Public service standards in journalism
One of the most striking aspects of the post-Hutton furore is the astonishingly comprehensive and objective way BBC journalists have covered the traumas of their own organisation. It’s deeply impressive. And it contrasts vividly with how most ‘commercial’ news organisations perform when their organisations are in trouble or in the news. Can you imagine, for example, any branch of the Murdoch media giving extensive and detached coverage of the Digger’s divorce, or of troubles within the BSkyB fold?
And even the ‘liberal’ media are not immune. I’ve written for the Observer since 1972 and have seen the paper go through a series of owners. The most shameful memories I have are of what happened to the paper when it was owned by Lonhro, a conglomerate with extensive commercial interests in Africa, led by a Chairman who enjoyed warm personal relationships with most of Africa’s more corrupt dictators. During that time, I watched a liberal newspaper turn a blind eye to all kinds of shady goings-on in Africa. And it was out of the question for its journalists to report frankly on Lonhro’s dealings; indeed, one who tried was actually fired, if I remember correctly. It got so bad that whenever unpalatable compromises with the truth were about to be made, the Editor would say “It’s rat-sandwich time, chaps”. Mercifully, in time the nightmare passed and the paper was bought by the Guardian, so the two papers are now owned by a non-commercial trust. But every time I look at or listen to a BBC news bulletin at present, I am impressed. This is what public-service broadcasting is for.