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Broadcasting House: Despite the scale of the operation, BBC News does not break stories

A few weeks ago, Sean O'Neill, the crime correspondent of The Times, claimed that Lord Hope, the former Archbishop of York, had covered up allegations that a senior Anglican clergyman had abused choirboys and school pupils.

You have to have worked in a newsroom to know how hard it is to break a story like that. How do you get victims to talk to you? How do you know whether you can trust them? Accusations of sexual abuse are hard to prove. In the absence of forensic evidence, impossible to find years after the alleged event, they often come down to "he says, she says" or in the case of many paedophiles, "he says, he says." Then there are Britain's ferocious libel laws to navigate.

Nevertheless, O'Neill stood-up the story, and went home convinced that he and The Times would receive some credit for publishing. The next morning the Today programme reported: "It has emerged that the former Archbishop of York had covered up allegations that a senior Anglican clergyman had abused choirboys and school pupils."

Emerged? Does the BBC think that stories appear like rocks at low tide? Does it imagine that passers-by can point their fingers and say, "Oh look, evidence of corrupt political donations has emerged"? H.L. Mencken may have gone too far when he said that "for every nugget of truth some wretch lies dead on the scrapheap". But it remains the case that someone has to put in the work and take the risks if investigative journalism is to survive.

Euphemists favour the passive voice because it denies agency and whispers lies. When the BBC says "it has emerged" rather than "The Times reported" it was hiding the fact that someone else had dug up the information. If this were a rare lapse, I would not bother writing about it. But the BBC deploys the passive voice as a matter of course to cover the embarrassing truth that it is relying on the research of others. 

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James In Footscray
October 27th, 2013
5:10 AM
I love Nick Cohen! But Nick Butcher is right. This use of 'it' is an impersonal expression, not a passive. But impersonal expressions are indeed useful to avoid saying who found something out ('It appears that ...', 'It has come to light that ...').

Nick Butcher
September 7th, 2013
4:09 PM
It's true,as Nick Coen states, that the passive voice is a useful tool for euphemists, but the example he uses, 'it has emerged', is not an example of the passive but of the present perfect. A passive structure would be something like, 'It has been claimed that...'. Passive sentences always contain a form of the verb 'be' and a past participle.

June 29th, 2013
8:06 AM
I've noticed a rapid decline in the quality of BBC journalism recently. It's been ridiculously biased for ages. Noone thinks the Guardian is impartial, but some still trust the BBC, which employs more and more Guardian or Guardian-type people. So they seem to have made a decision to get more biased not less. At the same time there has been a move towards LOTS of sensationalist news coverage from not very well educated journalists - who may have been employed for the wrong reasons (gender parity, or the "correct" views)

June 5th, 2013
8:06 PM
Interestingly "Anonymous" comment about the Panorama investigation neglects to mention that it was a combined effort carried out with the help of a newspaper - The Telegraph. The fact that BBC's "flagship" investigative current affairs programme needs the help of the press tends to reinforce Cohen's point.

May 31st, 2013
9:05 PM
With the enormous scale of its operations what does the BBC News actually do? Just spend a bit of time watching its 24 hour rolling news program running like a 30 minute loop and you will probably conclude 'very little'. Even Al Jaziera can produce more compelling content. Perhaps the BBC's defenders (those people who fond of using the word 'excellence' in describing its news reporting) could indicate where this excellence lies. Considering this article alongside his recent criticisms of the NHS is Nick Cohen finally waking up to the possibility that such massive public-funded organisations, with their well paid and protected jobs, eventually degenerate into a mere provider of employment (equal opportunity of course) rather than a provider of the service they were created for?

May 31st, 2013
6:05 PM
Ironic article on the day an MP quits a party because of... A Panorama investigation.

May 30th, 2013
1:05 PM
The BBC has 7,000 journalists and will long outlive most, if not all, Fleet Street and local newspapers with its website delivering the coup de grace to the print media. It however lives off the efforts of the press which foolishly allows it use its first editions late at night so that they appear old news by the morning.

Gordon Fraser
May 29th, 2013
9:05 PM
I'm so over the BBC. Waste of money and nothing but a sheltered workshop for pig trough leftist tyrants.

John Oakes
May 29th, 2013
6:05 PM
WHat is equally breathtaking is the BBC's constant refusal to pay any fees whatsoever to freelancers offering hard,dependable and well-researched exclusive news;coupled with an arrogant insistence that it would somehow be morally wrong to do so,and that it is a freelancer's duty to surrender his hard-won facts to the monopoly he subsidises anyway.This goes some way to explain its lack of exclusives.

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