29/06/2012 Newswatch


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week, as the BBC's coverage -- has the BBC's coverage of the Arab


Welcome to NewsWatch. Later in the programme, Jeremy Paxman is known


as a combative interviewer, but has he gone too far? That is rightly


what we seek to use for the credibility... Is this some sort of


joke? Before that, we have almost become used to a state of political


turmoil in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Syria, since the first


spark of revolution at the under 2010, did the Arab Spring, this


series of popular uprisings has proved a uniquely difficult for


broadcasters to cover. Nobody saw it coming and -- on quite the scale,


the unpredictability has been one challenge come away to deploy


limited journalistic resources when events have moved so quickly in


different locations? Another difficulty has been safety. How to


get close enough to the story without putting yourself in danger.


Correspondents have taken significant risks to get the


reports out come as such as Paul Wood's pieces from Homs in Syria


and this week's dispatches from Ian Pannell also in Syria. The risks,


logistical and editorial challenge has come a will clearly remain for


while, but has the BBC given as full and balanced picture of


possible of the Arab Spring? On Monday, the BBC Trust published a


review of the coverage of the Arab Spring following a report written


by Middle East expert Edward Mortimer. Fran O'Brien has seen --


overseen the report for the Trust and joins me now. What did the


Trust find as a result of this research in this report? I think


the overwhelming point the trustees want to make the first instances


that the coverage is remarkable. The BBC were covering random events


happening in for a huge geographical area and volunteers


were going in from the BBC into places of great danger and risking


their lives. Having said that, things can be improved. There were


countries where they did not get much coverage and these were


interesting countries because full uprisings did not happen. Why?


Jordan, Morocco. There are other big countries, Saudi Arabia, where


it is very difficult to get in and yet did it get the coverage it


deserves? And then you look at the countries where there were


uprisings, take Egypt. What happened between the spring and the


autumn, Edward Mortimer would say at the BBC management would


recognise that they could have done more in between to explain what was


going on, so when events flared up again in November people knew why.


Is there a danger that journalists go off chasing the next big


important story it sometimes forget the last but one? There is always a


risk when there are really big, dramatic events aren't there are


great pictures and we know that the audiences loved dramatic pictures


and they like getting engaged with real people, that when these things


are happening it is very difficult to remember to stand back and do


those contextual items, which might be more boring and dull, but


everybody recognises the need to do them and that is one of the other


findings of the report, which is that it is going to be helpful if


news division can stand back and take a strategic look and every now


and again on these big running stories just check that gaps are


not emerging. Is there a problem in that historically the BBC has


believed that its editors have individual programmes should have


the freedom to editor and there is an obvious tension between that


freedom to edit and the executive, standing back and perhaps sometimes


and theory? I think that is a general problem. At the BBC


management recognise it. You really want editors to have the freedom to


express the individuality of their own programme on behalf of their


own audiences and yet if everybody is doing the amazing protest that


is happening today in the streets of Syria, but not a single one of


them is saying who was making up the opposition and Syria and are


they arming than themselves and are they part of the violence, these


trends emerge but did they emerge early enough? That is one of the


questions. That is where you would expect the stand back look with the


management and the editors and Jeremy Bowen, the Middle East


editor having a look and saying, actually, there is something we are


missing. That is a continuing process, in a way, of editorial


advice from senior executives? think it will affect not just the


Arab Spring, it would impact on all the big stories, yes. Many of the


points raised in the trust's review have an echoing comments made by


NewsWatch FE was. That the height of the coverage of Libya last


autumn, Paul Smith e-mailed with some sarcasm. I was watching BBC


One on Thursday evening and was surprised to see five minutes of


none Libyan news. Could you please keep UK news to a minimum oblique


Libyan news? I need to see more coverage of rebels firing weapons


India. Viewers have complained of insufficient reporting over the


last 18 months, such as Bahrain. With me to discuss this is the


BBC's deputy director of news, Steve Mitchell. We have heard from


Fran O'Brien that the BBC Trust completely admires the remarkable


coverage of the Arab Spring, says it was largely impartial and


salutes the courage of BBC journalists in getting it but they


say it can be improved and one complaint is that there was a


tendency to go from one big story to another and forgetting maybe


what has happened in some of the others. Is that fair? I think we


have looked at the report and we probably think that is a fair


criticism in part. Edward Mortimer was able to reveal a lot of power a


book but not all of our output and we did return to the Egyptian story


after the fall of Mubarak. There was a period of some weeks where we


did not? There were periods when we did not an especially periods when


what was going on in Egypt did not appear on the main TV bulletins,


that is not to say that it was not being reported elsewhere on


Newsnight, for instance, but it is true that we were very focused on


other, major breaking stories including a war in which we were


involved in Libya, including an earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


That is our problem, always, of course, to try to get the balance


right between major breaking events, which news bulletin by definition


has to tell the audience about and returning to stories which reached


a peak earlier but are obviously continuing to unfold. Could you, as


the Trust implies, perhaps have given more context on the main


bulletins, where most people receive the news? Again, the issue


is largely about space rather than intent. Our bulletins a


distinguished by the amount of context and background that we try


to give the audiences but they are of limited duration and the


logistics of that means that sometimes we haven't the space to


do as much context as we would like but personally I think we probably


could have done more to explain some of the more nuanced issues


around all of the events in the Middle East and we will learn from


what Edward Mortimer has found. Just occasionally perhaps too much


enthusiasm from the camp of the rebels, which is understandable


because that is where often the reporters were when covering a


story? Well, I think benefit -- by definition there was a lot of


enthusiasm on the streets and the Middle East and our reporters on


the ground were reflecting and reporting on that but I don't think


any of our people were carried away by that and they don't think our


journalism as it was edited in London over emphasised that. We


will always making it quite clear that what the viewers were seeing


was for instance events in one square in Cairo, but there is a


huge country out there with the vast range of opinions and I think


looking back at our coverage we were careful to make that point


throughout. Do you accept that another suggestion from the Trust,


that senior executives such as yourself should have built into the


system stand back moments to review, to see whether the context has been


properly explained or what? Yes, I do accept that. I can accept it on


my own behalf. I think that is part of what I should be doing, as I am


responsible for a range of programmes which are not all


subject to the constraints of space that I have described on the main


television bulletins, so probably someone like me probably me


personally should have been saying to Newsnight or two programmes on


radio or two online, maybe we should go back to the stories,


maybe we should do a little more context. Inconsistent of the use of


the word regime, which viewers have talked about. We have agreed to


take that word to one side and think about its impact on different


audiences but it will be difficult because for some it is a neutral


term, for others as a pejorative term, so we need to be careful


about where we come to one this. Steve Mitchell, thank you. Time for


one more comment and it relates to interview conducted on Tuesday's


Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman. The guest, in some people's eyes, the


victim, was junior Treasury minister Chloe Smith, there to


defend the deferral of the planned rise in fuel duty. You are coming


to defend a change of policy and you can't even tell me when you


were told what a change of policy was? I am not going to give you a


running commentary on... I am not asking for a running commentary, I


am asking for facts about when you were told? You would hold some time


today, clearly? Was it before lunch or after lunch? Is it hard for you


to defend the policy you don't agree with? Which depart it is it


going to come from? Phase four cross and in different ways and


that figure will progress... Name me departments. I won't do that.


You don't know? Are you waiting to be told that as well? Do you were


the wake up in the morning and think, my God, what am I going to


be talking -- told today? Do you think you are incompetent?


Chancellor and Tory party spin doctors were attacked for putting


Chloe Smith up front of you put the blame lay elsewhere according to


this viewer, who described it as Jeremy Paxman bullying a junior


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