[A-List] Zimbabwe: BBC internal dissent
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Tue Mar 12 02:08:48 MST 2002
BBC Zimbabwe line colonial, say staff
Concern in World Service at risk to impartiality
Matt Wells, media correspondent
Tuesday March 12, 2002
Senior figures at the BBC World Service have expressed concern to the
domestic news division that coverage of the Zimbabwe elections has been
driven by a "colonial" agenda, potentially causing damage to the
corporation's reputation for impartiality.
Particular anxieties have been expressed about the tone of coverage on
Radio 4's Today programme and about a Correspondent documentary in which
the former Observer journalist John Sweeney smuggled himself into
Zimbabwe in the boot of a car.
There has also been concern about the frequent BBC claim that it is
banned from Zimbabwe. While it is true to say that BBC correspondents
have been refused entry, a number of African World Service reporters are
working legitimately there.
After one of the reporters appeared on Radio 5 Live yesterday, the BBC
changed its policy. Radio news will now use terms such as "severely
restricted", while TV bulletins will say either that "BBC television is
banned from Zimbabwe" or "BBC correspondents are banned".
Sources at the World Service, who did not wish to be named, told the
Guardian that concerns had been expressed by senior executives at Bush
House in London to Adrian van Klaveren, the head of BBC newsgathering,
and to Steve Mitchell, the head of radio news.
There were worries about the tone of coverage on the Today programme,
which, according to some at the World Service, has made a conscious
attempt to "illegitimise" the Robert Mugabe administration with the use
of pejorative terms such as "regime" and adjectives such as tough,
fierce and brutal.
While these were acceptable when used by correspondents on the scene,
they were being used by Today presenters in the introduction to reports,
and during news bulletins.
The sources did not attempt to suggest that Mr Mugabe was without fault,
but they pointed to worse abuses committed by governments in Liberia and
Congo. Elections in Congo were held last weekend amid allegations of
huge electoral fraud, yet did not feature prominently on the domestic
It is suggested that the interest in the Zimbabwe elections is being
driven by the "residual British interest and the presence of white
farmers", according to one Bush House source. Another said the agenda
was characterised by "latent and unwitting colonialism".
There has also been concern about the prominence being given to the
Zimbabwe elections on the World Service's main news programmes, the
World Today, World Update and Newshour, which are broadcast to tens of
millions of listeners around the world.
Several sources suggested the agenda was more "foreign" than
"international": that the story was being seen from a London-based
rather than a global perspective.
The Correspondent documentary, broadcast on the World Service as well as
BBC2, caused upset because Sweeney appeared to suggest it was necessary
to hide in a car to interview the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
In fact, Mr Tsvangirai has been interviewed many times by different BBC
outlets, even appearing in person at Bush House.
The BBC said it was committed to reporting extensively from Zimbabwe. A
spokesman said: "Clearly the Zimbabwe elections are one of the biggest
international stories at the moment, and of course we are going to cover
it extensively. In terms of the tone, we are wedded to being impartial
and careful, but clearly when there is such huge worldwide concern about
allegations of intimidation and violence, that will be reflected in
"The BBC has three bureaux and many correspondents in Africa and we
probably cover more on African affairs than anyone else. We have done
Congo, Malawi, Liberia and Nigeria, all on mainstream BBC1 bulletins."
Full article at:
Mercuria Business School
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
More information about the A-List