Sunday 6 January 2019

Owen Bennett-Jones on BBC timidity

Owen Bennett-Jones writes:

Despite flashes of editorial independence, there is plenty of evidence that the BBC, in both its international and domestic manifestations, deserves the epithet ‘state broadcaster’. The most important moment in the recent history of BBC news was the publication of the Hutton Inquiry report into the circumstances surrounding the death of the scientist David Kelly. The report was highly critical of the BBC and, ever since, editorial controls on output have become stifling. Most editors are less concerned about what should be in a programme than with what should be left out for fear of – and this language is actually used in New Broadcasting House – being non-compliant. For all the talk of how much the BBC values original journalism, it is in fact very nervous of it. The vast bulk of its output merely turns around sanctioned news from officials, corporations and NGOs, or curates stories generated by other news organisations. Most BBC journalists neither break stories nor see it as their job to do so. It is not unknown for BBC journalists who do want to break new ground to leak their stories to the Times or the Guardian. Once editors see it in print they will be more comfortable broadcasting it.

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