Monday, January 26, 2009

Mark Thompson: Economical with the truth on the BBC and charity appeals

Talking to John Humphrys on the Today Programme this morning, Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, said that the corporation had declined to broadcast the videos produced by the Make Poverty History campaign. (You can find the statement at about 6.50 on this audio.)

Up to a point, Lord Thompson.

This Guardian report from last year gives a more reliable picture of what went on:

the BBC decided not to join other broadcasters in screening a make Poverty History campaign video and decided to give only its own Live 8 website address during the concert in July 2005.

However, concert presenter Jonathan Ross read out the campaign's address for people to sign up to near the end of the BBC1 coverage, adding: "If you want to do that, feel free. I'm not asking you to because we're the BBC and we're impartial."

Ofcom member Ian Hargreaves was quoted in the report as saying it was the "most shocking breach of impartiality on the BBC in recent years".

Not only that:

The Vicar of Dibley episode, screened on January 1 2005, included a Make Poverty History campaign video that lasted nearly a minute and a half.

Today's report said that nowhere in the episode was it pointed out that the writer Richard Curtis was himself spearheading the Make Poverty History campaign.

"The implication was that the cause was universal and uncontroversial, whereas the Make Poverty History website made clear that it had contentious political goals," the report added.

Not only that:
The report criticised the BBC for the amount of coverage it gave to the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005, which culminated with the Live 8 concerts and an Africa season of programmes.
And the Guardian piece does not even mention The Girl in the Cafe, which according to the Wikipedia entry on Richard Curtis:
The Girl in the Cafe was produced by the BBC and HBO as part of the Make Poverty History campaign's Live 8 efforts in 2005.
Maybe that is putting it a little too strongly, but Mark Thompson was quite wrong to present the BBC's treatment of Make Poverty History as an example of impartiality he is attempting to replicate over Gaza. If anything, it represented a colossal misjudgment from which he is now attempting to row the corporation back.

While writing this I watched the DEC appeal film about Gaza on Channel 4. It was certainly far less partisan than anything the BBC showed as part of Make Poverty History. The BBC should show it too.

1 comment:

Callum said...

This whole bbc debacle has become an embarrassment to public service broadcasting - Thompson’s stance is even more skewed considering the other major UK terrestrial channels have agreed to air it: