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Political interferences in BBC are not a secret, says former programme head

NewsPolitical interferences in BBC are not a secret, says former programme head

NEW DELHI: Marcus Ryder headed the BBC Scotland Current Affairs Programmes for eight years, from August 2008 to 2016. In October, it emerged that his application for a senior role in BBC in 2021 was blocked by the BBC over concerns regarding his anti-racism “campaigning”.
A journalist with over 25 years of experience, Ryder presently heads the External Consultancies at the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, a research institute dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in the UK media industry. He has given both oral and written evidence to the House of Commons and House of Lords Select Committees on diversity in television.
He spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the recent controversies surrounding BBC in the wake of the appointment of its chairman, Richard Sharp: Excerpts:

Q: How damaging is the recent incident regarding Richard Sharp to the BBC’s global perception?
A: Working outside of the UK, and especially my time working in China, it was really important to explain that the BBC is a “national broadcaster” accountable to the people of the UK and not a “state broadcaster” representing the views of the government. This distinction is really important for BBC journalists working in war-torn areas and their independence is paramount.
The recent controversy damages the perception of this independence, and, therefore, ultimately makes the work of BBC journalists harder.

Q: The BBC claims that it is independent. As someone who has worked in it for a long time, how true is this statement?
A: On a day-to-day basis, BBC journalists act independently, free from direct government influence. Any news organisation’s news agenda is subjective and so there will always be accusations of political leanings in which stories are covered and how they are covered, and there may be political interference.
But, in my experience, this is more indirect rather than direct and is to do with the fact that many of the journalists share common cultural values and come from the same background, as opposed to direct interference from higher authorities.

Q: How susceptible are the BBC’s editorial decisions to the wishes and inclinations of its board and the chairman?
A: The board of any organisation usually sets the framework, tone and general direction of the body they are overseeing. I think this is the case for the BBC. And so, I suspect it is wrong to look for a “smoking gun” of a story the board has censored.
Instead, it influences the general culture of the BBC and it is important that this culture is not perceived to favour one political party over another.

Q: Do you agree with the assessment of some of the subject experts that political interference in the BBC is something that is a well-guarded secret? Something which has come to fore due to the Sharp incident?
A: It is not a “well-guarded secret”. However, the details of the processes are something which the general public did not know about previously. I for one did not realise until recently that only the PM can get rid of the Chair. If anything good has come out of the current controversy, it is that the process is being discussed and more people are openly talking about how the process needs to change.

Q: A recent documentary on the Gujarat riots that was broadcast by the BBC has come under criticism by a section for ignoring “facts, judicial decisions” and “trying to reignite decades old incidents for ulterior motives”. Is this something that could have perhaps not happened if there was a better system of accountability at the top?
A: I am not an expert on the particular issue of how the BBC covered the Gujarat riots and so cannot comment on this issue. Sorry.

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