Trustworthy Media? The Asymmetric Threat of Loss of
Integrity and Values in a World Renowned Broadcaster
London, UK - 19 July 2007, 09:04 GMT
Dear ATCA Colleagues
[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors
are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral.
ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]
Few would disagree with the verdict of John Whittingdale, the
Chairman of the All-Party Culture Media and Sport Committee of the House of
Commons, UK Parliament, on the revelation that the British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC) had misrepresented Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in a trailer for a
documentary. "Undoubtedly this has been a very serious blow to the
honesty, integrity and the reputation of the BBC," he said. "One
of its greatest assets is its reputation for truth and honesty and that has
The BBC has had to apologise to Her Majesty. The damage was inadvertently
caused by the controller of BBC1, Peter Fincham. He told journalists at the
channel's autumn launch that the Queen had walked out of a photo-shoot "in
a huff", after being asked to remove her "crown" by Anne Liebowitz.
Footage appeared to show her walking out, but in fact it had been assembled
in the wrong order by the production company RDF Media. Unknown to Fincham,
she'd actually been walking in. The timing could hardly have been worse.
The damage to BBC's reputation appears to be much deeper. Some BBC executives
are likely to be suspended while reviews are held into fake phone-ins unearthed
by another inquiry. All phone-related competitions on BBC TV and radio ceased
from midnight on Wednesday, while interactive and online competitions will
be taken down as soon as possible. Mark Thomson, Director General of the BBC,
has also ordered an independent inquiry into footage that wrongly implied
the Queen walked out of a photo session. The BBC Trust said it was "deeply
concerned that significant failures of control and compliance within the BBC
have compromised the BBC's values of accuracy and honesty."
Earlier on Wednesday, a report by UK media regulator Ofcom said there had
been a "systemic failure" in the way TV channels had run premium
rate phone services. An inquiry found that broadcasters were "in denial"
about their responsibilities to viewers and saw phone-ins as a way to generate
revenue. Last week Ofcom fined the BBC GBP 50,000 after their prime children's
programme falsified the results of a phone-in competition during a live show.
New BBC Measures include:
. All competitions suspended
. All staff to be trained on safeguarding trust
. Independent inquiry into the Queen documentary
. Commissioning from the Queen documentary production company RDF "paused"
. Some editorial leaders asked to "stand back" from their duties
. Contracts with staff and suppliers revised to emphasise editorial standards
. Promotional materials must meet the same standards
Michael Grade, Chief Executive of ITV (Independent Television), a former Chairman
of the BBC, told BBC2's Newsnight that every broadcaster in the UK was affected.
He said, "It's partly to do with casualisation of the industry, people
on short-term contracts under tremendous strain, tremendous pressure. Competitive
pressure is enormous." Mr Grade said there has been too much cutting
of corners. "It's desperately important that we restore trust and
that the programme-makers get to understand - whether through hard lessons
or through training or a combination of both -- that you do not lie to audiences
under any circumstances."
Steve Hewlett, a former editor of Panorama and senior ITV executive, said,
"Television is more competitive than it has ever been, between all
the channels. That leads people to think that they might be out of a job if
their programme isn't lively enough. That makes it even more important that
broadcasting organisations have the right culture. BBC editorial management
relies on people at every level exercising good judgment -- from the researcher
right up to the editor and ultimately to the director general. It only works
if you have shared judgments, shared assumptions and certain shared standards.
And the boss class have to take responsibility for the culture and ethos of
the organisations they are running."
We would like to hear from distinguished ATCA readers -- in over 120 countries
-- to understand how this problem might manifest in other parts of the world.
We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views. Thank
For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency
Alliance is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001
to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic
dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global
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as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.
The views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily
representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. Please
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