eye. The BBC lynch mob would do better to turn some of their plentiful attention to investigating this, instead of scorching an institution for their own ends. Not doing so is yet another kick to the guts of the people who are, after all, the real victims of this whole sorry episode.

Madeleine Morris worked as a reporter and presenter for the BBC for 11 years. She now lives in Australia.

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48 comments

  • Sorry can't agree. Having lived in the UK for a reasonable period the BBC comes across as smug, complacent and seems to have standard line of group think on many issues: climate change, US. Israel, immigration...... That's just a start. They are funded by the taxpayer so are unlikely to be anti big government or should I say against the hand that feeds it.

    I'm sorry that you were offended by too many white middle class men talking about the Euro but considering Europe's dire economic state brought, about by the ridiculous adherence to the one size fits all Euro and the bloated Brussels bureaucracy, it's an major story with enormous ramifications affecting millions of people. I forgot to add anti business as another common trait I perceive in a good deal of BBC coverage. Perhaps that explains your attitide!

    Commenter
    chris
    Location
    asia
    Date and time
    November 14, 2012, 9:33AM
    • The BBC asks the British public to pay its bills every year, and the only way it can do that is if the British public trusts it to be balanced in its reportin, which obviously it isn't as illustrated by their latest actions. .

      A recent Australian poll says that most Australians view the media, unions & political parties as the most corrupt groups in society. The public has strong confidence in the police & the armed services and is less cynical about individual politicians.

      The unions I can understand, corruption is in their DNA, but I wonder how the ABC / BBC employees deal with this. To be rated worse than a used car salesman says something about the job they’re doing & how little the public rates that performance.

      Could it be their deception, their conniving & their unbalanced reporting? Or is it due to the media’s tendencies to filter, support or ignore what does not suit their desired outcomes?

      I challenge both the ABC & the BBC to name just 10 of their more conservative senior employees. I bet they can't even name two.

      Commenter
      jaded by the left
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 11:53AM
    • Chris and Jaded,

      Remember ....

      It is only those that are biased who see bias everywhere they look.

      All opinions are biased, and no opinion, no matter how hard the provider tries, is unbiased.

      All of News Corps efforts are biased, there is a deliberate 'what Rupert wants Rupert gets' credo operating at all his institutions.
      His newspapers actively tell people which way to vote at Elections (USA, UK, and here).

      Channel's 7, 9, and 10 would be more biased if they employed people who could actually manage an independent opinion rather than just read from the tele-type.

      That the likes of the ABC and BBC try to be as balanced as possible is a testament to their charters, one that does not exist for any other media outlet.

      And Jaded ... People trust the Police when they protect them. Problem is in truth they see the Police as riddled with corruption where the Aussie mantra of Mateship is taken to the extreme of institutional self protection. The good ignore the bad until the evidence is too overwhelming to be ignored, and the bad are finally outed. Happens all the time.

      Just to put a little genuine perspective on it, in this current climate, I'd sooner trust a BBC journalist than a Catholic Priest! Or more importantly a Catholic Australian Archbishop.

      Commenter
      Joe
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 12:31PM
    • Joe - we haven't had the gov't enquiry yet into the pedophiles yet. You might be surprised at the end of it when i'ts shown to be rampant in all areas, not just the church. I guess that's your personal bias on display. But for the BBC to accuse someone of so vile a crime without basis - is a major crime. Just as protecting their own while they commit these crimes is also a major crime. They constantly play the holier than thou card but their selective reporting says a lot about how they operate. They are hypocrties of the highest order and our billions fund them.

      Commenter
      jaded by the left
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 12:44PM
    • Jaded - by citing the Australian you have shown your bias.

      Commenter
      kepler-22b
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 12:55PM
    • Joe, So Murdoch's press "are biased" but the ABC/BBC "try to be as balanced as possible"! I think this is an article of faith reflecting your political stance. Just to set the record straight: The Guardian, The New York Times and Fairfax amongst others all editorialise regarding who they think should be re-elected in their countries political contests. The NYT endorsed Obama just last week. If this fits you category of telling readers "which way to vote" then so be it! All of these publications would be catagorised as "progressive" in their views so it comes from all sides of journalism. The Australian endorsed Rudd in 2007, supported Hawke and even Whitlam in '72 if I remember correctly. They editorialised strongly against the commitment of Australian troops into Vietnam in 1965. It's not black and white at all.

      Commenter
      chris
      Location
      asia
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 1:15PM
    • All the Murdoch/Berlusconi/Anshultz ultra right wing media moguls would be loving the adverse attention being bestowed on the "Newsnight" program.

      And here in Australia the same ignorant types post about how terrible the BBC is and how it should be closed down, dismantled and forgotten.

      News Flash ....... one program getting 1 feature story wrong is not the sum total of the BBC, have a look at the credits on some of the shows you are regularly watching here in Australia because you are making exactly the same type of mistake that "Newsnight" made ... you are getting it wrong.

      Perhaps you would rather see more of Fox News when they had their meltdown over Obama winning not only Ohio, but also the Presidency, or perhaps you just want more of the naked Berlusconi shows, or is it George W Bush's best mate Anshultz's far right christian news ?

      My suggestion is to enjoy the comedy/drama/Games /Quizzes/Entertainment and yes, News, from not only, radio, but also TV, that you get from the BBC and stop trying to tear down a company that is more than just one program.

      Commenter
      J. Fraser
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 2:31PM
    • No not closed down, just lose their public subsidies as they don't provide a balanced coverage. It's only the "progressives" that call for the silencing of the media. I've got no problem with media that doesn't reflect my views. I can choose to read or not read it. I'm all for a pluralistic press but we shouldn't have to subsidise smug, self satisfied group think journalism.

      Commenter
      chris
      Location
      asia
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 3:06PM
    • @chris .... Asia

      What news do you listen in Asia ?

      How many media moguls are there in Asia that give fair and balanced reporting ?

      Subsidised BBC and ABC may not be perfect but they are better then some the alternatives that dominate ................. and I an speaking from Brisbane that has only 1 hard copy daily newspaper ... Murdochs.

      Commenter
      J. Fraser
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      November 14, 2012, 3:24PM
  • Whilst asking for forgiveness for the BBC's many errors, you also list those errors. The thing is, could you also do the same for Murdoch's papers after the phone hacking scandal?

    Probably not.

    Also, why would most MP's on the right be critical of the BBC? Now, why would that be I wonder..Would it be because the BBC, a taxpayer, license fee charging institution, has been captured by the Left?

    Commenter
    Ben Pensant
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    November 14, 2012, 9:34AM

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