'Today' loses another editor. But not its nerve

There is a neat circularity. Kevin Marsh is editor of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme when it broadcasts the Andrew Gilligan item shortly after 6am one day in May 2003. This is followed by the death of Dr David Kelly, the Hutton inquiry, the resignations of Gilligan, Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke. Marsh stays.

The Hutton Report leads to the Neill Report on journalism training in the BBC which leads to the creation of the BBC College of Journalism, set up to secure higher standards in the BBC. And three days ago, we are told that Marsh is leaving Today to be editor-in-chief of the BBC college. And there are still no weapons of mass destruction.

There will be those in the BBC who will suggest Marsh has been pushed upstairs, or sideways, and holding a senior position in training and education is a move from "real" journalism.

You would not expect me to take such a view. I am intrigued by the title of editor-in-chief at this end of the business; this juxtaposition of journalistic and academic titles may have possibilities. But there is no doubt the BBC takes this aspect of the post-Hutton era very seriously. And rightly so.

I heard Marsh speak at a Society of Editors conference in 2004 on the subject of "What makes a good editor". He had clearly reflected on the Hutton experience, and had expanded his definition of good journalism beyond the skills needed to do the job.

Worried about the lack of trust in journalists and the consequences of that for the "health of our public life and institutions", he called for four additional qualities: "toughness to resist the hypocrisy of so much of the press that wants a scalp, while at the same time denying the press should be concerned about its effect on public life; belief that finding the truth and telling it is a public good; individual and collective sense of responsibility for journalism's purpose in making government and institutions work better; and accountability, the realisation that journalism isn't something you just do and walk away from".

Marsh's retention of the Today editorship post-Hutton was probably as poisoned a chalice as walking away. Others carried the can for Gilligan's journalistic lapses, but remaining in charge of the programme put him under the spotlight of those looking for evidence that Today was cowed, losing its edge, or otherwise intimidated by the Hutton report.

There were many - I was one - who felt although Hutton could not be disregarded, its stark characterisation of "the BBC bad, the Government good" was an unfair simplification. We must remember how many questions were being asked, pre-Iraq war, how many the Government ducked, and the answers that have emerged. Today played a major role in all that probing.

The programme has retained all its best qualities. John Humphrys has refused to trim his cussed interviewing technique, his professional bloody-mindedness. Jim Naughtie - he of the overlong question, great political knowledge and cultural dimension - has also worried away, and both remain an impressive team who continue to hold government to account on our behalf. Ed Stourton and Sarah Montague give powerful support to the lead actors.

The Radio 4 audience, and Today's in particular, is not a small band of the incensed of Tunbridge Wells. More than six million a week tune in. Today is an institution within an institution, Radio 4, within an institution, the BBC. Its listeners may moan about Thought for the Day, but in a world they see as dumbing down, Today provides hope.

It may have been the programme that broadcast the item that caused the trouble. Marsh and the members of the BBC's ruling elite would dearly have loved that not to have happened. But it is a measure of the programme's ability to take on the difficult and sensitive subjects that it ended up in the target area. It is not brave to be wrong, but being brave can run that risk.

Today is more careful now, but it does not seem to be more cautious. It remains essential, and Kevin Marsh has been a big part of that. It will be the College of Journalism's gain.

Brian Redhead, another presenter from Today's hall of fame, said: "If you want to drop a word in the ear of the nation, then this is the programme in which to do it." It still is.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003