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Will Paxman stay at BBC Newsnight? Time to kill off the programme?

The country’s leading TV inquisitor, Jeremy Paxman, faces a second Newsnight fiasco in as many weeks and must now be considering programme’s future. By NBS Director, Rory McLeod.

 

 

 

 

He gets up the noses of many but cantankerous Jeremy Paxman is a TV newsman who confronts politicians head on. He can be guilty of occasional errors of judgement and behaviour but he’s to be  valued: he keeps the political establishment on its toes and is quick to shoot down cant, propaganda, evasion and misrepresentation.

It would be no surprise if Paxman feels that, after Savile and McAlpine, his future now lies far away from  Newsnight. After all, the programme with which he has been linked inextricably for years has lost all of its credibility with crass failures in basic journalistic knowledge, skill, systems and judgement. Worst of all for Paxo is that Newsnight guests may, if pushed, hit back with ‘pot calling the kettle black’…… and they’d have a point. Thanks to the Savile and McAlpine accidents,  the credibility of Newsnight and the rest of BBC TV current affairs is in tatters. So my advice to Jezzer is to abandon the sinking Newsnight ship and  jump into the nearest  lifeboat – now!  Forget women and children and look after number one. That’s what everyone else at the BBC will be doing!

The irony is that a few days after the furore about Newsnight’s decision not to transmit a film about Savile’s Travels with young, vulnerable girls, the programme has failed to meet the most basic journalistic standards while making a film about Lord McAlpine.

Allow me a minute to reflect on what happened because they were the errors that the broadcast journalism students at the National Broadcasting School might have committed in their first weeks of the course. Some questions:

1) Why was the victim, Steve Meesham, not shown a series of photographs of his alleged abuser in order to make absolutely sure that he and the film-makers had got the right man?

2) Why was it acceptable that there was so little (read: none) corroborative evidence?

3) Why was Lord McAlpine not given the opportunity to respond to the allegations?

4) Why was the BBC D-G, George Entwistle, not given any advance warning of the film, given the record and profile of Lord McAlpine?

5) Why has Mr Entwistle called in Mr Ken MacQuarrie, director of BBC Scotland, to produce a report into what happened when Mr Entwistle, the BBC’s editor-in-chief and a journalist with a long and distinguished record, should himself have taken the issue by the throat and led his Corporation with decisive remedial action.

6) What were the BBC legal advisers thinking when they let this film through? I heard the words ‘public interest’ mentioned. Explain!

Saying ‘sorry’ is wise but not  enough. It may – I stress ‘may’ – be a mitigation in a libel court but that’s all. Lord MacAline and his lawyers, Andrew Reid and Sir Edward Garnier QC, seem to have a pretty  case which may be settled out of court. That would be a good outcome for the Beeb and Newsnight suits who would not enjoy being scrutinised by the press and public on such basic mistakes.

So the answer is: –  settle with Lord McAlpine, close Newsnight, and fire the journos and lawyers who were so useless. Some basic media law training would be good idea too. What’s a few thousand pounds of licence fees if that’s all it takes to settle?  I recall the smugness of some BBC journos when the NoW was forced to close. Time for the BBC to do the same to Newsnight?  The BBC’s been firing journos for years now as it ‘streamlines’, so someone’s had plenty of practice.  And lastly, is it not time the BBC College of Journalism did something useful like teaching basic media law?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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