Tuesday, February 19, 2008

There Is More Rejoicing In Heaven, etc

Today is an historic day in the history of British broadcasting.
Two of the BBC's biggest egos have admitted the error of their ways.

Nick Robinson, Political Editor, has now backtracked in the row over what Alastair Darling did or didn't say in reply to a Parliamentary question.
And John Simpson, pomposity in human form, has said on a Radio 4 programme this morning 'I got it completely wrong' about China.

Yesterday, both Nick Robinson and John Humphreys were slavering like starving Rottweilers released into a children's creche because they'd found a Parliamentary answer by Alastair Darling which they thought showed him condemning nationalisation of Northern Rock as a disaster.
Debate about what Darling had actually said raged on Robinson's blog.
The truth seems to be that Darling was agreeing with the first part of the question, condemnation of Lib Dem policies, but not with the second part, a criticism of nationalisation.
But Robinson's retreat this morning amonts to: 'Yes, I got it wrong but it wasn't my fault.'
It was all the fault of the Hansard reporters.
This isn't entirely convincing because yesterday Robinson put a link on his blog to the actual recording of the Parliamentary debate. He now says that it was only on listening to it a second time last night that he realised his interpretation was wrong, as was the written Hansard record.
I imagine there must have been a lot of Government pressure on Robinson in the last 24 hours to get even this qualified retreat. But it was grudging, qualified and unapologetic. As for Humphreys, he just harrumphed.

You may think this is all a storm in a teacup. But it has to be seen in the context of concern about Robinson's impartiality.
It is said he was in the Young Conservatives when at Oxford. That may tell us something about his political leanings but shouldn't have any relevance to his career as a political reporter. His predecessor Andrew Marr had previously been a left-leaning journalist.
The real issue is the role of a political reporter in an organisation like the BBC with a duty of impartiality.
The job has two parts: to report the facts of what has happened and to explain and analyse. It's the second part that is problematic. It seems to me that Robinson and others are often including in their analysis statements that are contentious and partisan. This is fine if preceded by the qualification "The Tories would argue that.....", but not when simply handed down to the viewer or listener from the Olympian heights of the reporter's political expertise.

Take Robinson's line on nationalisation, peddled repeatedly over the last week: nationalisation is a 'toxic word'; it terrifies the public; it terrifies New Labour; it evokes memories of disastrously-run State industries.
How then do you explain that opinion polls have frequently shown that a majority of people would like to see the railways taken back into public ownership?
Or that many people are unhappy with the privatisation of other public utilities which was supposed to bring lower prices and greater efficiency but blatantly hasn't?
Or that there have been many other successful, temporary nationalisations of failing companies by Governments of both parties?

It's time the BBC reined in flashy correspondents with big egos like Robinson who confuse analysis with opinion. When BBC reporters start sounding like the Opposition or stating as fact things that a sizable chunk of their audience will strongly disagree with, something has gone badly wrong.


At 4:04 AM, Blogger Tim Footman said...

Big difference. Robinson got a fact wrong, which is out of order.

Simpson gave a duff prediction. Now, whether BBC correspondents should be making predictions in the first place is a moot point; but being wrongfooted by geopolitical developments is an honorable trait.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I agree. Simpson deserves credit for admitting he was wrong.
But that's what happens when reporting and commentary get mixed together.


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