How impartial the BBC really is

Is the BBC's journalistic ethos at stake now?

Lofty: Alastair Campbell, Blair's closest confidante and advisor, has now even gone on the offensive in front of the committee: he accuses the BBC of defaming the government. Has the BBC been guilty of dubious reporting?

Crowning: A very difficult question. The BBC - and it was entitled to do so - cited an anonymous secret service agent whose claim that Campbell had manipulated and exposed the dossier, reproduced. So far so good. That was her right. But my personal observation is that the BBC has done more. It gave the impression that this was simply the truth. In particular, because the military correspondent to whom this had been put by the secret service agent, also tightened his statements in further articles in the press and also passed on this impression. At the same time, according to the report from the BBC, which has a great reputation and is regarded as the source of truth and objectivity in many countries, this information has been taken at face value and for the truth, of course especially where people were against the war anyway. Here we come to the heart of the problem: the culture of journalism.

Lobed: This is where the argument really becomes fundamental. It's about objectivity and impartiality.

Crowning: Correct. Something has changed there. The BBC says yes, we are attacked from the right and we are attacked from the left, so we are the world kid in the middle that gets it right. But two criticisms from different political quarters do not automatically lead to the truth or the justification for doing the right thing. Indeed, the BBC was not impartial in all of its coverage during the run-up to the war, as it was during the war. She has actually lost what has always distinguished her in the past, namely a cool, sober distance. Most of the BBC editors and producers and presenters are "Guardian" and "Independent" readers, readers of newspapers who were vehemently against the war. It has always been like that, and it is still like that now. Just something has changed on the BBC. It has no longer lived up to the claim that you hold back your own opinions and gut feelings and instincts and try to provide a neutral presentation that is as objective as possible. That got a little lost on the BBC. I've spoken to BBC editors and department heads who say, yes, it's true. That quality is gone, which made the BBC so legendary.

Lobed: That is, the crisis goes right into the BBC.

Crowning: I think so. She goes right in the middle of the BBC. It reflects a change in the media in general. If we continue the lines of development that are emerging here, it will be the case that in the future you will soon have the television stations that proclaim the truth that is convenient for you. That means, seen globally: Fox TV in America by Rupert Murdoch for the hurray patriots who like it warlike and want to have it confirmed, Al Jazeera from Arabia for those who believe in a world conspiracy by the West and the Zionists against the Islamic world and get it presented accordingly and the BBC and perhaps public service institutions also in Germany for the indignant do-gooders of liberal or left-wing liberal provenance who are vehemently against war and America. What is lost is the ethos of objectivity that has always characterized the BBC, which avoided saying "our" troops, for example during the Balkan War or the first Gulf War, but always said "British" troops. That ethos has been softened a bit. That is ultimately the core of the conflict that has raged here between the Blair government and the BBC.

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