Saturday 29 November 2014

Clearing up the BBC's guidelines on Twitter

Following on from earlier posts...

Well, one concern - especially in the light of many BBC reporters' frequent one-sided "retweeting" of non-BBC peoples' highly biased tweets (Jon Donnison's constant retweeting of articles critical of Israel, for example whilst never retweeting any pro-Israel articles, unless he's mocking them) - is that such one-sided "retweeting" might damage the BBC's 'reputation for impartiality'.

The BBC reporter's 'get out clause' is the familiar
RTs, #Tags not endorsements
(or variants thereon) written into their potted Twitter biographies.

But what do the BBC guidelines actually say about that?:
You may wish to consider forwarding or "retweeting" a selection of a person's microblog entries/posts or "tweets". This is very unlikely to be a problem when you are "retweeting" a colleague's BBC "tweet" or a BBC headline. But in some cases, you will need to consider the risk that "retweeting" of third party content by the BBC may appear to be an endorsement of the original author's point of view.
It may not be enough to write on your BBC microblog's biography page that "retweeting" does not signify endorsement, particularly if the views expressed are about politics or a matter of controversial public policy. Instead you should consider adding your own comment to the "tweet" you have selected, making it clear why you are forwarding it and where you are speaking in your own voice and where you are quoting someone else's.
So, if, say (picking a BBC reporter out at random!), Jon Donnison's most recent retweets and tags to third party sites on matters of politics and controversial public policy retweet or quote (without an impartial framing comment from the BBC reporter) follow this pattern:

it may not actually be enough just to write RTs, #Tags not endorsements underneath your avatar. The BBC reporter needs to also take active steps to avoid giving the impression that he or she is endorsing those quotes and retweets (steps which Jon Donnison most certainly hasn't been taking here). 

But what of Hugh Sykes and his "But I am scrupulously objective when reporting - unlike some of my Tweets! I obey: "Hang up your opinions with your coat"" defence?

Are reporters like Hugh allowed to say whatever they like on Twitter, despite identifying themselves as BBC reporters in their biographies, just as long as their TV, radio and online reports are scrupulously objective? 

The BBC editorial guidelines say quite simply:
A successful BBC microblog is likely to be personal in tone but it must not contain any personal views which would damage the BBC's reputation, for example over impartiality.
To me that sounds like a straightforward "no". Doesn't it to you? 


  1. Sykes must be very naive to think people will be fooled by the claim of hanging up his opinions.

    The reality is that most reporters have their own views on things or at least formally subscribe to a set of views and these bias their reporting - even when they think they're not. Just screwing up your face in an expression of disbelief or scepticism can communicate a huge amount to the viewer.

    I think the BBC charter needs revising. The "impartiality" clause is a nonsense.

    We need something more like:

    1. A clause that formally commits the BBC to promote democratic and open cultural values e.g. free elections, free speech, free practice of the arts, science, and sport.

    2. A clause that allows journalists to express their own political views both within work and outside work.

    3. A clause that formally allows the BBC to expose the workings of non-democratic or totalitarian political systems, regardless of diplomatic impact.

    4. A clause that requires the BBC to give exposure to all views (within the law) on matters of public interest , without showing bias towards any one view but allowing the BBC to give due weight according to the level of support domestically for such views.

    5. A clause that specifically excuses the BBC from having to doing anything which may be deemed to promote Sharia law, Fascism, Communism or any other non-democratic totalitarian system of government.

    But more important than the charter, are structural changes.

    Dan Read

    1. Well put, Dan. Those are sensible ideas that any publicly-funded UK broadcaster should be committed to and, when you stand back, it is very peculiar that the BBC isn't as committed to democracy and the democratic cause is it should be, that (for example) it often seeks to place certain democratic governments and their undemocratic opponents on an equal moral footing (ahem, not naming Israel and Hamas).

      It's certainly true that the structure of the BBC would have to change to make your No.2 work, and a vast influx of new, differently-minded people would be needed to in order to break the BBC's tendencies towards groupthink - especially if the BBC is to remain license-fee-funded.

    2. Even Rod Liddle has said that if the Beeboids were allowed to display their personal ideological leanings on air/in print, the whole thing would come crashing down because the place is about 90% Leftoid. There would be no coming back once they start being honest.

      The only real solution to achieving anything close to a broadcasting organization which can be more honest and less ideologically bent is a near total purge of personnel, from top to bottom (leaving out the cameramen and audio engineers, who, judging from their own tweets and fora like Digital Spy or that ex-Beeboid website, seem to be far more decent and respectful than any of the producers, editors, or on-air talent). It's the only way, but could never happen for legal reasons.

  2. We know the BBC's Twitter policy is an absolute joke, enforced capriciously and resentfully. They can continue to get away with it until somebody publishes a book or study showing the bias in reports and programming by the Beeboids who tweet their bias, as captured by DB and others.

    It's probably not enough any more just to show the clear evidence of institutional groupthink on certain topics, because they can use the Sykes Dodge. However, there is no defense that I can see for Sykes' admission that the BBC censors information that may "give permission for prejudice". There can be no escaping that personal bias informs their coverage now. That has to have traction somehow, but I'm not sure how to use it.

    1. Yes, and that "give permission for prejudice" was another of DB's remarkable drawings-out from Hugh Sykes.

      I've been trying to follow up on the people linked to in the 'In Their Own Tweets' page at B-BBC. With one glaring exception - most [ignoring Hugh Sykes] have trod very carefully since being caught out. Some have completely vanished from Twitter. Others will take their place though and DB (and others) will catch them out again.

      As you say though, it's how to use that evidence to catch the public's attention and embarrass the BBC that remains a bit of a snag. So far, it's been BBC managers reacting to DB's assaults that have worked, prompting MSM reports (usually in the Mail and Telegraph) based on their cautioning emails that have done the trick. So (as you know as well as anybody) it can be done.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.