Exchanges With a Young ITN Journalist by Alison Banville
From: Alison Banville
Sent: Friday, 21 October 2011, 18:35
Hi Natasha and Ria,
Can I ask why Ria, during your second report on the closure of St.Paul’s on this evening’s show you said ‘there are major fire safety issues’. You must have been aware that in their statement the camp said:
‘This afternoon we have been told, in a telephone call, by the fire brigade, that they have not issued any new requirements above and beyond those already communicated directly to the camp. Therefore, there are no outstanding fire safety issues. What outstanding issues there are appear to be concerned with, firstly, health and safety and, secondly, the Cathedral’s commercial concerns. We seek clarification from the Cathedral as to the precise nature of those health and safety concerns.’
Ria, why did you make the statement that there is a fire hazard as though it were fact? It is clearly contradicted by the camp. And why did you not make your viewers aware that the camp contests this? Impartiality would insist on this would it not? Why did you not contact the London fire Brigade to check if the camp’s statement is true – very easy to do and something even a student journalist would know is important?
Natasha, what checks did you carry out to confirm that St. Paul’s ‘has been forced’ to close?’. Is this fact?
Below is a list of members of the St. Paul’s Foundation who would have been consulted on this decision:
•Sir John Stuttard PWC partner, Former Lord Mayor of London.
•The Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul’s
•Dame Helen Alexander DBE Deputy chair of the CBI, director of Centrica plc
•Lord Blair of Boughton Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner
•Roger Gifford Investment banker, big in City of London
•John Harvey – Not clearly identified
•Joyce Hytner OBE – Theatre director
•Gavin Ralston Global Head of Product and leading international asset manager at Schroder Investment Management
•Carol Sergeant CBE – Chief Risk Director at Lloyds TSB, formerly Managing Director for Regulatory Process and Risk at the FSA
• John Spence OBE – Former Managing Director, Business Banking, LloydsTSB
As Richard Murphy from Tax Research UK commented: ‘that looks like a very high association rate with the 1% … And the St Paul’s Foundation is going to provide an objective report on the protests in the City? I have my doubts.’
It’s important that ‘objective’ news reports do not simply parrot the statements of establishment voices without subjecting them to proper scrutiny.
Alison Banville (independent journalist)
From: “Chatterjee, Ria” <RIA.CHATTERJEE@ITN.CO.UK>
To: ‘Alison Banville’
Cc: “Kaplinsky, Natasha” <NATASHA.KAPLINSKY@ITN.CO.UK>
Sent: Friday, 21 October 2011, 20:47
Subject: RE: occupylsx
Thanks for getting in touch and raising your concerns. In the “re-cap” live I said there were “major concerns” over fire and health and safety issues, which appears to be the case. This is why the cathedral have taken the decision to close. In my report the two interview clips with the protestors show that the group have been doing all they can to comply and cooperate with the cathedral and other authorities over fire/ health/ safety. The clip from the Dean states his concern over fire trucks potentially not being able to access the north side of the building, thus potentially endangering the lives of cathedral staff. He also mentions large amounts of fuel being used on site. In the second live I also mentioned the mixed emotions from protestors, that some said they were happy to move on whilst others were keen to stick to their cause. I do feel we fairly represented both sides, allowing both the cathedral and camp occupants a chance to voice their sides.
Thanks for getting in touch.
RIA CHATTERJEE, ITV NEWS
200 GRAY’S INN ROAD
T +44 (0)20 7833 3000
From: Alison Banville
Sent: Saturday, 22 October 2011, 11:49
Subject: Re: occupylsx
Thanks for getting back to me, much appreciated.
Haven’t heard from Natasha yet but let’s give her time. She must be far busier than you let’s face it. Although I have noticed that the higher up the greasy pole journalists climb the less accountable they seem to think they are. I’m really pleased to see that you haven’t reached that sad stage yet, hope you never do!
Now, on what was said about fire safety at the camp. I’m pretty sure I quoted you correctly from the follow up report as saying ‘there are major fire safety issues’. You could check this to confirm. This was stated as fact, that’s what struck me, when, as I pointed out, the camp statement strongly contested this. Objectivity would demand telling viewers this, presenting the views of both sides in a dispute being pretty fundamental stuff for a journalist. The occupylsx statement also had the added weight of communications with the fire brigade which could have been easily checked, but you didn’t do this. So we have the omission of one side’s opinion, the statement as fact of a disputed claim, and the ignoring of a source which could have confirmed whether what you said was true.
You say in your response below: ‘This is why the cathedral have taken the decision to close’. How do you know this is true? This is something you cannot possibly know Ria. Let’s deal in facts once more. All you can logically know is what the cathedral ‘say’ are their reasons for closing. This simple word would have given your report the integrity it lacked because you must be aware that their motivations are being called into question all over the internet, even by other journalists like Mark Townsend of The Observer. But even if no-one was questioning them, simply parroting official statements like a PR person is not objective journalism.
It’s quite worrying (and ironic) that you state this in your reply to me. You don’t appear to be aware at all that accepting the statements of certain groups as ‘gospel ( I couldn’t resist the pun) is not good journalistic practice. Natasha did the same thing at the top of the programme when she said the cathedral was ‘forced’ to close. It is one of the most common criticisms of the corporate media (yes, you are a corporate employee) that its journalists, as a default position, tend to repeat establishment statements as fact, while excluding non-establishment voices that call these statements into question. Your report was textbook in this regard. This tendency to blindly trust establishment voices is incredibly damaging to journalism and to our society as a whole.
Objectivity loses out when this occurs and, as has been pointed out by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Norman Soloman, Pilger and many others, it can have terrible consequences. In the case of the Iraq War where msm journos accepting govt statements rather than challenging them meant dubious reasons for going to war were not examined, we may well ask if a million innocent people would still be alive to day if UK journalists had done their job? This is something Pilger put to David Mannion in ‘The War You Don’t See‘. Mannion’s squirming performance during that interview spoke volumes.
Jeremy Paxman has said of Iraq, specifically Colin Powell’s ‘evidence’ to the UN: “When I saw all of that, I thought, well, we know that Colin Powell is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and a sceptical man. If he believes all this to be the case, then, you know, he’s seen the evidence; I haven’t.’ Unbelievable!! And, as Media Lens pertinently asked: ‘Does not government submission of evidence mark the point where serious journalism begins rather than ends? It is not true that Powell’s evidence on Iraq was revealed to be “absolutely meaningless” only “after the event”. In fact, it was immediately evident, as we reported in our media alert of February 10, 2003, five days after Powell‘s presentation. ‘ http://www.medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=583:the-bbcs-jeremy-paxman-on-iraq-we-were-hoodwinked&catid=23:alerts-2009&Itemid=35
Yours and Natasha’s unthinking acceptance of the cathedral’s statement as fact is the same default position that Paxman displayed, indeed, it’s a plague amongst mainstream journalists. One often hears such things as ‘The government believes’, ‘The Met believes’ and so on. ‘Believes’?? As David Cromwell and David Edwards of Media Lens point out in their latest book, ‘Newspeak in the 21st Century’, knowing what the individuals in these institutions ‘believe’ would require the ability to see into their souls. Journalists are not seers and so should never use this word. There is no way they can know what anyone else believes! They can only know what they say. And this is how it should be reported if integrity is to be maintained.
Lastly, a story that may – that should – interest you, is what happened to Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb:
“In seventeen years of doing this, nothing bad had happened to me. I was never fired or threatened with dismissal if I kept looking under rocks. I didn’t get any death threats that worried me. I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? Hell, the system worked just fine, as I could tell. It +encouraged+ enterprise. It +rewarded+ muckraking…And then I wrote some stories that made me realise how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.” (Webb, ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On’, in Kristina Borjesson, ed., Into The Buzzsaw – Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Prometheus, 2002, pp.296-7)
ML commented: We believe….that journalists are selected on the basis that they are unlikely even to attempt to report “dangerous ideas” of this kind – troublemakers are quickly identified and filtered out as ‘committed’, ‘biased’ and ’emotionally involved’. By contrast, successful journalists, with rare exceptions, are happy to remain within the ‘acceptable’ parameters of debate, echoing government opinions without challenge, presuming the essential benevolence of state-corporate power, focusing on non-threatening problems, interpreting crimes as mistakes, and so on. It might seem odd that professional journalists should be so willing to conform. But in fact much the same is true of all professions, not just journalism, as Jeff Schmidt, former editor of Physics Today magazine, writes:
“The qualifying attitude, I find, is an uncritical, subordinate one, which allows professionals to take their ideological lead from their employers and appropriately fine-tune the outlook that they bring to their work. The resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorize, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology. The political and intellectual timidity of today’s most highly educated employees is no accident.” (Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000, p.16)
Top journalists who end up fronting news programmes are, unfortunately, the most obedient of all, although they perceive themselves as fiercely independent, and, as the piece makes clear, the financial rewards and other perks mean any discomfiting thoughts are quickly dismissed. I urge you to read Chris Hedges’ (another Pulitzer Prize winner, 20 years New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief) brilliant piece: ‘The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News‘
Well, if you’re still with me Ria, I commend you for ploughing through!
Why am I throwing all this stuff at you? Because you’re still young and your willingness to engage tells me that you haven’t yet reached that doomed place where you are considered to be at the ‘top’ of your profession and you will have exchanged your integrity for a fat salary and having your over made-up mug on the box. No, please! Don’t thank me!
These exchanges will be published on our website, I’ll send you the link when it’s all tidy.
Thanks again for engaging,
All the best,