BBC journalists 'are addicted to Twitter'

Anita Singh
·3-min read
Social media - Denis Charlet/AFP
Social media - Denis Charlet/AFP

Some BBC news presenters have become addicted to Twitter, the broadcaster’s head of editorial standards has said, as he warned that standards are not being upheld.

David Jordan said journalists have sometimes failed to uphold BBC guidelines on social media, so seduced are they by the buzz of live interaction and argument.

The BBC has called in a former executive, Richard Sambrook, to assess whether stars are flouting impartiality rules with their statements on social media. Emily Maitlis is one of the presenters whose Twitter account has come under scrutiny, with critics arguing that her outspokenness on political issues conflicts with her role as an impartial Newsnight presenter.

Speaking to a House of Lords committee, Mr Jordan said social media can be an important way for the BBC to reach audiences who do not otherwise engage with the corporation, particularly the young. Twitter and Facebook posts, he said, could “entice” people to watch and listen to BBC output that would otherwise pass them by.

But he went on: “Having said that, the way social media has developed in recent times - particularly Twitter - has become more adversarial, more argumentative, more combative, more opinionated, more polarised and sometimes actually rather toxic.

“And it can suck people in. The immediacy of it can be alluring, the live dynamics of it can be seductive to some people who find themselves caught up in it, and it can become almost addictive for some of our journalists.

“We have had issues about the use of social media in the BBC where people have not adhered to our standards or have overstepped the mark. We have asked Richard Sambrook to take a good look at what we’re doing and come up with some thoughts about how we should properly use [social media] in this new atmosphere and to the best advantage of the BBC.”

Mr Jordan said: “We have guidance about the use of social media. It does require people to uphold our editorial standards on Twitter. And we do hold people to those standards. We may not do so in a very public manner all the time, but I assure you conversations are had and sometimes disciplinary action is taken when people don’t abide by those standards in egregious ways… We have had issues where people have not adhered to our standards and have overstepped the mark.”

As director of editorial policy and standards, Mr Jordan is responsible for overseeing the BBCs complaints process and setting guidelines for how staff should behave.

During the hearing of the Lords Communications and Digital Committee, he also admitted that some BBC journalists bring their political prejudices into the newsroom.

He said: “We try to make sure that everybody who comes into work in the morning supplies their diverse experience of life to the newsroom, that they don’t submit to group-think… and also that they leave their prejudices and opinions at the door.

“That’s extraordinarily important so we make sure we are taking on board a full range of people’s views across the UK. Have we always been successful in doing that? No we haven’t.”

Mr Jordan said it was “a constant challenge to make sure that you are confronting yourself with the need to find out what everybody thinks and not just what your social circle happens to think.”