Sunday, October 24, 2010

New BBC Editorial Guidelines

A guest post by Gail Renard, Chair of the Guild's Television Committee

The latest version of the BBC Editorial guidelines have been published. These are the guidelines setting out the standards expected of everyone making or presenting output on BBC TV, radio or online. Upon reading it, my first thought was here’s another statement from the Circumlocution Office saying nothing new but providing lots of BBC modules and courses with which to say it. Then I had another read and guess what? It’s my second thought too.

The basic Editorial Guide is a sound one, laying out the principles, values and standards that everyone employed by the BBC should know. It also emphasises using one’s own best judgement and taking advice from senior people in tricky situations. Fair play so far. But then I made the mistake of reading on.

There are modules covering everything; including competitions, conflicts of interests and misleading audiences. If employees really need to be told don’t cheat your audiences or advertise your Granddad’s corner shop on the Ten O’Clock News, then maybe the job interviews aren’t as stringent as one hoped.

The BBC Academy also has 20 new online, interactive learning modules, including quizzes and hypothetical scenarios for people to learn these guidelines. I got 30 seconds into one when a stallholder, Blue Peter-style, held up signs that spelled out T R U S T. Don’t they think they’re setting the bar rather low?

Would that all that money had gone into production budgets, which are being slashed daily. Now that the licence fee is to be frozen for the next six years it’s more important than ever that the money for productions is ring-fenced. And the last thing that creatives need are more execs taking more courses that will produce another 100 sets of notes emanating from fear and back-covering; totally kicking any originality or life out of a show.

We all know that this is the fallout over Jonathan Ross and Sachsgate, as Russell Brand explained to a bemused Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight only last week. The issue isn’t about producing more guidelines or impediments to good programme making. It’s about following the basic, commonsensical guidelines that already exist and, in a very few cases, clearly weren’t observed. Heads rolled. Let’s move on but without crash helmets to cross the corridor.

Yes the issue is all about trust. If the BBC hires someone (the greatest honour in this industry, I think) then they should be certain that the person already is trustworthy, and possesses common sense, experience and as much intelligence as he/ she can muster on a good day. But please don’t tell me Dr Who has to wear a seatbelt in the Tardis. I’ll cry.


  1. If it was down to me, I'd aim it at producers and keep it stark and simple; do nothing that you'd need to defend if you were caught doing it. Which would wipe out phone scams, faked competitions, scripted 'reality' and staged documentary at a stroke. I once saw a director in a studio debate defending the fact that his footage of two thieves breaking into a scrapyard had been arranged in advance and filmed with the consent of the property's owner, on the basis that "it's what these guys would have done anyway." What he actually did was give them a stage on which to perform, and present it as truth. But he couldn't see it.

  2. Ah but can he spell T R U S T?


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