The BBC needs a new strategy in this era of fake news

Photograph: Hufton+Crow-VIEW/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Emily Bell’s damning analysis of the BBC’s failure to match the magnitude of the Brexit challenge should have been on the editorial pages, because of the hugely influential role the corporation continues to play in the national debate (BBC leadership is in crisis at a time of great danger, 21 October).

How right she is that the BBC’s news division lacked “either adequate authority or a robust enough strategy to make a case against the deluge of incoming influence campaigns” and that the corporation’s journalism “struggled to be serious and consistent enough to meet the complex gravity of the moment”. Instead we are fed with a soporific diet of vox pops, which are passed off as representative when, in statistical terms, they represent nothing. Journalists’ claims to have spoken to “many” or “lots” on a short visit are bogus. Their words suggest a majority opinion, which is nonsense. The nation is being misled by its own public broadcaster.

Greater honesty is essential in these delicate political times. All political journalists and TV bosses should read Dorothy Byrne’s 2019 MacTaggart lecture, which called on them to fulfil their fundamental role in upholding the truth.

To do so, in the era of fake news, requires a new strategy, especially when the prime minister daily plays fast and loose with the truth and his chief media influencer ran the discredited leave campaign.
Alan Walker
Professor of social policy, University of Sheffield

• Samira Ahmed’s claim, in the wake of the treatment of Naga Munchetty, suggests to me that the BBC has learned nothing in 20 years (BBC faces landmark equal pay challenge from Samira Ahmed, 22 October). At that time I worked for the Commission for Racial Equality and was asked to examine allegations of discrimination in the BBC World Service made by the broadcasting union Bectu.

The union said that BME (black and minority ethnic) broadcasters substituted for managers as often as white colleagues, but were substantively promoted far less often. They suspected that BME presenters were used for their language skills and knowledge from their personal backgrounds, and then discarded as that knowledge became less current – without the chance to progress to management, which was reserved for a white “raj”.

I asked the BBC for statistics on substitutions and substantive promotions in the World Service and found that the pattern was exactly as alleged. The union then told me that a member who was of Indian ethnic origin was bringing a tribunal case of discrimination in promotion and, when she had formally requested overall background statistics, was told that these were not kept.

I decided to share the figures with the union, since I had given no confidentiality undertaking. I did not seek authority for this from my own management, but I calculated (rightly) that the CRE would not want to be seen to discipline me in the circumstances.

The BBC promptly settled the individual applicant’s case. I transferred to another post, leaving behind a recommendation for a formal investigation. However, the BBC offered to enter a voluntary agreement to turn its high-sounding commitments on equality and diversity into reality, and this was agreed. Sadly, it appears that no real change ever followed.
Philip Pavey
Epsom, Surrey

• David Attenborough certainly did tire of “the senior executive’s life” at the BBC (Attenborough’s way, Journal, 22 October), as he told my late father Dr Kenneth Oakley, whom he’d known since the 1950s at the Natural History Museum.

When Attenborough resigned as director of programmes in the 1970s the BBC chairman Lord Hill tried to persuade him to stay, indicating that he’d be a shoo-in for the top job as director general.

Attenborough politely declined the offer, explaining that he hated having to boss people around and make or break careers. “Good God!” said the high Tory chairman, “that’s exactly what I like about my job!”
Giles Oakley
East Sheen, London

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