When we first heard that the BBC had got the rap over its coverage of business news, we thought “quite right too.”
It commissioned an independent report from Sir Alan Budd. The underlying theme was that the BBC is too consumer centric. For example when Barclays makes a thumping big profit the poor beleaguered over-paying customer gets all the attention, while the fact that much of the profit came from overseas, and the implications for the UK economy were almost ignored.
The report then added: “The need to attract and maintain an audience has led to some changes in the approach taken by business programmes towards a more popular style. In some quarters this is welcomed but in others it is viewed as ‘dumbing down’.
“We particularly noted this trend in The Money Programme. It is not for us to question presentational style as such but we are required to consider the effect that style may have on impartiality.”
Three recommendations were made: that the BBC needs to improve knowledge of business issues among staff; that it needs to widen “the range of editorial ideas and programming about business”; and to “ensure compliance in business coverage with standards of impartiality.”
To those points we should say “hear, hear!”
But then the report also added: “We listened to a large amount of material on Five Live and noted that occasionally some presenters and reporters gave their personal views and preferences about particular commercial products.
“We have learnt among other things that one is a fan of Majestic Wine, another is an enthusiastic subscriber to Sky and one likes shopping at JJB Sports.
“We understand that having presenters with strong and engaging personalities is an essential part of Five Live’s success but believe that there is a challenge to the BBC in combining this style with its requirement to be impartial.”
Ummmm. Is that a fair criticism? Warren Buffett would argue a key factor that should determine an investment in a company is “do you like its products?” Discussing a company’s merits from your own personal point of view is a legitimate form of analysis.
A BBC business blog also got a slating. The report said: “We noted that the business editor made a scathing attack in his blog on the newly launched Microsoft Vista operating system. This appeared to be against the BBC’s guidelines which state that blogs are subject to the same level of editorial care as other content.”
And, all of a sudden, we found ourselves feeling sympathic towards the Beeb. Sure, its coverage of business and economics can be lousy. Sometimes it can pull off the rare trick of being turgid and superficial, all at the same time.
But this report seemed equally harsh on the Beeb on the rare occasions that its journalists were showing understanding of the key issues.
The BBC should cover business in more depth, and with more enthusiasm. But it must not let reports like this make its coverage so safe, that it ends up innocuous, and only fit to be viewed by insomniacs.
© Investment & Business News 2013