Sunday 22 January 2017

"But it did leave many, many questions unanswered"

For anyone who's interested, here's a transcription of an interview on this week's Newswatch with Katy Searle, Editor of BBC Political News. 

Many of you will already know about it and, according to the Daily Express, it was highly "cringe-worthy":
She was left to repeat herself over and over again in a desperate attempt to defend BBC reporting during the embarassing [sic] car-crash interview.
Regular readers may remember Katy for her astonishing, repeated apologies on behalf of the BBC (on Feedback last year) where, very unusually for a BBC editor, she said three times that the BBC hadn't got it about right over its reporting of Jeremy Corbyn. 

This time around, however, it was very much back to normal. All we got was the usual 'The BBC has got it just about right' line from our Katy, and she was 'fessing up to absolutely nothing when it comes to the BBC's Brexit coverage: For her, all is for the best, BBC-impartiality-wise, regarding this most impartial of all possible broadcasters. 


Samira Ahmed: So let's talk about this to Katy Searle, who's the Editor of BBC Political News and she joins us from our Westminster studio. Katy, let's start with the complaints about who's getting airtime. Many viewers, as you heard there, saying too many voices giving initial reaction to May's speech are hostile to Brexit and, essentially, the BBC is rehashing the whole debate that we had in the referendum. 

Katy Searle: I think the job as journalists - and it's true whether it's at the BBC or across other media or, indeed, the newspapers - is to question and to ask for answers that we don't have. And the country voted for Brexit but it's really left many, many questions unanswered. Actually, on Tuesday, when the Prime Minister gave her speech, we gave a great deal of coverage to the speech itself, which set out the arguments and the plans for Brexit from the government. But it did leave many, many questions unanswered. and you heard there from Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon with their own questions. So we're not just asking the questions just from the BBC's point of view - although we would do that as journalists. We're putting the concerns of the other main politicians in this country to try and get some answers and the answers that we don't have.

Samira Ahmed: Part of the concern though is about the language used by reporters. You know, a lot of people are very concerned. Is there too much hypothetical worry rather than straight reporting of what the Prime Minister said? 

Katy Searle: We did a piece that ran for about five-and-a-half minutes for the main six and ten o'clock news programmes that night - and actually that's a very long piece for the news at that point. And we did that specifically because we wanted to give the people, the audience, the chance to hear the Prime Minister's case on what was a defining speech from the government. So I think we did give airtime to that but, as I say, there's then the opportunity to say, well, hang on a minute, we're trying to do the job for the audience which is to raise questions they may have in their mind and answer questions that they may think 'Well, she didn't really explain that', and 'What does that mean?' and 'Why would we do that?' So it's very much our job as journalists to try and do that for the audience. In fact, that's part of what we're for - is to try and get to the answers and try and give some clarity where perhaps there is none coming from the government. 

Samira Ahmed: It sounds from some of the viewers' complaints that we're getting though that, you know, the BBC might say we're dealing where there's concerns, there's a sense you're looking for the drama...but perhaps the BBC needs to slightly rethink the tone in which it covers these things and the assumptions made?

Katy Searle: Certainly I would agree that tone is absolutely vital - and that's true of any story that we cover. And, you know, we think carefully about this and I think we try and...We look at our scripts over again, we think about the words that we use, and I'd be very careful if were adopting a tone that was...reflected one side or the other. I think the BBC continues to be committed to impartiality - and that's as true of the Brexit debate as it is on any other subject.

Samira Ahmed: Is it as simple as the BBC more often actually simply needs to caveat more that we just don't know what a lot of this is going to mean?

Katy Searle: I think that's absolutely true - and we do do that. One of the things we've set up in the past couple of years is the BBC's Reality Check, which is there to try and get to the bottom of those unanswered questions and try and provide the audience with some clarity and some facts and figures. Actually, very often the answer will come, 'Well, there's this evidence and that evidence but in truth we don't really know the outcome'.

Samira Ahmed: Do you actually think there might be more good news about Brexit out there that could the reported? 

Katy Searle: I think we should absolutely do that. We will try and make every effort, as the negotiations go on, to ask the question 'Is that a good thing?'. 'Is that a bad thing?'. Again, it's part of our job to present every side of that. And I agree that we will be looking for that opportunity as much as highlighting any concerns or problems with it. 

Katy Searle: Katy Searle, thank you very much. 


  1. The Thought Police are here again. Viewers and listeners are able to make up their own minds - without this relentless bias towards the BBC's preferred view of the 'news'. Unlike 'spin', bias itself is predictable and reliable - so, the viewer or listener is forced to provide their own levelling adjustment. The sooner the BBC realises that viewers take the 'news' with a pinch of salt, the better.

  2. Where was the part of the Brexit debate where the BBC questioned the direction of travel? We had lots of speculation about where we might end up out of the EU but what about if we stayed in?
    If one is old enough we know where we started and we know where we are, we can perhaps deduce where we would have ended up in the EU but the BBC kept these FACTS away from the public during the 'debate'.
    When we joined the EEC we were told that if we didn't like something we could veto it, now that is a lost power. We were told that 'free movement' wouldn't happen, it perhaps was only to allow the head of Ford to move from Dagenham to Dusseldorf, not for the whole of eastern youth to move westwards.
    The BBC is very selective with the facts when it suits.

  3. Isn't this essentially an admission that the BBC will report on Brexit issues based on their personal opinions?

    1. It is probably as well they formalise it, along with a few other uniques that exist between claim at executive level and action below

  4. No, just report the news please, and halve the BBC budget in the process. The so called news on the main Channels is now 90% views, opinions, projections, expert commentary and speculation. That's why it's often a pleasure to go to the World Service - they have so much to cover that they have to provide more news.

    We could definitely do without the Norman Smith slanted commentary, the bogus economics of Kemal Ahmad and LK's nonsense.


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