Robbie Gibb, Rob Burley's predecessor at the BBC before he became Theresa May's Director of Communications, has today posted a checklist of what, in his view, needs to be done to improve impartiality and accuracy in reporting. I have to say that I think it's a superb list and the BBC should study it carefully. Many of its journalists break these 'rules' on an almost daily basis:
Ch4’s decision to ban nonpolitical journalists from tweeting about politics is a step in the right direction and other broadcasters should follow its lead. However there is so much more that needs to be done to improve impartiality and accuracy in broadcasting. My checklist:
1) Always make impartiality the number one priority or it will take second place to other considerations.
2) On social media and broadcast it should not be possible to work out any journalist’s political views.
3) On Twitter look at your tweets in the round, check they don’t all point in one direction.
4) Never like or retweet partisan comments that lean either left or right.
5) Ask yourself: am I providing a service that will be as congenial to a Telegraph reader as a Guardian reader.
6) You can’t be both an impartial journalist and commentator - choose one or the other.
7) Only say what you actually know. Journalists should apply the same standards of accuracy and fact checking on Twitter as they do on broadcast.
8) Don’t pretend you can predict the future - you can’t and your guess isn’t news.
9) Show some humility - you probably don’t know as much as the person you are criticising.
10) Don’t judge the success of an interview by retweets. It will distort how you conduct the interview.
11) Audiences want to know what’s going on, not just what’s going wrong.
12) The role of interviewer is to ask the questions the audience would ask if they had the chance. It should not become a game designed to embarrass the politician or raise the profile of the presenter.
13) Programme editors should constantly ask themselves will this running order look fair and reasonable to viewers with different political views to their own.
14) Avoid group think and metropolitan bias by regularly talking and listening to people outside the bubble.
15) Avoid loaded language, it gives away your bias.
16) In a democracy there are many ways politicians are held to account, not least in Parliament. So not every interview has to be the Spanish Inquisition.
17) There are lots of media outlets wanting to interview politicians. Programmes must avoid a sense of entitlement - you can’t always get what you want.
18) Empty chairing guests should only be done in exceptional circumstances & programmes should avoid becoming part of the story.
19) Presenters and reporters should avoid speaking engagements (paid or unpaid) where there could be a perceived conflict of interest.
20) Impartiality applies to everything, not just politics. Just because you think your opinion is common sense doesn’t mean you can express it on broadcast.
21) All broadcasters are covered by the Ofcom code on accuracy and impartiality. Understand that and act accordingly.