Newsnight’s latest blunder

After Steve Hewlett’s masterly commentary on the mea culpa Newsnight (BBC2, 9 November 2012), I would only add two thoughts.

I have already had a brief outing on the broader issues of the Savile saga and the BBC’s journalism and management by tick-box aparatchics. Here are two very brief points in the light of even more current BBC disasters.

Number One: BBC journalism seems not to have learned an important lesson from the Andrew Gilligan affair. Back then, there was a failure in the duty of care the BBC owed to its source, David Kelly, perhaps flowing from the story’s not naming names. In the case of Steve Messham, it is perhaps obvious that his story should have been checked out more than it was, and that journalists should have thought so from the point of view of the strength of their own story. But a duty of care attitude should also have been in play: the story should have been checked out to save Mr Messham from himself and from the dangers of his contact with the world of stories.

Number Two: As funding journalism becomes more diverse, it is perhaps a good thing that City University has a “Bureau of Investigative Journalism”. But its involvement with Newsnight (and other mainstream broadcasters and news outlets) begs the thought: what is the institutional ownership of a story which has been sub-contacted out to “independent” or freelance outfits? And: should the country’s richest broadcaster sub-contract its investigative effort anyway?

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Publication date

10 November 2012