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Monday, 2 June 2008

No more 'foreign' correspondents

Richard Sambrook (Director of BBC Global News) gave a speech is Ishfahan last week which he blogged about.

Interesting quote:
I flew in to Isfahan in the early hours sitting next to a young woman dressed in strictly islamic fashion with a modest chador and headscarf. But the book she was reading was "Why men love bitches: from doormat to dreamgirl", a woman's guide to holding her own in a relationship.
From the speech he restated some basics:
Accurate, objective news and information, which all sides can trust, provides a foundation stone of rational debate in a world that is too easily dominated by intolerance and hatred. It is the gold standard of public value.

I would argue that the world needs informed debate, conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance; even if ultimately there’s little agreement. And basing that debate on reliable accurate news and analysis is the starting point.
The problem for me was when he stated:
That’s why the BBC invests more heavily in newsgathering than any other news organisation I know. Eye-witness reportage is important. Nothing beats saying ‘I was there’, I saw it’. Whether it’s the tragedy in Burma, or the personal experiences of everyday life in Teheran, we want to hear from ordinary citizens on-air and on-screen. This is a vital part of what we do as BBC journalists.
He's still talking about filtered reporting - why? Why aren't local sources trusted to know more about the local issues which define a situation.

This is the BBC's real problem. It invests heavily in overseas bureau's - Sambrook's boast - but, as I know from reading their Sydney correspondent, this doesn't mean they - or, as I have noted, their US correspondents. - understand anything about where they are and truly perform their role of translating local issues for a British, never mind a world, audience. (Though the current Sydney one's far better than the last one).

Recently, the example of the Kenyan crisis where BBC Online experimented with local reporters paid off, I think. In Zimbabwe - where the BBC has no presence - it would be more useful to link, with riders, to local sources like for the benefit of audiences - which they're not doing much of and which the BBC Trust raised as a problem, though not for these user-focussed reasons.

I fail to see why we continue to send Brits to far-away places when it would be more useful to get others who are just as qualified to explain their realities to us.

I recall in Australia Philip Adams on the ABC, child of the BBC, bringing in Beatrix Campbell to do just that. Campbell ain't unbiased but she gave a far better perspective for me on the UK than any ABC correspondent.

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