The BBC has a formidable history of impartial, verified news coverage worldwide, broadcast in good English and with comprehensible diction. Lord Reith set some high standards, suitable for their time, which have been modified and adapted to the changing world in which they now operate. Many of the world’s greatest reporters have been ‘BBC developed’. Several of them are still working. Orla Guerin, John Simpson, David Attenborough, Huw Edwards, Kirsty Wark, I could go on with another fifty whose names you would identify. Wonderful people dedicated to keeping the news-hungry world informed. 

The BBC’s resources are second to none, their coverage, universal. Throughout my life from WWII onwards I have relied on the BBC to highlight what is happening and help me work out what is going to happen next. Like a parent at our service, like a teacher helping us with difficult questions, like a Cruise Liner Captain navigating troubled waters, the BBC has been there, reliable, decent, steady whatever the weather. 

So what on earth has happened to the BBC World Service? Have they slashed half the money going into it? Has Someone-Up-There decided that Murdoch had it right after all? Has the formerly excellent BBC Research (come back Bob Silvey) turned turtle and discovered that people should absolutely not be informed of anything that might help them decide what they want in life? Have they been told to forget news and concentrate on entertainment?

Perhaps the BBC is simply following the internet to become a compilation of ads, something you dip into when your bank balance shows positive again? Or is the spywork invasion so dreaded by the USA and China already weaving its wispy wand over this former stalwart of dependability? Whatever the disease, what are the symptoms?

We need headlines – the five to ten things happening in the world that matter because they affect the peace, prosperity, continued existence, and happiness of us all. It takes a short, clean, clear sentence about each to provide an index of what is to come. We need depth for each of these that has implications beyond the immediate event. Depth is not one distant connection endlessly whinging on about the dead and injured, it is analysis of the likely consequences and follow up.

What we now get is two or three items of celebrity behaviour or disaster or sporting scandal each supported by inarticulate, repetitive and often incoherent babble. Sad as many of these reports are, the way they are delivered is inclined to give us a transient pang of revolt but no basis for action or positive thought. Quite why the newsreaders are chosen is not clear. A few are excellent. Several stumble, misread, repeat, seek absolution for their reading difficulty by frequent repetition of “…or, as I should have said…”. Nobody is perfect but for the first eighty-five years of my life I don’t remember ever hearing a BBC newscaster fail.

Is the news supposed to spur us into action? Absolutely. BBC News used to be the only international impartial political informer the voter had access to. Today it fulfils none of these roles. Its attempts at entertainment are, frankly, pathetic. After a particularly poor BBC news broadcast recently I was driven to switch off and, for respite, get out the 1975 discs of FawltyTowers. They demonstrated two things. They were professionally produced, lucid, accurate and their story was clearly predictive of the fate of the BBC News service.

The BBC may say ‘we follow the audience’. As a medium of information they must understand their audience, not follow it. Imitating the gutter press is neither right nor possible. BBC claims to be a leader. At such a critical juncture of humankind we need good leaders.

Please will the BBC World Service lead again.


Good morning

John Bittleston 

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31 May 2023