A Conversation for The Nearly but Not Quite 'Official' Peer Review Discussion Forum
Pinniped Started conversation Mar 24, 2009
I'm reading a just-published book with that title, minus the question mark. Its subtitle is “The Media, the Miners' Strike and the Aftermath" and it’s edited by Granville Williams. I’d like to share some of the thoughts that the experience has seeded.
As-yet unread parts will have more to reveal about the whole of the Strike, I'm sure, but I've already combed the Orgreave sections. Here, I feel sure, is the kind of evidence that would have persuaded sceptical Eds that the original account was true. For anyone who doesn’t know, that one was generally well-received in Peer Review, got picked but was vetoed by the Eds (specifically Jimster) on grounds of political contentiousness.
In reading the book, I've learned things instead that make some statements in the new, supposedly uncontestable, Entry inaccurate. For instance, it seems that a significant number of police brutality claims were successful after all. In 1991, South Yorkshire Police agreed a £425,000 settlement of claims of assault and wrongful arrest collectively brought by 39 miners.
The trouble is, all the new facts from this new source, and all the old ones confirmed, weigh on that side of the balance. There’s almost nothing new about the discreditable behaviour of miners. There’s probably nothing left to reveal on that front, though, because at the time the tabloids were falling over each other to publish it all the next day. All the revelations are of journalistic duplicity, disturbing suggestions of government complicity in incitement to violence and alarming examples of police indiscipline.
If my latest version of the story of Orgreave is the closest thing to the truth that the Eds will allow, then so be it. Its inclusion in the Edited Guide is surely better than an Edited Guide with nothing to say about the Miners’ Strike and its legacy. I want here to make a point about our h2g2, though.
I think there’ll be a problem whenever anyone posts a well-researched but potentially contentious piece to Peer Review. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems that the BBC daren’t let an on-line community decide what is true, even when that community is conspicuously intelligent and scrupulous in its peer review process.
I realise that there are resource issues if there has to be in-house editorial research to substantiate our work. It’s an open secret, though that numerous Scout-picked Entries go through to the EG with only cursory editorial attention (cf Mina on the subject: F3719964?thread=5500615&skip=80&show=20#p64206005 – and good for her for saying it). But if the Eds are only going deeply into Entries when they perceive a risk that we might be jeopardising the Beeb’s reputation, well, that would be a sad state of affairs indeed.
So may I ask a hypothetical question? Say somebody wrote, and posted to PR, an Entry entitled “The Role of the BBC in the Death of Dr David Kelly”. Let’s say it was accurate in every researchable detail, sensitively written and devoid of any opinion or speculation. It would still, of course, make the BBC look bad, but that’s what truth does, sometimes.
Would such an Entry ever be allowed onto the Front Page? I think whoever set out to write it would need to be assured in advance that the Powers would let Peer Review, and Peer Review alone, decide on the Entry’s merits. Otherwise it might well turn out to be a frustrating and fruitless effort, and too many of us have had too many of those.
Or what if there came to PR, or just to a Convo somewhere on the site, an insider’s revelation of Woodward-and-Bernstein magnitude? If something that really might cause consternation in Government or elsewhere in the establishment were to appear here, would the BBC tolerate the discussion? Would it make a difference if it was another country’s scandal that was exposed?
What I’m asking, I guess, is: do the BBC traditions and self-proclaimed standards of journalism extend to this community?
“Shafted” is a powerful book. I’m an impressionable soul. I care a lot about things close to me, and perhaps anger too easily when others don’t. Through it all, I pay my licence fee. Sometimes I feel the need to be reassured that I don’t pay it merely to listen, but to have a say.
BMT Posted Mar 24, 2009
""So may I ask a hypothetical question? Say somebody wrote, and posted to PR, an Entry entitled “The Role of the BBC in the Death of Dr David Kelly”. Let’s say it was accurate in every researchable detail, sensitively written and devoid of any opinion or speculation. It would still, of course, make the BBC look bad, but that’s what truth does, sometimes.""
Frankly if it were written as you say then I see no reason why it shouldn't be in the guide. Afterall, you only have to look at the 'Points of View' board and the 'Have Your Say' page on the News site to see the BBC being criticised. It's there for all to see and some of the language used is strong to say the least.
A question though, why would you title it the 'Role of the BBC in the Death of David Kelly"? There were other factors involved, not least the government. However, as you say, if the article was well researched, factually correct and balanced then it's EG worthy.
My for what it's worth.
Pinniped Posted Mar 24, 2009
A valid question ST. In fact if the Entry were to appear in PR, there would probably be a consensus among the comments that a broader view, explaining all the contributing factors, would make for a better and more useful Entry.
Which would be Peer Review working as it should, of course. I asked the question in the hope of reassurance that the process would be allowed to do so.
Icy North Posted Mar 25, 2009
The BBC's version of David Kelly / Hutton Enquiry events is collated here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk/2003/david_kelly_inquiry/
It summarises Hutton's criticisms of the BBC in the affair and also links to the full report. I guess this might define the limits to which the BBC would be prepared to go with this one.
KB Posted Mar 25, 2009
My suspicion is that the H2G2's limits would not reach as far as the BBC's limits on that. There's a history of caution here about things that are common on other BBC outlets.
McKay The Disorganised Posted Mar 29, 2009
As the BBC has in the main been proved accurate in the accusations they made it was the PrimeMinister who released David Kelly's name, I'd say that the BBC could come out of such an article favourably.
That however was then, now they are so firmly ensconsed upon the fence, and in fear of the government that their journalism has been reduced to the blandest repetion of known facts and broadcasting of chosen government leaks.
Read the blogs - Nick Robinson's in particular and you'll see some very outspoken criticism. (Not all justified)
Pinniped Posted Mar 29, 2009
I don't think I'd be quite as interested in the BBC's journalistic integrity if my Least Favourite Slant of All Time hadn't impugned mine.
Just as the Gilligan affair has seemingly reduced the Beeb to a poodle of the Labour project, so Orgreave has its tales of a craven appeasement of Thatcher.
There is nothing I can find on any BBC website that confirms that the Corporation issued an apology in 1991 for having altered the sequence of footage, making it look as if the police charged in response to the pickets throwing stones, while in reality the police charge took place first. I didn't include this in the original version of my Entry (the one Charlotte took offence to), precisely because I couldn't substantiate it. I now know that some reputable sources, including the Guardian and Tony Benn's diaries, record the apology, however.
I've also read that Tony Benn has further claimed that NUJ journalists on the BBC protested about the editing at the time, and were specifically overruled by management. If this is true, the episode was no mistake, and neither was it the doing of a low-level zealot. It would have to be judged an execrable piece of executive misjudgement, and an example of the BBC bringing discredit on itself.
I don't buy the excuse that the Beeb must be getting things broadly right, because it gets criticism from both sides of politics. An even spread of mistakes is not an achievement. It's basically an admission that the number of mistakes is high.
McKay The Disorganised Posted Mar 29, 2009
I'm afraid the apology uses words like 'error' and 'inadvertant' and generally implies that whilst it reflected events inaccurately, it was not part of a deliberate attempt to misrepresent events.
However I'm referring to Mr Benn's version of the event so obviously that carries his opinion within it.
*Aside - Hilary says that his father was always full of advice - one piece was, 'never wrestle with a sweep.'*
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