Media: It's all very well for John Simpson to plead against the `ghettoisation' of foreign news at the BBC - he's part of the problem

One of the abiding memories of this year's Edinburgh TV Festival will be of the BBC's squad of spin doctors kitted out in their summer holiday gear. Even Colin Browne, the pounds 170,000-a-year head of corporate affairs hired from BT, had swapped his customary grey suit for a bright open-necked shirt. You would have thought they were in Ibiza, not Edinburgh.

Then, all of a sudden, their carefree demeanour evaporated and Auntie's propagandists were looking awfully pale in their multi-coloured leisurewear...

The reason for their sudden mood swing was John Simpson. Without any prior notice or consultation with the protectors of the corporation's public reputation, the BBC's Foreign Affairs editor had taken it upon himself to shuttle up to Scotland to do a session at the festival. You could almost hear the spindoctors' nerves jangling as they filed into the BBC's Edinburgh studios for this unscheduled event.

What the hell was Simpson going to say? Was he going to have a go again at the BBC's "dictatorial" management, as he did recently in the Radio Times, only this time less lightheartedly? Maybe he was about to do a Martin Bell and quit broadcasting?

No chance. Simpson is the man, remember, who organised a petition to save John Birt's skin when the Director General was under pressure to resign over his tax affairs. In public conversation with his old pal Roger Bolton (now an independent producer and presenter of Channel 4's Right to Reply) Simpson made it clear that he wants to stay at the Beeb.

He did make a few `off-message' remarks about staff morale, but he swiftly neutered these with a humorous follow-up.

The main purpose of his impromptu appearance in the Athens of the North was to lobby against foreign news becoming `ghettoised' when the BBC launches its 24-hour news channel later this year. The danger, as he sees it, is that dispatches from abroad will be "shovelled off" to this round-the- clock service, where they will be seen only by news junkies.

In his warning blast Simpson pointed out that Panorama had adopted a more domestic agenda and that the foreign content in Newsnight was "quite small now". He then parodied news editors "sitting in their cardigans with cigarette burns down the front, asking `Would my mother in Barnsley be interested?' " and posed his own question: how long before the 9 O'Clock News adopts a narrower agenda to shore up its ratings?

It is an important issue. Democracy depends upon an informed citizenry. We need to know about what is happening elsewhere not only if we wish to influence the shaping of UK foreign policy, but also to keep track of how other countries manage their domestic affairs and deal with problems and challenges which affect us all.

As Tony Hall, head of the BBC's News Directorate, has expressed it, "the BBC's job is to paint the big world picture - to remind us of other countries, cultures, forces that shape our lives." This is especially truein an era of economic globalisation when what happens in far away factories of which we know little can affect livelihoods in this small island.

We don't want the UK to become like the US, where the major networks now only manage to run a foreign story every other day. The upshot is that foreign policy debates in the world's most powerful state are conducted almost exclusively by a small, informed elite - federal politicians, diplomats, academics and specialist journalists - with the tacit consent of a largely indifferent, and ignorant, public.

But the elite cannot completely ignore Joe Six-Pack, because every so often he stops swigging his bottle of Budweiser and demands that something is done about something horrific he has seen on TV (such as starving babies in Somalia).

As Claude Moisy, former chairman of Agence France-Press, observes in the latest issue of the US journal Foreign Policy: "Politicians and diplomats have learned that television is an emotional medium and that popular sentiment whipped up by television images can be an inescapable element of foreign policy."

Sometimes I wonder whether BBC's Foreign Editor and certain of his senior colleagues realise the essentially emotional nature of TV news. I'm not saying they should stoop to the attention-grabbing antics of CNN: we expect analysis as well as action on the 9 O'Clock News. But they do have to face up to the fact that there is a lower boredom threshold for news from far away countries of which we know nothing. At present, night after night, they file tedious and formulaic despatches which have even the most internationally-orientated news junkies reaching for their remote controls, or their kettles.

Often, it seems to me, quite a few of the BBC's numerous foreign correspondents are keen to project themselves as members of that small educated elite who are are highly informed about world affairs and have deigned to give the great unwashed of Great Britain the benefit of a mere fraction of their knowledge.

Few come across as more patrician, or pompous, than John Simpson. No one would ever make the mistake of imagining he comes from Barnsley. Simpson will have to drop his pomposity - or adopt an off-camera role - if he wants to stop ratings-driven BBC news editors consigning foreign news to an egghead's ghetton

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales Executive

£20 - £30k DOE + OTE + BENEFITS: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Guru Careers: Copywriter / Direct Response Copywriter

£20k plus sales linked bonus. : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Copywriter to j...

Guru Careers: 3D Creative Designer

Up to £26k DOE: Guru Careers: A Junior / Mid-Level 3D Creative Designer is nee...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks