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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Ad Sales - UK Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global mul...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Vendor Services Manager (IT) - Central London

£50000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Vendor Services Manager (...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London