Greg Dyke: We must not Americanise the BBC

From a speech given by the BBC director general to a journalism symposium at Goldsmiths College, University of London
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The Independent Online

As broadcast journalists in the UK, we are still surprised when we see some of the attitudes the US networks have to covering the war. When we read that some network executives say that their coverage should be influenced by "patriotic duty", we are surprised.

We are genuinely shocked when we discover that the largest radio group in the US was using its airwaves to organise pro-war rallies. We are even more shocked to discover that the same group wants to become a big player in the UK when UK radio is deregulated this year. In the area of impartiality, as in many other areas, we must ensure that we don't become Americanised.

So why has this happened? One theory I heard expressed in the US rang true. The argument goes like this. American television is now so fragmented there are no 800lb gorillas around as there was when CBS, ABC and NBC dominated. The effect of this fragmentation is to make government, the White House and the Pentagon all-powerful, with no news operation strong enough or brave enough to stand up to them.

This is particularly so since 11 September when many US networks wrapped themselves in the flag and swapped impartiality for patriotism. But what's becoming clear is that those networks may have misjudged their audience. Essential to the success of any news organisation is holding the trust of its audiences. Commercial pressures may tempt others to follow the Fox News formula of gung-ho patriotism, but for the BBC this would be a terrible mistake. If we lose the trust of our audiences, there is no point in the BBC. If Iraq proved anything, it was that the BBC cannot afford to mix patriotism and journalism.