News or Comment on Television
The Daily Telegraph 04-11-1986
SIR The current row between the Government and the BBC over alleged bias in news reporting highlights the importance of sound journalistic principles.
For those of us who learned our trade by working our way through provincial newspapers, the prime importance in a very inexact science was learning to distinguish between news, comment, speculation and reportage in issues of conflict.
With any luck we were schooled by an uncompromising editor who insisted on the whole truth, balance and impartiality where news was concerned and fair play in everything else. The task was made easier when we were writing for separate sections and separate editors of news, leaders, features, etc..
In radio and television such useful distinctions are now quite blurred. Programmes such as Newsnight, Panorama, News At One and PM attempt to package news and current affairs in a magazine format which deliberately seeks to combine news with comment.
While this may please the listener or viewer it places phenomenal responsibility on that one editor and almost uncheckable opportunities for manipulation of the packaged content.
Without the checks and balances of newspaper formats there can only be more rows such as the present one with the BBC. And if the traditional, excellent approach of the World Service is deemed good enough for the hundreds of millions of disparate listeners around the world, surely it should be even more applicable where a packed British population of up to 20 million viewers at a time is being informed.
CHRISTOPHER LONG London S.W.5.
This letter derived from allegations that a BBC TV reporter in Libya had breached expected professional standards in reports during 'retaliatory' air-strikes by the USA on the capital, Tripoli.
© (1986) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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