14 July 2007

The BBC, good faith and public service

I awoke the other morning to extremely prominent BBC radio news reports that the Queen had stormed out of a photo session. I must admit that my first reaction was along the lines of "so what?!" Her Majesty must get impatient like the rest of us, and surely she is entitled to react from time to time.

But then, as the day wore on, the story changed. It turned out that the Queen had extracted an apology from the Corporation! In a delicious phrase, the BBC admitted that "the actual sequence of events was mis-represented." BBC Statement here.

News Sniffer catalogues the many revisions of the story - the actual volte-face happening here.

The senior executive responsible, the Controller of BBC 1, says that he does not intend to resign, since he "used the sequence in good faith".

I'm not at all sure that he should resign - though I am sure he will have learned some lessons. People make mistakes, and should be allowed to apologise for them. But it occurs to me that the BBC regularly sneers at others in public life who claim to have acted in good faith! The Corporation's treatment of Tony Blair springs immediately to mind.

Good faith is routinely doubted and regularly ridiculed - except it seems when the motives of BBC executives are concerned!

The other point, of course, is that the BBC and other media organisations often misrepresent events. They do so - explicitly or implicity - by presenting them slanted by a particular political bias, or by an underlying set of assumptions, or just by the desire to sell papers or to promote programmes. The difference here is that the Queen has the clout to extract an apology and a swift correction of the impression created.

What about those who are misrepresented and have no means of obtaining redress? Public service broadcasting indeed!



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