BBC calls for politi­cians to stop at­tacks on re­porters

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Gra­ham Rud­dick Me­dia edi­tor

Politi­cians and so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies must clamp down on the in­creas­ingly “ex­plicit and ag­gres­sive” abuse suf­fered by BBC jour­nal­ists, ac­cord­ing to the cor­po­ra­tion’s chair­man.

David Cle­menti said it was un­ac­cept­able for politi­cians to “stand by and watch” heck­ling at press con­fer­ences and said that the cor­po­ra­tion’s fe­male jour­nal­ists were par­tic­u­larly tar­geted by abusers onand off­line.

Speak­ing at the Royal Tele­vi­sion So­ci­ety con­ven­tion in Cam­bridge, he said: “Speak­ing to our jour­nal­ists, I have be­come in­creas­ingly aware of the abuse that some of them – par­tic­u­larly fe­male jour­nal­ists – are sub­ject to, on an al­most daily ba­sis.” He did not name any of those tar­geted but Laura Kuenss­berg has fre­quently been tar­geted with sex­ist abuse on­line and the broad­caster is un­der­stood to have given her ac­cess to a body­guard dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

The BBC po­lit­i­cal edi­tor was hissed and booed at Labour and Ukip press con­fer­ences this year and has re­ceived crit­i­cism from sup­port­ers of the Con­ser­va­tive party, with the Daily Tele­graph ask­ing if she was the “most di­vi­sive woman on TV to­day”. The Labour leader, Jeremy Cor­byn, in­ter­vened at one event where Kuenss­berg was booed, to call for “re­spect for ev­ery­one who wants to ask a ques­tion”.

In his speech, Cle­menti said that some of the abuse oc­curred “in plain sight, at press con­fer­ences and po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings on all sides. Politi­cians can­not stand by and watch – they must con­front any abuse, and make it clear that it is in­tol­er­a­ble.

“The jour­nal­ists of the BBC, when abused sim­ply for do­ing their job, should know they have the de­ter­mined sup­port of the board to stamp it out.”

As well as call­ing for politi­cians to stand up against the abuse of jour­nal­ists, Cle­menti called for Face­book and Twit­ter to do more. “These days, there is much more abuse. It is in­creas­ingly ex­plicit and ag­gres­sive, and much of it oc­curs on­line,” he said. “I wel­come the work the gov­ern­ment is do­ing to tackle this, and I’m fol­low­ing closely the ef­forts of Twit­ter and Face­book, amongst oth­ers, to clamp down on the per­pe­tra­tors. I hope the so­cial me­dia plat­forms do even more.”

Other BBC jour­nal­ists who have been sub­jected to abuse in­clude Emma Bar­nett,

the Ra­dio 5 Live pre­sen­ter, who was sent an­tisemitic mes­sages af­ter she tripped up Cor­byn over the costs of a child­care pledge dur­ing an elec­tion cam­paign in­ter­view.

Cle­menti also tried to ad­dress the grow­ing con­tro­versy about the gen­der pay gap and di­ver­sity at the BBC, and the prospect of stars dis­ap­pear­ing from its list of top earn­ers next year be­cause the shows they work on are pro­duced by BBC Stu­dios, which is classed as a com­mer­cial en­tity and will not have to pub­lish how much it pays peo­ple.

The list of the BBC’s best paid on­screen stars re­vealed just a third were women and the top seven all men. How­ever, Cle­menti in­sisted that the BBC was “one of the most di­verse work­forces in the UK” and he was con­fi­dent the gen­der pay gap at the broad­caster was likely to be “sig­nif­i­cantly ahead [lower] of the na­tional av­er­age”.

“The tar­gets we have set our­selves to reach by 2020 are among the most am­bi­tious and stretch­ing of any or­gan­i­sa­tion, and we are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant head­way. But we are acutely aware that there is much more to do. Not least on gen­der.”

More than a third of the BBC stars earn­ing £150,000 or more – in­clud­ing Clau­dia Win­kle­man, Nick Knowles and ac­tors from Eas­tEn­ders, Ca­su­alty and Holby City – could dis­ap­pear from the pay list next year due to BBC Stu­dios’ pro­grammes be­ing omit­ted.

This has prompted calls for the gov­ern­ment to force the BBC to in­clude these names, but Cle­menti in­sisted their omis­sion was fair be­cause BBC Stu­dios needed to be able to com­pete with other pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies “on as level a play­ing field as pos­si­ble” and po­ten­tially make shows for other broadcasters.

“This ex­emp­tion is not, as some have de­scribed it, an in­ad­ver­tent loop­hole,” he said. “It is an in­te­gral part of the com­pe­ti­tion ar­range­ments and, so far as the BBC board is con­cerned, is an im­por­tant point of prin­ci­ple.”

Cle­menti also hit back at calls from Karen Bradley, the cul­ture sec­re­tary, and pri­vate TV and ra­dio com­pa­nies, for Of­com to in­tro­duce more quo­tas on the type of con­tent the BBC should broad­cast, such as re­li­gious pro­grammes and news and cur­rent af­fairs. Of­com’s draft op­er­at­ing li­cence for the BBC, which is due to be fi­nalised in the au­tumn, pro­poses cut­ting the num­ber of ra­dio pro­gram­ming re­quire­ments from more than 200 to 20.

“I am con­cerned about quo­tas that re­late to hours of broad­cast­ing, since the driver here is around quan­tity not qual­ity,” he said.

“A char­ter which places dis­tinc­tive­ness at its heart, and then backs it up with a li­cence full of hourly quo­tas, is a con­tra­dic­tion that is likely to lead to fail­ure. Quo­tas re­lat­ing to resource, and in par­tic­u­lar to fi­nan­cial spend, are likely to be bet­ter driv­ers to­wards dis­tinc­tive­ness, although even they can never be guar­an­tors of de­sired out­comes.”

Tar­geted: the BBC’s Laura Kuenss­berg

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