The first formal response in any complaints procedure is the “disappointing brush-off”. My brush-off from Newsbeat arrived yesterday. Understandably, it’s a form email designed to cover all the objections received to the BNP interviews. Less understandably, the reply only refers to the radio version of the story: my complaint was specifically addressed to the online transcript.
On the 853 blog, Daryl points out that this shows a failure to understand the difference between radio and internet journalism:
what Rod McKenzie and his team at Newsbeat need to realise that while radio is a wonderful, intimate medium, it is transient. That lovingly-crafted audio piece will be forgotten next week. But that lazily slapped-up Q&A with the two “young BNP members” will still be there next week. And the week after. And next year. And it carries the BBC logo, so people around the world will think this is quality journalism – slurring the many excellent reporters I worked with in my decade there.
Furthermore, my complaint was about two specific instances in which the BNP’s false and bigoted reasoning was allowed to stand as fact: the false analogy between species and race, and the untruth about Ashley Cole’s birthplace. It wasn’t a blanket objection to coverage of the BNP. But Rod McKenzie’s reply doesn’t address those issues, it only asserts that Newsbeat has a duty to cover the BNP – which is puzzling, given that I never claimed otherwise.
It’s confounding to be presented with an editor who seems unable to acknowledge that, as well as deciding whether or not to cover an issue, his journalists have the capacity to cover something well or (as in this case) very badly indeed. McKenzie presents editing in this email as a matter of inclusion or omission, not quality control.
Underlining the slightly patronising tone is McKenzie’s expectation that those who complain about the piece would be shocked to discover that the BNP has support: “This may surprise you, but a great many texts we received yesterday – were broadly supportive of the BNP.” (It’s the dash he slips in to anticipate my astonished pause that really aggravates me here.) Whereas it’s that kind of positive reaction to the propagandising Newsbeat interview that many of the complainants will have anticipated, and feared.
After the jump: McKenzie’s reply in full
Thanks very much for your complaint about our BNP interview – I note your comments. I thought it might be useful for you to understand our thinking editorially on this matter.
The BNP was given airtime because we’re an impartial newsgathering organisation. It’s our job to examine all political parties and put their representatives on the spot with fair and firm questioning.
Impartial journalism and censorship do not sit happily together. We believe in getting the facts and the arguments out there for people to decide – not in judging what is “right” or “wrong” in a political context – that’s for you to do. The BNP are not an illegal party – they enjoy electoral support and have elected representatives. It is the BBC’s job to properly examine all legitimate political parties that operate within the law and for which people clearly vote.
This may surprise you, but a great many texts we received yesterday – were broadly supportive of the BNP. Over time it’s evident from following our listeners that the party touches a nerve of support or interest. The large pile of texts on my desk raise issues around immigration, political correctness and an apparent frustration with mainstream politics that means the BNP, or at least some of their policies, appeals to some people. It’s also clear that not much is known about the party’s policies beyond immigration and race which is something we were keen to explore – and did.
We put to Nick Griffin some of the texts we received including sentiments as tough as “you’re a disgrace” and “how do you sleep at night?”. Debbie Randle’s handling of the interview was extremely rigorous and the bulk of the tough questions she asked were inspired by or directly quoted listeners themselves.
I hope you will understand that one of purposes of journalism in a democratic society is to explore and question – raising at times subjects some may find distasteful or shocking.
Thanks again for taking the time and trouble to contact us.
BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat – 1Xtra News
Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009