Harding Hard Done By?


An interesting quote from a BBC journo to Nick Cohen in response to Cohen’s previous article on the ‘disastrous’ rule of James Harding……Who’s in Charge of BBC News?……

As a loyalist it is hard to publicly criticise an organisation to which I owe so much.

The journo went on…..

There’s also a genuine climate of fear, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. People are afraid to speak out. I often criticise editorial decisions and deployments from within and have been warned by friends higher up not to do so.


Cohen wraps up his follow up with this:

It is a backhanded compliment to its honesty that the Right accuses it of liberal bias, the Scottish Nationalists accuse it of pro-union bias and the Left accuses it of pro-Tory bias. All of them are trying to shape BBC coverage because they know that viewers and listeners recognise that – with the well-known exceptions – BBC reporters try to tell the truth as best they can.

This may not sound like much. But in the modern world where PR and propaganda are everywhere on the rise, honest reporting is more necessary and precious than ever.

……the wretched man [Harding] remains in post. If director-general won’t act, then the BBC Trust should, and ask whether it wants to see BBC News remain an essential public service. If it does, as I hope it does, it should then ask whether BBC News can survive with Harding in charge.



Two issues you might have with that final conclusion…firstly that the BBC is ‘trying its best’ and is essentially impartial….well no…even the BBC has admitted it is biased on immigration, Islam and Europe…never mind the Tories, Thatcher, UKIP and climate change….essentially then the major news subjects of our times.

The second issue is blaming Harding for all the travails of the BBC….For a start Tony Hall has similarly packed the BBC with his own cronies, without bothering the HR department too much…..and BBC News has long been in A&E…how could Cohen forget Paxman’s blast at it [Abridged]….?


In this press of events there often isn’t the time to get out and find things out: you rely upon second-hand information – quotes from powerful vested interests, assessments from organisations which do the work we don’t have time for, even, god help us, press releases from public relations agencies. The consequence is that what follows isn’t analysis. It’s simply comment, because analysis takes time, and comment is free.

In news, as much as anywhere else in the industry, the question is no longer ‘what can we do?’ It’s ‘what can we afford?’ Finding things out takes time and money. Easier to stay in the warm fug of what everyone agrees is news. Which is, of course, why we behave as a herd of not-very-clever animals. It’s less risky than thinking for ourselves.


What is the defining problem of contemporary television – is trust: can you believe what you see on television, does television treat people fairly, is it healthy for society? There’s a real danger now either that we lose trust. Or that in attempting to regain it we retreat into such a mind-numbing literalism that we neutralise the imaginative capacity of the medium.

Television is now encountering something which politicians have had to live with for years. The weather has changed. We no longer live in a time when trust was axiomatic. The crisis of confidence in television reflects the crisis of trust in politics: the old ‘we know best’ culture – in which producers affected a patrician concern to enlighten the poor dumb creatures who were their viewers won’t wash any longer.

But the most important change, it seems to me, is the philosophy which underpins what we do.

Television and politics are facing the same challenge: how do you connect? Which brings me to the question of news.

Television and politics are facing the same challenge: how do you connect? Which brings me to the question of news.

Let’s be frank. These two trades, politics and media have a great deal in common. Both deal in words and images, both involve a contract with the public based upon fairly explicit promises. And both are trades best practised by people who aren’t over-encumbered with a sense of their own frailty. We are also, of course, both down there with estate agents and car dealers when it comes to public affection and trust. Look at the charts: producers do rank just above paedophiles. Just.

The basic charge sheet against us from Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell is as follows. Firstly, that we behave like a herd. Secondly that we have a trivial and collective judgement. Thirdly, that we prefer sensation to understanding. I’m sorry to say, but I think there’s something in all of these arguments.

The problem is that all news programmes need to make noise. The need’s got worse, the more crowded the market’s become. We clamour for the viewers’ attention: “Don’t switch over. Watch us! You won’t be disappointed!”

The problem is that all news programmes need to make noise. The need’s got worse, the more crowded the market’s become. We clamour for the viewers’ attention: “Don’t switch over. Watch us! You won’t be disappointed!”…the story needs to be kept moving. So it needs to be constantly hyped. Making a lot of noise is one thing we’re all pretty good at.

What’s happened is that we have a dynamic in news now that is less about uncovering things than it is about covering them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a war in Lebanon or floods in Doncaster, it doesn’t really exist until there’s a reporter there in flak jacket or wellingtons, going live….The need is for constant sensation. The consequence is that reporting now prizes emotion over much else.



And famously he said:

“The big question here is the one of legitimacy. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wonder about what I do. It comes in the form of a question. ‘And who, precisely, do you presume to speak for?’ Who ever voted for you? It’s something we’d do well to remember.”



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4 Responses to Harding Hard Done By?

  1. bogtrott says:

    A loyalist for the BBC not for Great Britain.Says it all really


  2. Teddy Bear says:

    (hat-tip Arthur Strebe-Grebling)

    Before he came to work for the BBC as the director of News and Current Affairs he used to be a senior editor at the Times.

    “Big, Bloated and Cunning … The BBC ought to be a creative force for entrepreneurship. In reality it stifles innovation. It has planned to expand local news services when local papers are struggling to survive … Its websites, which might seem like a handy and innocuous extension of its news-gathering, have destroyed jobs, livelihoods and creativity by dumping free content on to markets where its rivals have no public subsidy.”
    Leader published by James Harding, Editor of The Times, 26 February 2010

    “The BBC must, if it is to be a public service broadcaster, deliver on its obligation in local news. I say this because there is what I consider to be a mistaken view that the BBC should rein in its local news coverage for fear of aggravating the economic woes facing local newspapers … Let me be clear, the problems facing the local newspaper industry are not the BBC’s fault.”
    Lecture given by James Harding, now BBC Director of News and Current Affairs, 13 January 2014


    • Henry Wood says:

      Oh, how absolutely such mercenaries follow their masters’ shillings.

      Thank you, Teddy Bear, for this post which amply demonstrates why many “famous” journalists should these days be treated with the absolute contempt most of them deserve.

      Why on earth should I forfeit part of my very hard earned pension, for which I worked all over the world (and in some parts of Aberdeen!) and saved very carefully, just to see parasites like James Harding be part and parcel of the theft of £145.50 p.a. from my personal funds to help pay their vast salaries and expenses?

      Harding and his ilk deserve a day of reckoning but unfortunately I fear I am too old to ever see that. (Some of my best workers on my worldly travels were riggers and I’m sure they could rig some answers up aheight for the likes of Harding.)

      My greatest wish is to live to 2016 and see this pernicious, unfair TV poll tax ended, by politicians who have learned by then to listen to their constituents.


      • Teddy Bear says:

        Cheers Henry 🙂
        If it’s any solace history teaches us some important dynamics. In this case we see those who have immense power, way too much for their actual mentality and lack of morals and ethics. They use this power to conceal truth and facts which would show their hypocrisy and deception, and by preventing real debate on so many issues they continue in their roles.
        However, despite those who are willing to have this insidious organisation do their thinking for them, many have been personally and negatively affected by its agenda. Prevented from having a voice their frustration will eventually cause them to take matters into their own hands. They will come to bring order and reality back into their world.

        The most recent example we saw was just a few weeks ago in the Rochester election. The same evening the BBC made sure, as they always do, that their would be a majority left wing audience and panel for Question Time. The election result showed that the combined left wing votes in the election were around half of those that went to UKIP.

        So clearly many people are not being brainwashed and taken in by the BBC and the politicians that go along with their twisted narrative. Eventually these same people will make sure their voice will be heard – LOUDLY – one way or the other.