18 thoughts on “How the BBC Abandoned Investigative Reporting

  1. This makes for really depressing reading.

    I don’t live in Britain any more so don’t follow the BBC’s television output, but I do catch some investigative journalism going out on Radio Four: Face the Facts springs to mind. Meirion’s critique is pretty devastating so far as the BBC’s coverage of the Savile affair is concerned. But surely there is still some good work of the kind he champions being done at the BBC? (And surely it’s fewer journalists, not less?)

  2. This is simply not true for the BBC as a whole. It may very well be the case in London but BBC Scotland has a reasonably large specialist investigative unit which works for the network and BBC Scotland programming, including Panorama. It has three front of camera journalists, an editor, four producers and four researchers. It makes 3 x 60 mins and 13 x 30′ programmes a year. Its best known reporter is Mark Daly, who made the award-winning and agenda-setting Panorama on doping in athletics, which implicated Mo Farrar’s coach Salazar. The BBC is a very long way from perfect, and it clearly does have an issue with its investigative investment, but it is also bigger than just London.

    • Utterly ludicrous comment about the English Broadcasting Corporation’s propaganda unit in Scotland. Shows like Misreporting Scotland are strictly party political broadcasts where Labour politicians are interviewed about Labour press releases with back up from Labour Think tanks which are portrayed as academic or independent. During the Referendum thousands protesting right outside the BBC were totally ignored for hours. It lives in a UK OK bubble in which the party a majority of Scots back doesn’t exist. It has no redeeming features whatsoever. Its sole role is to try to manufacture consent for what the UK requires of it.

  3. Interesting, but not surprising. This is something I have asked myself in the past – the way news outlets get their stories.
    With the BBC they seem to quote Reuters, report on political leaks, repeat newspapers, send Steph McGovern to TATA steel or fill time with her Irish dancing. All very easy things.
    Three way debates commonly consist of the BBC (often biased) arbiter, chairman of the Americas Logging Foundation and some spokesperson for Protect the Rainforests, or two people politically very left and very right discussing immigrants.

  4. Interesting comments…

    The headline”How the BBC Abandoned Investigative Reporting” is GIJN’s not mine. The original headline when I wrote it for OpenDemocracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/meirion-jones/bbc-savile-and-investigations a month ago was “The BBC, Savile, and Investigations”. It did what it said on the tin.

    My purpose was not to knock the work done by investigative journalists in the BBC – and I have nothing but respect for Mark Daly and his team and Face the Facts – but to strongly argue that an organisation employing 4,000 journalists should be breaking far more stories, and to identify some of the problems. The fact is that BBC investigative journalists like Mark Daly and Face the Facts cannot now assure whistleblowers that the BBC will protect them, because the BBC management has shown with the way it treated Karin Ward that it cannot be trusted. If whistleblowers are sued for what they say on the BBC the BBC will no longer guarantee to protect them. And lastly… Jonny Jacobsen you’re fighting a losing battle if you think anyone is going to be joining you in the “Eight items or fewer” queue at the supermarket. Banning less in that context was a Georgian confection – the OED traces “8 items or less” all the way back to King Alfred.

    • But you wrote the following: “The BBC has more journalists than any other media outlet in Britain, but out of those 4,000 men and women, yes 4,000, precisely none of them work in an investigations unit.” If that number includes BBC Scotland staff – which it should do to properly report the BBC’s output, your statement is simply not true. It’s pretty clear that the BBC is doing far, far less than it should and that you have the chops to complain about that, but the article is inaccurate and is being reproduced as gospel all over Facebook by other journalists. I know Daly and his colleagues, and have worked on the same stories, and I think it unfair to them that this goes uncorrected. You cite the Guardian: that’s where I work and if I’d published this, our readers editor would’ve been all over me like a rash.

      • The first paragraph says the main newspapers “all maintain centralized investigations units”. The second paragraph deals with plans to set up such a unit. That’s called context for the phrase “investigations unit”. I’m not knocking BBC Scotland’s efforts – far from it – I know and rate Mark Daly very highly, but the BBC has 4,000 journalists – most of them based in London – and produces scandalously little original content. Without a commitment at the centre to do something about that nothing will change. You also don’t comment on the failure of the BBC to stand up for its sources which will now impact on the willingness of whistleblowers to go to the Beeb whether they’re in Scotland or London in the same way that they lost confidence in the Guardian after the Peter Preston / Sarah Tisdall incident which took years to repair.

  5. So you took BBC money for years then left or were no longer required. Then turned on the corporation. Well done! You are completely wrong. Thank God the BBC doesn’t do things the way newsnight did when it was completely discredited. The BBC is doing independent investigation in every newsroom from every radio station to regional documentary unit file on 4 sport and I would put the excellent work by Richard Bilton up against any investigative journalists of the last 60 years. The BBC has as much investigative journalism as it ever had and its 4000 staff work hard bringing the news. I noticed my last post was removed something that shows that somebody has realised that if this “article” is the level of your journalism, the license payer is better off without it. Shame on you for stabbing hard working journalists who you have never met in the back.

  6. in the states, jfk was a coup d’état, and journalist gary webb the coup de grace – this is something to keep in mind as we recall what happened when a bbc reporter accidentally did investigate something: when david kelly spilled the beans about ‘wmd’s in iraq’ being a deliberate fraud, and was suicided soon after (on the same day condie made the big announcement, by coincidence)

  7. I think the problem here is in saying “precisely none” of the 4000 journalists work in an investigations unit. Many work in teams like File on Four, 5 Live Investigates, the various regional Inside Out teams and the Scotland investigative unit mentioned in the comments. There’s also a new centralised investigations unit with Paul Myers and other units which have an investigative focus.

    I agree with the central thrust – the BBC needs to explicitly make a promise to whistleblowers (who generally wouldn’t trust the BBC), EdPol is a major barrier, and the flagship TV shows need re-focusing.

    But I think commenters are right to pick up on the factual error: if the context is London, and TV not radio or online, then the figure should be London based journalists in TV.

    This also touches on another issue with the BBC, which is that it is widely perceived to be London-dominated and doesn’t do enough to cross-report stories uncovered in one part of the corporation like radio or online.

  8. Completely agree with the thrust of this article. The BBC regularly fails to counteract the general media trend towards the ‘dumbing down’ of society. Sound bites, non-stories, poor/compliant interview techniques and lack of balance are all too frequently the sum total of daily output.

  9. Meirion Jones and Edmund McFaddeb are entirely right. Jones’ main complaints are a general pro-government bias, a timidity bordering on satire, a tangible fear of controversial subjects and any kind of committed policy in defense of independent critical reporting of major issues. Where was the coverage of the Snowden documents, the detailed disclosures of illegal spying and the role of GCHQ in lieing to the public about the degree and quantity of mass surveillance; Where was the coverage of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks that wasn’t uniformly hostile; How many WikiLeaks documents were shown or quoted at any length? How has the BBC reported the claims against British soldiers in murder, rape, torture and brutality in Iraq, Afghanistan. Why has the BBC never produced a single programme examining the staggering history of deaths in police custody. And on McFadden’s accurate portrait of the dumbing down, the mindless interviews, the non stories – where would you even begin?

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