St Bride's: Sermons

Can we trust the BBC?

huttonkelly.jpgIt wasn't just the BBC who were in a state of shock after the publication of the Hutton report into the death of weapon?s expert David Kelly. The whole journalistic fraternity was reeling at his verdict because to them, and many others, it seemed so one-sided: intense and minute scrutiny of the BBC, its editorial and management systems but a much gentler, more broad-brush approach when it came to government departments. It may not deserve to be called a whitewash, but it does leave many questions unanswered. There is also a real worry that its comprehensive criticisms of the BBC will, in the long run, undermine journalistic freedom and play into the hands of those who wish to emasculate the Corporation.

The BBC was rightly criticised in the report. There were crucial errors in the original report by Andrew Gilligan on the Today programme. Instead of issuing a simple correction and apology the BBC, from the top management downwards, refused to back down, and foolishly decided to take on the Government. Because it has tried to outdo commercial broadcasters there is a real danger that the BBC is compromising its integrity and impartiality: these are fundamental questions which the BBC needs to address.

However the public response to the Hutton report makes it clear that most people still trust the BBC more than they do politicians. The legacy of spin remains to tarnish this government and undermine trust in politics, and the Hutton report has done nothing to restore that confidence: indeed it has probably made matters worse. There is now to be a further enquiry into weapons of mass destruction, and many would like a wider enquiry into why we went to war at all.

Because the terms of the Hutton enquiry were so narrow, the wider moral questions have been left unanswered, and the underlying issue of the validity of the war in Iraq has been conveniently sidelined.

We have an excellent, world class, public service broadcaster in the BBC: we have a problem of trust at the heart of our political system. Hutton did not acknowledge either of these facts, but they both need addressing if our democratic system is to flourish, and retain the confidence and commitment of the public.

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