Monday, 12 November 2012

In defence of the BBC, British Journalism and a free press.

I know this blog is usually a barrel of behind the scenes buffoonery and slapstick cameraman shenanigans, with a twist of bad tasting food, court steps and the misery of standing on street corners in the rain. There is however, a shit storm in the British press at the moment. The fan involved is huge... The bucket of shit is full... and not many people have an umbrella.

BBC TV News Centre has been reopened as a green room for those 'Standing aside..'

According to the press everywhere in the UK today, the BBC news division is in an awful editorial mess. I say no it isn't. The flagship BBC news programme Newsnight may be in tatters at the moment, having made some quite awful mistakes, errors of judgement, bad journalism, call it what you will. The latest scandal, naming a man as a paedophile, when he isn't, is somewhere around 9.7 on the Rectum scale... sorry... Richter scale.

But speaking as a freelancer who works a lot within BBC News, mainly at a local level, i can categorically state that the business of news gathering, filming, gathering of the facts, editing and editorial decision making still goes on. Dedicated, resourceful, honest and trustworthy journalists, camera people, editors and producers are still preparing the bulletins for your morning, afternoon and evening viewing and listening.

A few people in a small, but prominent part of the BBC News machine have made a few big mistakes. As a freelancer, and therefore a tiny tiny coiled spring in the larger, overall news machine, i have no insider knowledge to impart. I often feel i am the luckiest of people not to be involved as a member of staff, with the internal wranglings, behind the scenes briefings and other internal mechanisms that have to be coped with in such a large organisation, which is not unique to the BBC News.

As i write, Top management at the BBC News are resigning, standing aside, or are thinking of doing so. ( The standing aside green room is getting rather full of management drinking coffee and eating doughnuts. ) A few journalists, senior producers and a manager or two are having to take a long hard look at their careers.

The news is at the moment reporting on the news gatherers, BBC Panorama have investigated BBC Newsnight. Last week, the BBC, Sky News, ITV News and Channel Four News reported that the BBC News are investigating the BBC News. The printed press are in a whirlwind of agendas, axe grinding and bullying. Bloggers are appopleptic. Hundreds of Politicians with their over inflated salaries, pensions and expenses are whinging about hundreds of senior BBC staff on large salaries, pensions and expenses, as the rest of the BBC quietly gets on with the daily business of news gathering on TV, Radio and Online. Quite frankly, it's a right old over inflated mess.

The coming few days and weeks will be interesting not just for the BBC News division, but for the British press as a whole. The wolves are banging at the door calling for tighter press regulation, Government oversight, and tighter leashes for a free press. The Leveson inquiry will soon publish it's report. There is a mess to be cleaned. The last thing we need as a press corps is to turn on each other over mistakes made in the past, present or future, if we have a future, as a free self regulating press.

Those that made mistakes or broke the law whether by design, oversight, or incompetence should be either guided in the right direction, prosecuted or just bloody sacked, depending on the magnitude of the error made.

But i seriously hope that in the frenzy that is engulfing the BBC News division at the moment, and the approaching bucket and fan on the horizon in the shape of the Leveson report, doesn't mean that the baby isn't thrown out with the bathwater by those who have a vested interest in seeing the baby disappear. And there are many who will call for it. A neutered BBC, afraid and hamstrung by past mistakes, and a government regulated press is a bad, bad thing. Not just for us who work in the trade, but for the people of this country as a whole.

I am but a small voice in the great scheme of things. I am a freelancer who works for the BBC on a regular basis. BBC News, both national and local, has a deserved reputation for being unbiased, truthful and rigorous in it's journalism. It is not the only news outlet out there, but the world watches and listens to the BBC. It doesn't always get it right as the past few weeks have shown. But when it gets it right, it can be the best in the world.

And finally... When the enquiries and Leveson are all over and the fan stops spinning, those covered in shit will have a decision to make. Clean up and wash off the stains, or take the lumps with you, 'cos you are stinking up the place. And those with an agenda to rid us of a free, self regulating press can do the same. The door is that way.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter