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Fiona Bruce: More at home on "Antiques Roadshow" than "Panorama" (photo: BBC)

When James Harding was Editor of The Times he was a decent man who made some bad journalistic decisions. Now he has moved on to head BBC News he is still making bad journalistic decisions and his sense of decency appears to have deserted him.

Reporters remember him as the equivalent of Dick Rowe, the talentspotter who refused to sign the Beatles because "guitar groups were on the way out". Harding might have had the MPs' expenses scandal, the scoop of the last decade. He might have exposed how politicians, who passed punitive laws to discipline their constituents, fiddled their expenses and home allowances with a riotous disregard for propriety and the criminal law. A source had collected tens of thousands of expense claims, and offered Harding the evidence to stand up a report which would transform British politics. Harding refused to pay for the information or touch the story. Instead, Tony Gallagher of the Telegraph took the glory of breaking one of the greatest instances of public-interest journalism anyone can remember.

You might have thought that, for Harding, that would have been that. Anything but. The BBC recruited him as its Head of News — a far more important job than editing one of Britain's declining newspapers.

The BBC's decision was not as perverse as it seemed. Harding got on well with Times journalists, who were genuinely sorry to see him leave. He had refused to bend the knee to Rupert Murdoch, which again spoke well of his character. Most important for the BBC, his refusal to run the expenses scandal did him no harm in its eyes. Because it is state-funded, the BBC cannot break the biggest stories, whether MPs' corrupt expenses or an exposé of state surveillance, as the Guardian did. Politicians would hold the BBC liable. They would not accept that it was reporting facts. They would blame the messenger and say that the BBC rather than MPs or GCHQ had created the scandal. The Director-General would be finished, and the BBC's funding would be threatened.

The restriction is not as onerous as it seems. The BBC follows up other people's stories well. Panorama produces excellent investigations of its own, which may not be earth-shattering but are important nevertheless. Despite an outrageous attempt to silence it from the supposedly impartial Attorney-General, who was looking to recommend the Tory Party to Rupert Murdoch before an election, last month Panorama ran an exposé of News International's "fake sheikh" Mazher Mahmood, some of whose dubious claims the Metropolitan Police had taken for reputable evidence. BBC television and more importantly BBC radio, meanwhile, produce a vast amount of honest, straightforward news reporting under conditions which guarantee its probity.

I would not have raised Harding's decision to run away from the expenses scandal had he not arrived at Broadcasting House and — true to form — attacked the investigative and straight news reporting which make the BBC an essential institution.

He first hit the BBC's probity by appointing a string of associates to well-remunerated posts, without formal interviews by a BBC board. The BBC's requirement that recruitment should be open is, among other things, a protection against cronyism and sexual harassment of women. Harding tossed that requirement aside. While BBC reporters were airing discussions on the decline of social mobility in public, their own head of news was building a chumocracy in private. More seriously, he hit the very programmes that make the BBC worthwhile.

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AnonymousBilly Corr
April 5th, 2015
10:04 AM
Georgia! Are you out of your mind? Let us not praise any of the reptiles of the MainStream Media (MSM) for having so selflessly and nobly told us that "Asian men" were active in grooming white girls as sex slaves. The British National Party was banging on about this a long time before the fastidious anti-racist journalists of the respectable press dared to even whisper about it.

February 18th, 2015
7:02 PM
"the internet allows surfers to live in bubbles and avoid all information that might challenge them." "...the propaganda channels of authoritarian states — most notably Russia and Iran — and of political extremists — most notably the Tea Party enthusiasts of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News..." Dear dear Nick; seems like YOU are living in the bubble. To call Fox News a Tea Party driven outlet? Really?

December 18th, 2014
5:12 PM
Some good points in there, which point to a deep culture of cronyism and lick spittling at the BBC; nothing we didn't know or suspect there but good to have it confirmed from inside sources. "Because it is state-funded, the BBC cannot break the biggest stories, whether MPs' corrupt expenses or an exposé of state surveillance, as the Guardian did. Politicians would hold the BBC liable. They would not accept that it was reporting facts. They would blame the messenger and say that the BBC rather than MPs or GCHQ had created the scandal. The Director-General would be finished, and the BBC's funding would be threatene" FIrstly, I would say because it IS state funded the BBC SHOULD be breaking the big stories. The nub of the problem with the BBC is that is funded by the whole nation but it doesn't reflect the concerns of the nation; it intends to shape the concerns of the nation precisely because it is in thrall to the government. The government is not The State; the people are The State. This article also ignores the inconvenient fact that the BBC has been bias since its inception and long before Harding became head of news. I agree that social media acts in a bubble which is why it only works if agents are acting in society to work on new dynamics which encourage people to share citizens' news and views, including on social media. But to say that only mainstream news sources can provide 'unbias' coverage is very dodgy ground. A media which is itself a product of Capital, part of the means of production it controls, can never be unbias against Capital. The concept of neutrality itself then becomes subjectively measured against each person's life position so when we ask for neutrality in media coverage we may as well be asking for cats to compose Beethoven's 5th. Just now · Edited · Like

December 2nd, 2014
10:12 PM
G Scarsdale fails to mention the "Putinesque world of cronyism and fear" (Nick Cohen,the Spectator) at the BBC. If Harding is the zombie instigator and there`s no new `Civilisation` series will it be Mosque on the Box/Jihad-porn on Sunday/Save The Children from Beheading and Crucifixtion? If there is a new `Civilisation` series why are they so mafia-secret? Omerta rules? People not afraid to speak the truth to power,to question and organise discussion are all on Youtube. National tv is really old fashioned and quaint. There are exceptions but boredom is still the central production of the society of the spectacle. Islamic State jihadists freely indulge in alcohol,opium,cocaine and heroin too. The greatest atheists are the religious hierarchies.

Georgia Scarsdale
December 2nd, 2014
11:12 AM
As Editor of The Times, Harding broke the Rotherham child sex grooming scandal, the Tax evasion schemes, and twice deservedly won Editor of the Year during his 5 year editorship (which was only cut short due to the integrity he showed during the phone hacking scandal). At the BBC, despite being forced to make severe cuts he has tirelessly prioritised investigative journalism including radio. Amazing what a vicious article can be spun from a couple of BBC 'sources'. Get your facts checked, Cohen.

November 30th, 2014
1:11 AM
As an example of BBC bias waxing full look no further than the Newsnight report on November 28 following David Cameron's speech on the "freedom of movement" issue. The item looked like a piece of EU propaganda dressed as a news report.

John Wilson
November 28th, 2014
1:11 AM
Sorry but that horse has bolted a long time ago as increasing numbers realise the BBC is turning itself into a State broadcaster. It's failure to report the privatisation of the NHS is but one reason why the BBC should become a subscription channel rather than a recipient of license fees. This would mean that ar least those who want to listen to its propaganda will have paid for it.

November 28th, 2014
12:11 AM
That explains why the BBC news is like the free Metro newspaper. Except the BBC demands we pay.What happened to the new version of Ken Clark`s `Civilisation` the BBC announced it was making? Not a word about who or what`s in it. Surely as good a place as any to "counter the screams of dictators and religious fanatics,the smoothly packaged lies of the PR men,and the fantasies of the paranoid." David Hockney commenting on the disappearance of bohemia and the avant-garde losing it`s authority is asking profound and radical questions. The UK`s dreary and mean spirited politicians being 100% anti-bohemian. At an even worse extreme is the capitalism/communism of the scum of the earth Islamic State.

Adrian Monck
November 27th, 2014
12:11 PM
Rotherham: "After that initial splash, Norfolk thought it was a “job well done” and he would move on. But his then editor James Harding, now director of BBC News, insisted that he work on the story full-time and continued to encourage him." But that doesn't fit the narrative...

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