After letting me know about it two months ago, the BBC’s editorial complaints unit has published its adjudication into my complaints about September’s Newsbeat website feature based on an interview with two members of the British National Party.
The complaint was considered along with others into the radio broadcast, who complained the identities of the interviewees – introduced on air as “young guys who are members of the BNP” – had not been shared with listeners. It wasn’t – and still isn’t – mentioned on the website version of the interview.
At the time of the interview, one of the interviewees was the BNP’s publicity director and the other ran the record label which promotes and sells BNP CDs. Information about their status was relevant to listeners’ understanding of their contributions, and should have been included. Although not conducted in a confrontational style, the interview did include elements of challenge (in both the broadcast and the online version). However, the concept of British ethnicity, introduced by the interviewees in connection with the example of a black British-born footballer, was not tested in the way its controversial character called for. (more)
At the time, Newsbeat editor Rod McKenzie said his reporter’s “handling of the interview was extremely rigorous”. Three months later…. “The editor of Newsbeat… discussed with the team the need for rigorous challenge within interviews of this kind.” I do hope someone’s also had a discussion with Rod McKenzie, too.
I’ve said a lot of this before, but I believe the point needs restating – the BBC would never have got itself into this mess if it hadn’t got into stupid, journalistically cowardly position of declaring that the BNP, an organisation with well known links to violence and intimidation, would be treated as a normal political party. Somewhere down the line, that seems to have been interpreted at Newsbeat as an instruction to be relatively gentle with a party founded by admirers of Adolf Hitler.
The responsibility for that, ultimately, lies with the editor of Newsbeat and with Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief adviser for politics, rather than the reporter behind the piece, who was working within the template her bosses set for her. Still, mistakes are there to be learned from, and hopefully the next time Newsbeat comes across the BNP, they’ll be a bit more sure-footed.
However, considering the interview remains on the Newsbeat website, largely unaltered from the day it first went live, and with no mention of the adjudication against it, perhaps those lessons have let to be learned.