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
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor