Monday, October 19, 2015


For balance, here's the BBC bit of Alan Rusbridger's speech to the Society of Editors.

....And, of course the BBC must be slashed because it’s destroying the national press, or so I read. You might argue, if you were picky, that the American press is as deeply challenged as the British press - and they have nothing resembling the BBC to explain their decline. So blaming all our ills and anxieties on the presence of a public broadcaster may or may not be justified. 

You could close down the BBC entirely and still not discover the silver bullet for newspapers.

But that doesn’t stop the BBC being treated to a daily monstering that feels at times disproportionate and obsessive - never mind the multiple undeclared conflicts of interest. 

I certainly feel conflicted when I think about the BBC. As an editor, many things about the BBC did irritate and annoy me. They had no business dabbling in some of their commercial ventures. The fact that they were essentially “free” (once the licence fee had been paid) is, I can see, a complication if you’re trying to build a subscription model. 

The organization is quite often extremely bad at partnerships and collaboration. It can be slow moving, intransigent and arrogant. More concerning still, I sometimes worry about its dominance, influence and journalistic bravery. So I don’t need convincing about the troubling aspects of the BBC. 

But - both as a journalist and as a citizen, I can’t ignore its immense virtues strengths. Nor would I want to. In thinking about the BBC, I also see probably the greatest news organisation in the world. A newsroom of incomparable depth, range, talent and knowledge. Journalists of seriousness, huge professionalism and the highest ethical standards. One of the few news organisations in the world still dedicated to being based out in the world telling stories globally because so many of the stories that affect our lives today are global.

So, as well as being very suspicious of the BBC I’m incredibly grateful for, and proud of, and trusting in, the BBC. Does no one else feel this? It doesn’t feel like it from the compulsively negative coverage we serve up almost daily. 

And, in a sense, the more the national press behaves like a journalistic battering ram on the subject the more I feel a need for the BBC. Of course, there’s no requirement for the press to deal with anyone fairly, impartially or in a balanced way - and, quite often, Fleet Street, relishes the freedom to be as aggressive and biased as it likes. That’s as it should be. 

But when Fleet Street is in fully cry you don’t half appreciate the BBC’s still small voice of calm. I wouldn’t want the BBC without Fleet Street. But nor would I want Fleet Street without a strong BBC.  
Ironically, the licence fee is currently the only provably successful business model for delivering extremely high quality general news internationally and nationally. There may be reasons why it’s not ultimately sustainable. If so, surely there’s all the more reason to hold a reasonable discussion about the best way to keep BBC journalism proud, independent, strong… and confident. 

In whose interests – apart from politicians and other centres of power which deserve to be scrutinized - is it to have a cowed BBC? I’m actually amazed it’s not more cowed. Imagine if, on a newspaper, a mistake of the sort that most of us make in our careers led to a full-scale judicial inquiry. The editor and chairman sacked. A thousand headlines, millions of pounds in costs. If any newspaper survived such attention at all the subsequent culture would surely be one of extreme back covering and caution. That would be only human. 

It’s something of a miracle that the BBC, under such scrutiny and attack on a continuous basis, is still capable of producing robust, independent journalism. I would sometimes like it to be still more brave and still more independent - but that’s another story.

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