View Full Version : BBC chief meets government over austerity cuts coverage

Jan Klimkowski
09-04-2010, 06:18 PM
Rarely is the fix so visible.

The BBC serving the "national interest".... :bootyshake:

BBC defends impartiality after Downing Street meeting over cuts season

Mark Thompson photographed with memo revealing Andy Coulson's 'concern' that BBC gives context to cuts coverage

September 3, 2010

The BBC has been forced to defend its impartiality after Mark Thompson, the director general, was photographed yesterday going into a meeting in Downing Street to discuss a season of TV and radio programmes about the government's spending cuts.

Thompson was photographed carrying an internal email from Helen Boaden, the BBC News director, saying that she had had lunch with Andy Coulson, the coalition government's director of communications, at which he had expressed concern "that we give context to our Spending Review Season".

Boaden's email went on to provide Thompson with briefing notes on the season – which begins next week across BBC TV, radio and online services – for his Downing Street meeting yesterday. The subject line of the email was "Briefing for Steve Hilton meeting". Hilton is David Cameron's director of strategy.

She said she had responded to Coulson's concerns about context by saying "that's what we always try to do ... inform the public about the whys and wherefores".

In the email, which was CCed to Mark Byford, the BBC deputy director general and head of journalism, Boaden also defended the corporation's spending cuts coverage over the summer, saying it had "mostly been driven by news lines".

Boaden cited examples including the billionaire retail mogul Sir Philip Green's appointment to head an external review of the government's spending cuts and the Institute for Fiscal Studies report claiming the poorest would be hardest hit by the measures.

"The director general has made it repeatedly clear that the impartiality of the BBC is paramount," a BBC spokesman said.

"The director general in his role as editor-in-chief discussed the possible participation of a number of members of the government in the BBC's coverage of the spending review this autumn. The BBC has regular meetings with both government and opposition parties. Both he and colleagues will also be talking to all the main political parties on this issue."

However, Thompson's PR gaffe prompted unease within BBC News, where correspondents and programme editors face regular pressure from all the main parties over their political coverage.

One senior BBC insider said: "What the fuck's he doing going in to see Hilton anyway? Management and editorial should be completely separate."

The BBC will also be keen to avoid any appearance that it is soft-pedalling on its coverage of the government in the build up to next year's negotiations about a new licence fee deal.

The Labour MP Michael Dugher told the Daily Mail: "The political independence of the BBC should be absolutely sacrosanct and it is very odd that the director general is going into Downing Street for this kind of meeting. The BBC is within its rights to publicise the cuts to public spending in whatever way it sees fit."

Thompson said in an interview with the New Statesman earlier this week that the BBC had become "increasingly tough-minded about the concept of impartiality" since the Hutton report in early 2004.

"If you wanted to criticise us you would say we are becoming increasingly tough-minded about the concept of impartiality. In a sense we are becoming more explicit," he said. "That is a post-Hutton change in the organisation. Impartiality is going up and up the agenda."

He also defended the BBC against accusations that it had given Cameron an easy ride in opposition.

"It's easier to cover opposition politics when you've got an opposition with a clear leadership and clear agenda. We are doing our best to cover the Labour leadership competition, but, in a way, normal politics will only resume in the autumn [when there is a new opposition leader]," he added.

The Spending Review - Making It Clear begins next week and runs through to a government announcement on the next phase of the cost cutting process on 20 October.

Newsnight and Radio 4's Today programme will be running special features on the spending review, while the BBC political editor, Nick Robinson, is travelling around the country to find out what are the key issues affecting voters.

Next Thursday BBC1 will be broadcasting 12 simultaneous regional The Spending Review - Making It Clear debates across England. Jeremy Vine will be hosting the London debate.

The debates will feature local politicians, public sector workers business leaders and members of the public.

In BBC blogpost published late yesterday, Byford said: "This kind of comprehensive programming, providing real public service is what the BBC is here to do and we will continue to follow the story throughout the autumn. We hope it will help our audiences understand the full context of the spending review and what it may mean for them."


Jan Klimkowski
09-04-2010, 06:46 PM
BBC chief Mark Thompson is held up as a "true intellectual".

So, here is his "intellectual" case for the concept of impartiality (aka balancing of opposing views) in BBC coverage of events.

Which brings us to the question of the BBC's politics and the frequent accusations of bias. Thompson says this has been a problem. "In the BBC I joined 30 years ago [as a production trainee, in 1979], there was, in much of current affairs, in terms of people's personal politics, which were quite vocal, a massive bias to the left. The organisation did struggle then with impartiality. And journalistically, staff were quite mystified by the early years of Thatcher.

“Now it is a completely different generation. There is much less overt tribalism among the young journalists who work for the BBC. It is like the New Statesman, which used to be various shades of soft and hard left and is now more technocratic. We're like that, too. We have an honourable tradition of journalists from the right [working for us]. It is a broader church. The BBC is not a campaigning organisation and can't be, and actually the truth is that sometimes our dispassionate flavour of broadcasting frustrates people who have got very, very strong views, because they want more red meat. Often that plays as bias. People think: 'Why can't they come out and say they are bastards?' And that can play out on left and right."

Indeed, some say that because of the BBC's paranoia about being seen as left-wing, it tacks to the other side. Thompson chuckles at the notion of a "double- or triple-bluff". But David Cameron was certainly given an easy ride in opposition, and the BBC's political coverage - like that of Sky - appeared even to be willing on a Cameron-led government during the intense days of coalition talks. "Look, there is an obvious point to make but I'll make it anyway: it's easier to cover opposition politics when you've got an opposition with a clear leadership and clear agenda. We are doing our best to cover the Labour leadership competition, but, in a way, normal politics will only resume in the autumn [when there is a new opposition leader]."

Critics on the left point to the failure to broadcast a charity appeal for Gaza last year as another example of a manifestation of BBC paranoia, this time about being seen as "anti-Israel". Sky and ITV broadcast the appeal; Ben Bradshaw, the Labour former culture secretary, described the corporation's decision as "in*explicable" and "completely feeble". So, does Thompson have any regrets? "No. No. If you wanted to criticise us you would say we are becoming increasingly tough-minded about the concept of impartiality. In a sense we are becoming more explicit." Here, Thompson is open about the context. "That is a post-Hutton change in the organisation. Impartiality is going up and up the agenda."

Thompson took over at the BBC in June 2004 in the wake of the Hutton inquiry, with a brief to steady the ship after a turbulent period under his predecessor Greg Dyke. Where Dyke is an extrovert, Thompson is more of a quiet mediator, a chairman figure. Some internal critics accuse him of being "hands-off", of lacking quick judgement and (doubtless through mere bad luck) of being almost always on holiday when crisis erupts. But allies say he is a brilliantly skilful operator who is devoted to the BBC. The stint at Channel 4 was the only interruption in a distinguished BBC career that led to his appointment as editor of the Nine O'Clock News and Panorama, before becoming head of features, head of factual programmes and controller of BBC2. Before he left in 2001, he was made director of television, and he returned in the top job of director general. The decision to appoint him was not a surprise.


And thus investigative journalism is castrated.

The fundamental philosphical justification for the Fourth Estate is speaking Truth to Power.

But not at Thompson's BBC.

Paul Rigby
09-07-2010, 06:38 PM
My license "fee" at work: BBC presstitutes to sell Tory consensus on the "necessity" for sacking everyone to revive the economy...

Why was the BBC discussing its coverage of spending cuts with No 10?

The BBC is helping convince viewers that spending cuts are inevitable. It's a large-scale version of peer pressure

By Aditya Chakrabortty, The Guardian, G2,Tuesday, 7 September 2010, p.5

Last Thursday was a great day for conspiracy theorists. The story goes like this: the head of the BBC, Mark Thompson, went into Downing Street to meet one of David Cameron's top lieutenants, Steve Hilton.

Walking in, he was snapped with a briefing note from the BBC's head of news, which suggested lines defending the Corporation's coverage of the government's spending cuts.

For members of the grassy-knoll brigade, this little sequence of events had it all: an unpublicised meeting between two of the men who run Britain, a snatched photo of an internal email, and the suggestion that BBC staffers would now have to tone down their Spending Review season that begins this week. Cue arched eyebrows and indignant tweets all round.

And it's true that the episode raises some questions. Why on earth was a BBC manager discussing its coverage of spending cuts with Number 10?

How much pressure has the BBC been put under already by the Conservative-led coalition? And why doesn't Mark Thompson get himself a nice satchel to keep his private notes private?

After that point, though, I part company from the X-Files gang. For one thing, conspiracies surely come better than this. More importantly, Cameron surely couldn't ask for a bigger favour from the BBC than the one it's already doing him – by running a six-week long series of programmes softening up the public for his government's spending cuts.

On 20 October, George Osborne will stand up in parliament and lay out the most savage spending cuts in more than 60 years. The typical government department will have a third of its budget lopped off. Some will be cut by as much as 40%. Whole areas of public service will either be axed or handed over to big private firms to run at a profit. The austerity will be on a scale similar to that which the Greeks have had imposed on them; except here it has been enthusiastically adopted by the government. And when the cuts are finally made, they are likely to arouse more domestic discontent than Tony Blair's decision to go to war with Iraq. There is nothing consensual, let alone inevitable about these actions – they amount to an extreme political choice and a massive gamble to boot.

So what is the BBC doing? Why, running a series on TV, radio and the web between now and the big day called The Spending Review: Making it Clear. This strand was dreamed up by Thompson's deputy, Mark Byford, and in a blog published this weekend he promises: "We'll look at where and at what level the cuts may be made and why they are happening now, ask what the key issues are, how the government is dealing with them and what the implications of the cuts could be." In other words: through special debates, big-number editions of Newsnight and the Today programme, we'll treat these cuts as a fact of life, and show you how much this will hurt.

Which is not to say that the entire strand will be credulous. The BBC has too many good journalists to allow that to happen, and in any case its management will be far too anxious not to cover the subject from all angles. There will be due consideration given to the wisdom of cutting so deep and so fast; there will probably also be case studies of other countries that managed their debt crises rather differently.

But, these will inevitably be presented as caveats to the main argument, which is that the spending cuts are coming. And by doing that, the BBC will help convince watchers and voters that they are inevitable. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as social proof – where people are won round to a point of view not so much by stats and facts as by the fact that lots of others are doing or talking about a particular thing.

It's a large-scale version of peer pressure and there's decades of evidence that shows it works. Nor is the evidence just in the academic journals: when the advertising folk proclaimed that "eight out of 10 owners" said their cats preferred one particular catfood, they were using social proof.

The same trick is used in politics too. When, in 2008, Gordon Brown pointed to how the rest of the G20 group of leading economies were copying his economic rescue plans, he was using a classic social-proof argument: all these world leaders are following my policy, so it can't be wrong.

But you don't always need lots of people in your corner to persuade others; sometimes, one institution will do. The BBC is so important a part of public life in Britain that in this instance it can very well act as the social proof. That is certainly the risk it is running here.

As you might have guessed, I am not in favour of the sort of public-spending cuts that Osborne is proposing. But I am not arguing that the BBC should broadcast my particular politics, any more than I expect Radio 1 to play The Fall all day and night. No, it simply shouldn't be taking sides at all. When the results of the spending review are announced on 20 October, that would be the ideal time to begin a six-week long series covering the fallout. The question is, will we get one?