Why I'm proud to be a tabloid journalist

I am used to provoking strong reactions - some hostile, some affectionate. However, the attack on me in the Sunday Telegraph was unprecedented in my experience because, unlike the subject of any investigation I have ever mounted, I was given absolutely no advance warning before it was printed. I had no chance whatsoever to reply to the charges.

I was accused of twisting facts, of perverting truth, of sloppy journalism. They were very serious charges. Indeed, it was an extremely damaging attack. And the accusations came not from a critic, under the heading of a television review. They were written by a professional colleague in the BBC, Panorama reporter John Ware.

Why is this significant? Because both Mr Ware and I in our television journalism must follow a code of practice established by the Director General of the BBC. They are the "Producer Guidelines". One crucial element in them, to ensure both accuracy and fairness, is the principle that anyone who is the subject of criticism must be contacted before the programme, and given enough time to provide a proper reply.

I have been described, by Mr Ware and others, as a tabloid journalist. If this means I make populist, accessible, programmes, it is a label I am proud to wear. I have made mistakes - alas - but what journalist has not. But I have never perverted the truth, nor have I twisted the facts. "Tabloid" does not mean unethical. Indeed, because these programmes have such a high profile and attract such large audiences, the journalism must be especially rigorous and thorough. That is why yesterday's accusations shocked and hurt me, especially coming from such a source.

Mr Ware is a distinguished reporter. But I too have been honoured - with the Dimbleby Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and the Special Judge's Award for Journalism from the Royal Television Society. These awards have been gained during my 30 years of working on "tabloid" popular factual programmes, some of which have exposed difficult and sensitive subjects, such as child abuse, mental illness, the ethics of transplantation. In the light of the attack made against me, let me lay out the methods and principles guiding that work.

Programmes such as That's Life and the Rantzen Report obtain their material from viewers' letters. They gain their strength and validity from detailed and exhaustive research by the production team.

The first part of any investigation consists of a thorough examination of the viewer's story - how well-founded is the complaint? Could it be a misunderstanding, or a simple and excusable mistake, or simply one person's grudge? In which case there is no story, no programme, the investigation ceases at this point. It would clearly be unfair to pursue it.

If, however, there appears to be good factual grounds for the complaints, we then look further and wider - which of course entails considerably more research. Are there others in the same predicament? What view do experts take - do they support or destroy the viewer's case? Having tested the strength of the original case as carefully as possible, we then contact the other side. Is there a reasonable explanation they can offer? If so, do we drop the story even at this very late stage? Very often the answer is, yes we drop it, no matter how much time and energy has already been expended on the investigation. To broadcast would clearly be unfair. In other cases we broadcast, including the other side's response, and leaving our audience to decide the merits of the case. If the other side refuse to put their point of view, we are left with no choice but to broadcast, with the information that we had requested a response, but been denied one.

Every programme Mr Ware attacks went through this process. Everyone was invited to appear in the studio to state their case. Everything they told us was taken into account in preparing the story.

When they refused to appear, but made a statement, we reported it. They knew the nature of the programme, and the purpose of it. We followed the BBC's guidelines for fairness and balance to the letter, not just because we have to, but because they are right, they are good practice and they protect the journalists and the journalists broadcasting on the BBC. The BBC's reputation is always at stake - so, it seems, is mine. I am, as I have said, well accustomed to being attacked. But to be attacked without being given any chance at all to defend myself, my production team, the participants in the programme, or the programme itself seems to me a perversion of the truth, a twisting of the facts. Finally, if we do in spite of all our precautions, make a mistake, we publish a correction, and put the story straight.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor