Yesterday saw the BBC’s economic editor Robert Peston taken to task for his influence on the UK’s economy and his cosy relationship with the government:
The Guardian’s Matthew Weaver is worried that his blog might have too much influence, and the Daily Mash joked that Peston had reached a state of transcendence.
Meanwhile the House of Lords Communications Committee asked a panel of leading political journalists if they thought Peston was setting the reporting agenda.
Another BBC editor whose influence has been much discussed is the corporation’s political editor, Nick Robinson, who last night admitted he had toed the government line too strongly during his reportage of the Iraq War, and admitted that he didn’t ‘do enough’ to seek out dissenting views.
Participating in a debate entitled ‘Political campaigners and reporters: partners in democracy or rats in a sack?’ at City University, Robinson said: “The biggest self criticism I have was I got too close to government in the reporting of the Iraq war.
“I didn’t do enough to go away and say ‘well hold on, what about the other side?’
“It is the one moment in my recent career where I have thought I didn’t push hard enough, I didn’t question enough and I should have been more careful,” he said.
“I don’t think the government did set out to lie about weapons of mass destruction. I do think they systematically and cumulatively misled people. What’s the distinction?
“It was clear to me that Alastair Campbell knew how what he was saying was being reported, knew that that was a long way from the truth and was content for it so to be,” Robinson said.
“They knew it was wrong, they wanted it to be wrong – they haven’t actually lied.”
Politicians ‘actively want to avoid a debate the public wants to have’, he said.
For example, he said, Labour was reluctant to debate the implications of a single European currency.
“[The government] wanted to limit the debate to being the five tests. It wanted to avoid divisions, it simply did not want to enter a political debate,” he said.
The Conservative Party are now doing the ‘exact same thing’, Robinson said.
“They don’t want a debate on whether they will tear up the Lisbon EU treaty, they don’t really want a debate about if they will put taxes up or down, or in what way.
“These are active decisions by politicians to keep you ill-informed, and it is our job as journalists to try to fight against that.”
It isn’t the job of a journalist to ‘pick a constant fight with people in power’, he said.
“I don’t see it as a badge of pride to have endless arguments with politicians, although with Peter Mandelson they usually are.”