Saturday 8 July 2017

"When the audience don’t believe the news, we’re all in trouble"

John Sweeney

The main theme of Ian Katz's Spectator article is that the media has a serious problem because large parts of the audience no longer trust it. 

As regular readers will know, I didn't know whether I could trust Chris Cook Newsnight reporting on cladding in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster - a predicament made worse when, shortly after, I came across a post by Dr Richard North which pointed out serious holes in it. 

Unlike Chris Cook, Richard North has knowledge of the field and clearly knows what he's talking about. (And there's another excellent post by him here on the same subject). 

Dr North described Newsnight's reporting as "low-grade research", so it appears as if I was right to wonder have my doubts about whether Mr Cook was up to reporting on fire safety issues. 

Chris Cook's reporting on the cladding issue, therefore, highlights a number of problems with Newsnight reporting. 

It's far too keen to make a splash and to be able to say the magic words 'A Newsnight exclusive'. They don't have many reporters and they spread them around over all manner of stories about which they know little and expect them to produce eye-catching reports within hours or just a day or two. It's a species of sensationalism. 

My old joke about Gabriel Gatehouse is that he's Newsnight's Everywhere Correspondent. He pops up all over the world and all over Britain and after a day or so presents him take as confidently as if he'd been pounding that particular beat for years. I know they probably have to do that to some extent but it means audiences need to treat what they say with caution. 

I did a long piece on a Hugh Sykes report once after Hugh had parachuted into a northern French town and began painting a picture that sounded plausible but, on close inspection, proved to be full of holes. I felt, just like these Newsnight types, that he'd gone in there and found only what he wanted to find. If I hadn't checked I wouldn't have known what he was missing out and how he was getting it wrong. 

I was watching another report on the Grenfell Tower tragedy on last night's Newsnight, presented with confidence by John Sweeney and full of remarks like "Newsnight has uncovered evidence", "Newsnight has gathered anonymous first-hand accounts", "Newsnight understands", etc. I didn't know whether to believe that report either. It sounded important and convincing, but was it fair? Did it provide a properly-rounded picture? Was it accurate? I can't say, and I don't think I trust the BBC's journalism enough to give them the benefit of the doubt any more.


  1. With Zap's excellent appraisal of this item (in Open Thread below) as an example,

    who can blame the audience for not believing the BBC news? My first reaction is always, where's the bias, what's the angle, and only then what's the news.

  2. It's a special kind of hubris that leads the BBC to scratch its head over the trust issues it's pretending to confront.

    If I'm watching a report on the G20 in Hamburg presented by the fragrant Jenny Hill in her 'oneofthepeople' shirt, I would expect her to mention Antifa / Black Bloc by name, because they're an organisation, albeit a loose one.
    If the damage was being caused by 'rightists', they would have a name, and would be something to be scared of.

    If I'm watching a report on Trump by the increasingly hysterical Sopel, I would like a background tie-in to the CNN meme story with an acknowledgement of the Project Veritas videos.

    If I'm watching a report on Grenfell, it would be nice if the BBC investigated, and there-by pre-emptively tackled for once, the potential for other disasters by following the sub-letting aspect of the story.

    They're not journalists, they're gatekeepers of a narrative.
    Do they think they're keeping the lid on ?

    Without the tacit help of (not just) the BBC, the second Iraq war would not have happened, the invasion of Libya would have been scrutinized (thus avoiding the migrant crisisthatisn'tacrisisapparently), the White Helmets would not have won an Oscar, and the Hillsborough story would have been clearer, much much sooner.

    Whatever happened to Ahmed the Radio boy, Bana and Omran Daqneesh?
    They were loved when they were useful, but now they're not, so they disappear down the memory hole. Except they don't, cos internet.

    1. Jenny Hill's reports (or the two I've seen) were very unspecific. She stuck to the word 'protesters'. Sky at least called them "a broad church of anti-capitalist, left-wing groups, environmentalists and anarchists". As you say, Jenny and the BBC would certainly have sprayed labels around if the rioters were 'right-wing' thugs.

      The transformation of Jon Sopel from an engaging presenter to an unbalanced reporter (in both senses of the word 'unbalanced') is, er, sad.

      The sub-letting aspect of the Grenfell story is something I've yet to hear too.

      I'd missed the latest update on Omran Daqneesh. Hopefully he'll be safe now.

    2. Hi Craig, my question was both rhetorical and cynical !
      Ahmed the radio boy is a nasty little money grubber.

      Bana, the 'face of Aleppo' has been evacuated from Aleppo with the moderate rebels.

      Omran is fine. Most of the media lost interest when his father came out in support of Assad and stated the Award Winning ambulance pictures were nothing more than opportunistic propaganda by 'rebels'. Furthermore he had heard no planes before the explosion that wounded his son. The family still in Aleppo, I believe.
      Who knows the truth. It's still worth reporting, aint it ? Start it, finish it.

    3. Indeed. What gets followed up on and what doesn't get followed up on is very revealing. It's only after reading your comment that I found out about Omran's dad turning the media narrative on its head. I see the BBC has a website article about it ('watertight oversight') but it must have sneaked under pretty much everyone's radar. I can't find anything from the time of the recent interview with the father on BBC TV or radio (searching using TV Eyes). You would have thought that the BBC would have splashed it, given their earlier close interest in the story.

  3. Sadly, one must now treat EVERY news item from the BBC with deep suspicion. It is now propagandist organisation whose own views colour everything they broadcast.


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