Would PBS ever report on PBS?
The UK’s State broadcaster, the BBC was recently in the eye of the storm over the controversial decision to suspend Gary Lineker on the grounds that he breached the stations social media guidelines. The incident was triggered in the wake of a tweet in which the former footballer compared government’s policy on immigration to that of Nazi Germany.
While the scope of this editorial is not to delve into the merits of whether the BBC took the right approach, there is plenty of lessons to be learnt on how a State broadcaster should handle such delicate situations. Arguably, the circumstances fuelled suspicions that whole incident could have been politically motivated with fingers being pointed to the ruling Conservative party. In this respect there can be parallels with the situation in Malta where the PBS is also facing constant criticism of government interference.
However, that is where the possible comparison ends. Throughout the Gary Lineker saga, the BBC distinguished itself for being able to report on itself. There were no attempts to hide the story or the use of its resources to bombard viewers with a one-sided media coverage to drown any criticism in totalitarian fashion. On the other hand it was the most read story on the BBC portal, with a running commentary on all latest developments. Moreover, the coverage included comments from the political spectrum, which needless to say were harshly critical on the BBC itself. The BBC’s director general did show up on the station, but not to justify his course of action, but rather to be grilled by the BBC’s own journalists, in what turned out to be very uncomfortable few minutes for the station’s chief.
For us in Malta it can look a bit complicated when BBC News covering a major story about the BBC as a whole – especially when the corporation appears to be in something of a crisis. Just imagine this happening at the PBS. Would they handle the situation in a similar manner or would those involved use the station to save their skin?
In a way it looks surreal that journalists are reporting on the actions of their ultimate bosses and colleagues. The bottom line, however, is that BBC News journalists treat the BBC in the same way as any other organisation we would report on in any given week. Once again, it is hard to imagine journalists from the PBs newsroom doorstepping their own bosses. We are not pointing fingers, but making the point of what being impartial truly entails.
Actions speak louder than words or slogans. If we truly want our national State broadcaster to be credible, this is the road ahead. Otherwise, it will remain a fiefdom of the party in government. The argument also applies to independent media houses, who portray themselves as beacons of just and fair reporting. Credibility matters and how but this should go hand in hand with accountability and transparency.