Author Archives: Marc Johnson

About Marc Johnson

Marc Johnson is a journalism student at Coventry University.

Dhiren Katwa: ‘Current BBC Asian Network model promotes segregation’

Dhiren Katwa, senior news editor at Asian Voice, spoke at the Coventry Conversations series on Thursday about the possibility of the BBC’s Asian Network being scrapped in the face of strategic cuts. He said Vijay Sharma, head of the Asian Network, has been “in hiding” over the current situation.

The Asian Network’s audience fell by 15 per cent to 357,000 in the third quarter of last year, and is expected to struggle for survival after director-general Mark Thompson’s forthcoming strategic review of BBC programming.

Katwa, a member of the Equality Council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), said he thought it would be a shame for the Asian Network to go, but added that he didn’t believe the BBC should be specifically broadcasting to minority groups. He told the audience that “with the Asian Network working within a silo, it’s promoting or contributing to segregation rather than integration”. He said that the solution is to embed minority targeted elements of the BBC more firmly within the corporation.

When asked about the network’s fall in ratings, Katwa said commercial competitors such as Sunrise Radio had contributed to the network’s struggle to reach it’s young target audience, but put its current problems largely down to “a lot of internal issues”.

Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s chief operating officer, told the House of Lords Communications Committee on Wednesday that the idea of one network serving the UK’s entire Asian community wasn’t the right way to represent such a large and diverse audience.

Katwa echoed her assessment in his talk, and suggested that “the BBC Asian Network needs to be embedded within the BBC as a corporation with more faces from black and Asian backgrounds.”

Sharing Katwa’s view, broadcast journalism lecturer and founder of Coventry Conversations John Mair added: “There is no role for something separate or segregated, it should just be part of the mainstream. Not ‘now Radio Four’s Asian hour’, every hour should be Asian hour”.

Katwa said at the talk that his opinions were his own and did not necessarily reflect the views of Asian Voice.

Evan Davis ponders micropayments for the BBC at Coventry event

On the day that he was honoured by Coventry University for his services to financial journalism, Evan Davis, presenter of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and Dragons Den, spoke about his career in journalism and about the state of the industry at a special graduation week Coventry Conversation.

Discussing the issue of paid content, one which has been in the news recently after comments made by Rupert Murdoch concerning the online indexing of News International’s content, Davis proposed that the BBC could start charging for content with a micropayment structure.

“The BBC could charge for its web pages, a penny a page, and it should take all revenues thereby derived and just give them back in a reduction in the license fee the following year.” He stressed this was just an idea and that he wasn’t necessarily advocating its use.

Davis was criticised for his overly-soft interviewing style after joining the Today programme last year. He spoke about receiving ’emails of lots of colours’ from the show’s audience and admitted to ‘reading emails everyday, and getting more and more depressed by how many people hated me’.

In response, Davis stressed the need for entertainment, claiming that the audience don’t want to hear an entirely ‘grown up interview’.

“I genuinely, genuinely don’t think I’ve done a good interview if I have snared them or caught them out,” said Davis.

“I think there are occasions when making them look stupid is a public service, but I think they are fairly rare occasions. I think most importantly is to make sure if they have something to say that they are given the chance to say it.”

Discussing his own journalistic style, Davis stressed that there is no one particular style that makes a good journalist. He also reiterated one piece of advice he said had stuck with him throughout his career: “If anyone tells you that comment is free and facts are sacred, they’ve got it the wrong way around.”

Personality-led ‘sorry’ stories are often the easiest to write, says former BBC political correspondent

“We have to recognise that the blame game is something that is damaging journalism,” said the former BBC political correspondent Nicholas Jones, at the Institute of Communication Ethics (ICE) annual conference last week.

The demand for public apologies and the blame game is leading to a rise in the ‘cosmetic’ sorry and other empty rhetoric, Jones, who sits on the national council of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and writes on media affairs for the Free Press and the website Spinwatch.

“The herd mentality of journalists, and the ease with which the news media can be diverted by the quick fix of trying to find a scapegoat, are largely to blame for fuelling the ‘sorry’ phenomenon.”

Citing Sir Fred Goodwin’s public ‘apology’ over the Royal Bank of Scotland catastrophe, and Blair’s apology over the ‘presentation’ of the Bernie Ecclestone affair, Nicholas Jones demonstrated how the media’s demand for reparations has made them susceptible to spin.

“Sir Fred did not say ‘sorry’ for getting it wrong, far from it. He wasn’t going to take the blame. At no time, he said, did anyone anticipate the “scale or speed” of the slow down, so ‘globally it has caught everyone out’.”

Using the Bernie Ecclestone affair as an example, Jones suggested New Labour tactics were designed to manage the media’s lust for ‘sorry,’ despite the sentiment being negated by the context in which it is used.

“What Blair actually apologised for with regard to Bernie Ecclestone was that he wanted to say ‘sorry’ for the way the whole affair had been managed; he was apologising for the way it had been presented to party members. “It should not have come out in dribs and drabs … I apologise for the way this was handled … I am sorry about this issue … I think most people who have dealt with me think I am a pretty straight sort of guy.””

Media frenzy which is often sparked by controversy and an apology regardless of what it refers to, is part of the control mechanism:

“The first step is to excite the pack and then to massage the ego of the journalists by encouraging them to believe that it is their efforts which have helped secure an apology for the public.”

According to Jones, political spin deters good journalism: ‘Given good presentation the media could be stopped from digging further’.

In his paper – available in full on his website – Jones suggested that personality-led stories attempting to hold public figures to account are often the easiest to write:

“The hue and cry to get an apology can be entertaining, it can last for days, but all too often the net result is that journalists are at even greater risk of being manipulated. Sadly we have become addicted to the idea that obtaining an apology from shamed politicians or public figures represents a victory for the public, some sort of justification for journalistic effort.”

And it’s here to stay, Jones concluded:

“I don’t think we can turn the clock back: the hyper-personalisation of news is here to stay.  But what I think we will see is even greater sophistication on the part of political spin doctors and public relations industry to try to manage the personalisation of news and turn it to their clients’ advantage.  The insincerity of saying sorry is just the start of it.”

Additional reporting: Judith Townend

John Stonborough: From investigative journalism to PR

Media relations giant John Stonborough, managing director of Stonborough Media Group, spoke about how the skills he  gained as an investigative journalist have made him one of the most notorious names in PR at an industry event last Thursday.

Stonborough spoke about his transition to PR from journalism, explaining that his final film about Shell as an investigative reporter was ‘a little bit like shooting fish in a barrel’, as at the time the corporation fell into every trap he set and made it easy for him to ‘shaft’ them, he said.

He went on to set up a consultancy to offer PR advice to big brands (including Shell, his first client), to ensure they work ‘within the rules’ and customers are fairly treated, he said.

His talk, entitled ‘Blocking investigation or ensuring truth for clients?’, addressed the unpopularity of PRs with journalists and the impact of current regulatory structures on investigative journalism: “There is a presumption that you guys [journalists] are right and obviously the sorts of people I represent are wrong and that isn’t always the case; sometimes, and I hate to say this, but sometimes your wrong and you do not act ethically.”

Stonborough was the media adviser to former House of Commons speaker Michael Martin and spoke about how early assertions over MPs’ expenses turned into one of the biggest political scandals of the decade: “We all knew it was going to be a nightmare, but no one ever realised quite the degree to which it would explode.

“I certainly didn’t gain any great pleasure out of being able to say I told you so afterwards (…) the truth of it, he just wasn’t up to the job.”

Originally a policeman turned investigative journalist, Stonborough worked for the Daily Mail, BBC Radio 4, Thames Television and Channel 4. He also spent three years as a researcher for Roger Cook, and lamented what he saw as a lack of programming such as Panorama and World in Action: “There isn’t any hostile media; one of the big issues in this country is where the investigators are now.”

“All I’m doing is fishing on the other side of the same pond,” explained Stonborough, referring to his move from journalism to PR and expressing his fondness for the other side of the press fence:

“I’m still dealing with the same people, I’m still dealing with the same issues, I understand the problems of programme makers,” he said.

For the students in the audience Stonborough stressed persistence and hard work as necessary skills: “Be a complete pain in the arse and the first person to be a pain in the arse to is your prospective editor.”

Jon Snow: ‘Being a good journalist takes your whole life’

Channel 4 News front man Jon Snow spoke about the dramatically changing world of journalism that’s shaped his career and how to keep up in his inaugural lecture as visiting professor at Coventry University this week.

“We’re living in a technological revolution which outstrips any industrial revolution before it,” he began – a point that underpinned his lecture, as he led the audience through the milestones of his own career and the effect of technological advances on modern journalism.

The lecture focused on the power of TV throughout the key moments of the last century. Speaking about coverage of the Gulf War, Snow said: “You are watching a shell being fired at the moment it’s being fired and seeing people die the moment at which they die.”

He also spoke about the influence of television on the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’ in Europe, as the Berlin Wall came down: “Because of the power of television we had a democratic revolution without a drop of blood being spilt.”

Throughout the talk Snow referred to the extent to which technology has revolutionised international reporting from decade to decade. He spoke about the difficulty of every report from transporting equipment to sending the films through less than reliable channels: “It was a mammoth operation and yet it was called lightweight.”

The difficulty of reporting from Africa was discussed, from his early experiences of meeting Idi Amin to the problems modern journalism faces in the region: “Africa is still very much uncovered, because the communication infrastructure isn’t there.”

Snow went on to talk about the influence of budgeting within the media, suggesting that the cost of acquiring photos and the choices that are made give us a ‘skewed view of the world we live in’.

As the lecture entered the 21st-century, Snow considered the influence of the internet on journalism in particular the abundance of ‘free news’. He maintained that content is king and, weighing in on the paid content debate, said, “People will pay for high quality.”

Journalists need to be inquisitive and driven to be successful, said Snow, and to the aspiring journalists from local colleges and universities gathered, he gave one important piece of advice: “Being a good journalist takes your whole life.”

Eamonn Matthews on the pursuit of truth in journalism and Unreported World

Eamonn Matthews, the critically acclaimed producer and programme maker, spoke of his pursuit for truth in journalism and his own risky investigative style of programme making at an industry event last night.

Following a selection of recent documentary film snippets which covered witch hunts in Papua New Guinea, honour killings in Turkey and the harsh realities of India’s coalmines, Matthews explained how his Channel 4 series Unreported World attempts to uncover the truth of a situation from people who are directly affected by it:

“We are trying to give a voice to the millions who don’t have one (…) We don’t want experts who say this [certain things] about the situation; we’re not interested in politicians’ filtered down view on what’s going on,” he said.

Truth is always the focus, because there is too much opinion in journalism, he added. Although it has its place, opinion doesn’t give a real insight into the situation, he said.

Matthews stressed the simplicity in the production of his programmes: a two-person team and a basic video camera produce the films. It’s this method that creates the style of unreported world: “You’re experiencing what the reporter is experiencing (…) we’re not trying to massage reality.”

Matthews explained how he adopted his style of documentary making, expressing how often the most interesting part of a story can be completely ignored: “The journey can be more revealing than the arrival.”

Journalists such as Charles Wheeler and Jon Snow had inspired him, he said, and his own time at the BBC producing current affairs programmes had also given him experience.

The talk was underlined by the risky nature of the programmes and the dangers that each reporter faces whilst filming.

“The only way to get rid of risk completely is to never leave the office,” he said.