Saturday 2 December 2017

BBC impartiality

James Cook

Sue has just written, "All I can say is impartiality has been abandoned and value judgments reinstated, in new improved BBC-land". 

I was just thinking exactly the same thing after reading BBC North America correspondent James Cook's website piece, Embracing the far right, Trump stains a history of democratic ideals

If Trump wins "a modern apocalypse will be upon us", American writer Adam Gopnik said on Radio 4's A Point of View last year, prior to the US presidential election. 

The programme's title told us that this was "a point of view". 

No such 'warning label' has been attached to James Cook's impassioned BBC News website piece. It merely has a value-laden headline and the BBC man's own byline: 

And yet it is very clearly no less "a point of view" than Adam Gopnik's piece for radio. And it comes from a very similar "point of view" to that of Adam Gopnik too - the view that Donald Trump is a stain on/a threat to democracy and that opposing him is morally justified. 

Yes, BBC reporters mustn't call Islamic State "Da'esh" because using that "pejorative name" might give the impression that the BBC was siding with IS's enemies "and that would not preserve the BBC's impartiality". And BBC reporters mustn't use 'value-laden' terms like "terrorism" to describe acts of terrorism against Israelis because that would be seen to take sides too. But BBC reporters, it appears, can report in a fully 'value-laden' fashion and fling "the BBC's impartiality" into the bin if they are reporting about President Trump of the United States. 

James Cook's piece seems to me to mark another gear change from the BBC. BBC presenters and editors (Jon Sopel, Katya Adler, Evan Davis, Andrew Neil, etc, etc) have already been given some leeway to 'editorialise' but now it appears that BBC reporters even lower down the food chain have also been given carte blanche to do the same - and more. 

James makes the moral case for abandoning BBC impartiality here: 
But it falls to reporters to describe in plain language what we see, and promotion of fascism and racism is all too easy to observe in the United States of 2017. 
Yes, impartiality has been abandoned and value judgments reinstated in this piece of his but he believes he's reporting 'the truth' and that there's no alternative but to say what needs saying (in his view).

Maybe the BBC just needs to finally admit that 'BBC impartiality' is a thing of the past and that its reporters can use the BBC's many platforms to act as if they are columnists from partisan newspapers. As a lot of BBC reporters are now already doing that it wouldn't be as much of a leap as it might once have seemed.


  1. How many editors would have read this piece before it went out: 1, 2, 10, 20? The higher the number, the more worrying it is. Where are the checks and balances that should have been in place to avoid such a biased opinion being broadcast?

    I think you're right Craig, ... the BBC just needs to finally admit that 'BBC impartiality' is a thing of the past ... This is what the BBC Groupthink see as reasonable.

    1. You could always run it by the relentlessly garrulous Rob Burley, who is out and about and active at the weekend.

      And like Nick Robinson a real champion of BBC editorial impartiality.

      Sadly, also like Nick, also a bit prone to going dark if it doesn't suit, or playing the person.

    2. Go on Peter - why don't're good at winding him up.

    3. No idea what you mean, I am sure.

      I merely ask questions.

      Sadly BBC staff seem to have been trained to see this as unacceptable... threatening.... all sorts of stuff, to the extent they can and do block or ban. Odd, as by contrast they demand the right to get answers on anything, even concocted straw men.

      Hence.... tippy toes.

  2. Decided to make this one my first return to the BBC Complaints/OFCOM fray, and I suspect I am not alone in this.

    Clearly the template will be well worn by the time the reply arrives in a few months, and depending on how patronising it is I may well see if it can get as far as OFCOM, as it is hard to see how they can justify it.

    I had/have another, based on my ongoing confusion with BBC editorial guidelines on use of quotes, 'quotes' and "quotes', which sadly hit an FOI exemption wall a while ago.

    However I only saw it on Facebook, and only have evidence from this, yet the BBC system seems not to be configured (perhaps by design) to allow for this.

    Hence I have asked for clarification of both the BBC and OFCOM, but so far to no avail.

    By coincidence I have also actually had an answer to my questions about the applying for, assigning and funding of white ticks in blue badges on BBC staff and programme Twitter accounts.

    The answer is they don't know; ask Twitter.

    This may need pursuing, if via a refined tack.

    I am also considering rebooting my Blogger/Wordpress concept of providing a means to have logged in public domain complaint progress, responses, etc.

    Even with a few new concessions provoked by OFCOM, it seems the BBC can still very much cherry pick what it admits to or replies to and the actual numbers.

  3. I don't think there's a problem with BBC impartiality. As I've said before on this blog (which I respect), the sooner the BBC allows its journalists to publicly declare their colours, the better.

    We are all aware that the BBC declaration of impartiality is a nonsense. The more people who are made aware of that the better. What's the problem with Cook showing what you already know he is anyway ? It
    provides grist to the mill of future argument with a provable declaration from his side.

    Trump is a chump, and much as I'd like to argue otherwise, he just keeps falling victim to the hunt. For a man with so much outreach, he lazily chose to re-tweet videos which make him look like a moron.
    Easily swept away with the brush of the dominant narrative, yet again.
    The media create hysteria when they know they will win. Otherwise they ignore it.
    We all know this, so who does he get on side with this stuff ?

    Some may see this as media hysteria over re-tweeting, but it isn't. It just became political history with a beginning, a middle and an end. A bell end.

    There is simply no excuse for someone like Trump with his 'unspeakable' agenda to not nail his arguments down and be so easily decimated by those who wish to destroy him.
    Furthermore by association of narrative, he tarnishes those who are aware of the hunt and have played a smart game over a number of years. He ultimately drags down those who have learned to sharpen their valid arguments.

    With a bit of effort (not much) he could have found hundreds of concerning videos, each unassailable in the context they themselves present.

    Here's one :

    .........and then he could visit Gatestone and read the transcripts of Erdogan's speeches in 2015 and 2016. He COULD whip the BBC's legs out from under them because they don't report any of this stuff, but he DOESN'T. There's another beauty.

    1. A lot of very good points there, Enough. Thanks.

    2. Yes the claim is a nonsense but it doesn't mean it's unachievable. The BBC is a £5 billion organisation. It can easily ensure its Question Time audiences reflect real opinion. It could also ensure the panels are representative of actual opinion and voting patterns, not MPs, so it's not always one conservative against 4 social democrats.It can easily ensure its staff and presenters have a range of opinions. Currently there's Neil and no one else who could even vaguely be described as right wing. It doesn't have to push the agenda exclusively of the left could focus on tax reduction, more responsible behaviour, longer and meaningful prison sentences for serious crimes, the benefits of stable marriages and so on. It could have a Man's Hour as well as a Woman's Hour. When housing is discussed it could ensure there is someone prepared to mention the effects of mass immigration and consequent population growth. So on and so on. Not beyond the wit of even the BBC's senior management. The truth is they don't want to be impartial.

    3. `"The truth is they don't want to be impartial."
      Indeed. That's the thrust of my argument. Only when BBC journalists are given true free reign of opinion can the real impartialty conversation begin. Until then its all smoke and mirrors. Mostly mirrors.
      At the sub-management level, they don't mean to be like they are, they just are what they are. I'm convinced of that.

    4. To address one of MB's points - there was a Men's Hour, but I don't think it's running anymore:

    5. That would be "men" as in "Men!!!" They wouldn't call it a Man's Hour...I mean a parallel programme that goes on about the supreme achievements of men, the lack of pay parity between young women and young men...the glass ceiling in education that ends up with girls being given better exam results that boys...that sort of thing...

      I mean a "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" type programme...that definitely wouldn't be allowed.

      I am only being half serious. I actually oppose the ghetto programming idea behind Woman's Hour (along with the whole of BBC's Asian UK service - why isn't there an African one for the UK...or a Polish one...?)

  4. The importance of the BBC's claim to "impartiality" is that it justifies the license fee system.

    1. Excellent point that I’d not thought of.

    2. Yes and that's why they cling to the "impartiality" claim, even though it's demonstrably a Fake claim to go with the Fake News. The BBC sometimes, for tactical reasons, does address issues impartially. It's quite easy to do. But most of the time they treat us to such outrages as Newsnight 9-1 pro-Remain "panel of ordinary voters chosen by a polling organisation" during the Referendum campaign...or its Hillary-worship...or its Obama worship...

  5. As I wrote on my blog not so long ago:
    "The London Times of 25 July 1994 carried an article by the BBC's world affairs editor John Simpson entitled "When reporters act on their consciences". Unfortunately, I don't have a copy in front of me now, but from memory the springboard for the article was a recent broadcast in which BBC television reporter (later newsreader) George Alagiah abandoned objectivity to advocate for a particular cause, so outraged was he at what he was seeing around him.
    Simpson evidently understood and approved, and foreshadowed more instances of the kind.
    Nowadays, of course, the intrusion of BBC reporters' own sympathies and prejudices into their reportage has become, if not commonplace, then certainly a matter for concern, as indeed is the case regarding certain broadcasters on the ABC, Australia's answer to the BBC, its Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill having before her controversial appointment made no secret of the fact that she considers herself an activist as well as a journalist.
    The following 12-minute video dates to 2014. It features Jake Lynch, the BDS-happy associate professor who heads the so-called Peace and Conflict Centre at the University of Sydney. In his discussion of his background as a BBC presenter he refers to how "peace journalism" informed his broadcasts, how he steered interviews in order to incorporate it, how the BBC effectively allowed him to take the line he chose, and how useful a tool it is in shaping audience responses to international conflicts.
    The video provides an insight into former anti-Apartheid (the real apartheid, in South Africa) activist Lynch's anti-Israel bias and is an indicator of the BBC's leftist bias, and lack of concern for the objectivity incumbent upon it by its Charter and Producers' Guidelines." To see the video:


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