Mixed BBC affair

As a former BBC Television executive with news and current affairs, I have been filled with sadness, anger and yet some pride in the last few days.

I share with millions of people the disgust that some shoddy journalism by the Newsnight team should near destroy the reputation of a person of some distinction – Lord MacAlpine. As I was taught and, all journalists learn, just one misplaced innuendo or wrongful accusation can lead to a life that is forever tarnished.

No apologies can ever quite remove the stigma of accusation and the fact that, in the offices of the BBC2 programme Newsnight, this was forgotten is a matter of huge concern and anger. Added to that, the fact that the director general, that is the BBC’s editor-in-chief, seemed so lamentably unaware of the broadcast was without doubt a certain reason for his resignation. That programme should never have been broadcast without the knowledge and approval of either the director general personally or his most senior aides. Such a dreadful lapse in procedures and in judgement cannot be ignored and may easily destroy the reputation of the BBC for decades.

What is needed now is a review of programme production procedures for ensuring accuracy and integrity within the BBC. Until a few years ago one of the tenets of all television news and current affairs producers was, before you broadcast a ‘fact’ check it twice and then a third time (from different sources) and only then broadcast. Such a stricture has clearly been forgotten by some Newsnight staff! That is a source of great sadness.

Yet on Sunday morning I saw and heard things that gave me both hope and pride in the BBC.

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The coverage of Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in London showed the BBC at its best.

The visual coverage – not an easy task with scores of cameras and sound equipment and probably hundreds of miles of cables and vans of broadcast equipment and technical staff – was as usual impeccable. On top of that the commentary by David Dimbleby and Sophie Raworth was remarkably well researched. The two commentators had so many facts – from regimental details to stories of the gallantry of many individuals who were marching past at their fingertips. That is not an easy task when there are hundreds of different military and medical and charity organisations involved and when the commentators with the camera crews identified scores of different individuals and small groups of people.

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So, in a few days we have seen, apart from many hours of news programmes that are well researched and broadcast, two sides of BBC Television news and current affairs – the inefficient and downright shambolic and, on the other side, the high class and excellent.

As a former member of the BBC for many years I would hope that readers will not ‘give up on the BBC’ yet. It will put its house in order.

Paul Ellis

West Buckland

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