Trustworthy Media? The Asymmetric Threat of Loss of Integrity and Values in a World Renowned Broadcaster

London, UK - 19 July 2007, 09:04 GMT

Dear ATCA Colleagues

[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and threats.]

Few would disagree with the verdict of John Whittingdale, the Chairman of the All-Party Culture Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons, UK Parliament, on the revelation that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had misrepresented Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in a trailer for a documentary. "Undoubtedly this has been a very serious blow to the honesty, integrity and the reputation of the BBC," he said. "One of its greatest assets is its reputation for truth and honesty and that has been damaged."

The BBC has had to apologise to Her Majesty. The damage was inadvertently caused by the controller of BBC1, Peter Fincham. He told journalists at the channel's autumn launch that the Queen had walked out of a photo-shoot "in a huff", after being asked to remove her "crown" by Anne Liebowitz. Footage appeared to show her walking out, but in fact it had been assembled in the wrong order by the production company RDF Media. Unknown to Fincham, she'd actually been walking in. The timing could hardly have been worse.

The damage to BBC's reputation appears to be much deeper. Some BBC executives are likely to be suspended while reviews are held into fake phone-ins unearthed by another inquiry. All phone-related competitions on BBC TV and radio ceased from midnight on Wednesday, while interactive and online competitions will be taken down as soon as possible. Mark Thomson, Director General of the BBC, has also ordered an independent inquiry into footage that wrongly implied the Queen walked out of a photo session. The BBC Trust said it was "deeply concerned that significant failures of control and compliance within the BBC have compromised the BBC's values of accuracy and honesty."

Earlier on Wednesday, a report by UK media regulator Ofcom said there had been a "systemic failure" in the way TV channels had run premium rate phone services. An inquiry found that broadcasters were "in denial" about their responsibilities to viewers and saw phone-ins as a way to generate revenue. Last week Ofcom fined the BBC GBP 50,000 after their prime children's programme falsified the results of a phone-in competition during a live show.

New BBC Measures include:

. All competitions suspended
. All staff to be trained on safeguarding trust
. Independent inquiry into the Queen documentary
. Commissioning from the Queen documentary production company RDF "paused"
. Some editorial leaders asked to "stand back" from their duties
. Contracts with staff and suppliers revised to emphasise editorial standards
. Promotional materials must meet the same standards

Michael Grade, Chief Executive of ITV (Independent Television), a former Chairman of the BBC, told BBC2's Newsnight that every broadcaster in the UK was affected. He said, "It's partly to do with casualisation of the industry, people on short-term contracts under tremendous strain, tremendous pressure. Competitive pressure is enormous." Mr Grade said there has been too much cutting of corners. "It's desperately important that we restore trust and that the programme-makers get to understand - whether through hard lessons or through training or a combination of both -- that you do not lie to audiences under any circumstances."

Steve Hewlett, a former editor of Panorama and senior ITV executive, said, "Television is more competitive than it has ever been, between all the channels. That leads people to think that they might be out of a job if their programme isn't lively enough. That makes it even more important that broadcasting organisations have the right culture. BBC editorial management relies on people at every level exercising good judgment -- from the researcher right up to the editor and ultimately to the director general. It only works if you have shared judgments, shared assumptions and certain shared standards. And the boss class have to take responsibility for the culture and ethos of the organisations they are running."

We would like to hear from distinguished ATCA readers -- in over 120 countries -- to understand how this problem might manifest in other parts of the world.


We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views. Thank you.

Best wishes

For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance (ATCA)

ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence, ATCA addresses asymmetric threats and social opportunities arising from climate chaos and the environment; radical poverty and microfinance; geo-politics and energy; organised crime & extremism; advanced technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI; demographic skews and resource shortages; pandemics; financial systems and systemic risk; as well as transhumanism and ethics. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 120 countries: including 1,000 Parliamentarians; 1,500 Chairmen and CEOs of corporations; 1,000 Heads of NGOs; 750 Directors at Academic Centres of Excellence; 500 Inventors and Original thinkers; as well as 250 Editors-in-Chief of major media.

The views presented by individual contributors are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral. Please do not forward or use the material circulated without permission and full attribution.

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