As the BBC’s editors’ blog notes, the UN designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day in 1993 and it’s been observed as such ever since. But in the Irish News, Jim Gibney uses the occasion[subs req] to re-frame the debate about journalists being “well-behaved” and, in particular, to criticise BBC journalists for asking ‘stupid’ questions. By way of the Guardian’s Peter Preston, fortunately, here’s a useful corrective. Adds Newshound has the de-subscripted articleJim Gibney’s argument [subs req] against the BBC is founded on a misconception of the role of journalists.. even publicly funded journalists.
Other media outlets might aspire to be objective and claim they are. The BBC has to prove it is because it is funded by the licence-paying public. In theory BBC journalists do not have the same freedom to peddle their personal views.
There is a public expectation that BBC journalists will be objective and their comments broadly reflect the mood of the licence-paying public.
The licence-paying public voted overwhelmingly for an administration led by the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Yet over the past month BBC journalists have harried Sinn Féin and DUP politicians with questions which are negative, which instil pessimism and could undermine the public’s hopeful mood.
If that public expectation is there, that BBC journalists should “broadly reflect the mood of the licence-paying public” and to not, by implication, ask ‘stupid’ questions – and it’s not my expectation – then that expectation is fundamentally wrong.
As Peter Preston correctly identifies
Politicians and journalists may work, drink, dine and go on holiday together. Some journalists may even become politicians, or vice-versa. But the roles are separate, and essentially adversarial. Politicians run governments and seek to exercise power in the name of the people. Journalists serve those people directly day by day, for they are their readers and viewers. They do not, if they’re wise, want power for themselves. They do, though, have a direct hand in the workings of democracy. Their stock in trade is information (which, to be frank, the politicians wish to keep under wraps). Information is the lifeblood of freedom. It is also its most contentious commodity. Most battles between press and politics are really information wars.
That applies whether the BBC – and by extension the journalists who work there – is funded through the licence fee or not. And, in case the point isn’t clear, sometimes that information can only be revealed by asking questions that some politicians might want to characterise as ‘stupid’.
Of course it could just be another case of someone demanding that everyone should simply accept the “agreed truth”..