Saturday 21 December 2019

Robbie Gibb's Little List

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.


  1. Fat chance of any of that being adopted by the BBC but that's their funeral.

  2. I think that’s a good list but I agree with the comment above

  3. 1. I am not sure today's broadcasters know what "impartiality" means. They think it means being centrist, and they define soft left as the centre. Increasingly they also take it to mean they must be "woke" - challenging all our cultural assumptions. That in reality means following the Left's group identity discourse.

    2-4 Irrelevant. It's what they do on screen that concerns me. It we are talking twitter, I think they should not include any reference to their employer.

    5. Lol - ain't gonna happen!

    6. Of course you can. Andrew Neil I would say is reasonably impartial. He's also a commentator.

    7. They think they "know" that Trump and Johnson are "divisive", "a threat to democratic norms"...they think they "know" that mass immigration is good for all advanced countries such as the UK and Sweden...they think they "know" there is CO2-emission driven climate change that threatens the extinction of humanity.

    8. They aren't so stupid as to make predictions. Far easier to couch implied predictions as a "question" or "concern".

    9-11 Pious hopes.

    I'll give up there. It's getting annoying because we know these rules aren't followed by even 5% of BBC (or Sky and ITV) presenters so what does that tell you?

    You need to put some jeopardy into the system. For the BBC in particular an Impartiality Board should be put in place with power to investigate, sanction, fine, suspend and - in cases of gross bias - sack journalists. With the right people appointed to the board and combined with much stronger impartiality guidance, that would prove much more effective. Another thing - presenters who are not BBC staff should not be exempted from the guidance if they want to present on the BBC: yes I mean you, Jonathan Freedland.

  4. A good list.

    Can you think of any BBC broadcast journalist who abides by even one or two of the items?

    I can't.

  5. I'm not sure but I thought Craig Oliver was Cameron's and Robbie Gibb was May's communications man.

    1. You're right. I've updated the post. Ta.


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