BBC Brass Bashes War Coverage Biases

Greg Dyke, Director-General of the BBC, played to a packed Hawes Hall audience on April 2 in a lecture on “The Media’s Role in the War in Iraq.”

After an introduction by Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter which revealed Dyke’s famous practice of distributing “cut the crap” yellow cards to enable subordinates to accomplish their goals, Dyke kicked off his discussion with a powerful acknowledgement of the risky side of war journalism: one BBC News cameramen was killed by a landmine that morning.

Mr. Dyke emphasized the importance of having an unbiased approach to news reporting, pointing out the extensive reach of the BBC, which holds 38% of UK viewership share in television and 52% in radio. Dyke explained that the World Service, founded in 1932 as the Empire Service, has a long tradition of unbiased news coverage and has repeatedly fended off government pressures to support particular causes.

Armed with several striking and sometimes humorous video clips, Dyke illustrated his point that the BBC News is responsible primarily to its viewership, referencing a UK law that requires broadcast media outlets to be unbiased and suggesting that any comprehensive treatment of the news requires refusing to bow to political or commercial pressures. As a contrast to what Dyke described as the BBC’s approach, he attacked certain US media outlets for doing precisely that – bowing to political and commercial pressures. He pointed specifically to Fox News and its political slant and a broadcast by CNN’s Paula Zahn in which she reportedly said, “if that rendition of the Star Spangled Banner doesn’t stir you, I don’t know what would.” Dyke attributed a significant uptick in American viewership of BBC news, and over 100 supportive e-mails from Americans, to a lack of U.S. news media coverage free of such biases.

Several students took issue with Dyke’s views, and in particular alleged that certain aggressive interviewing tactics, while not bowing to particular political agendas, clearly indicate various reporter biases. Also raised was the possibility that the BBC News is more UK-centric than Dyke described, and that it may slant coverage to the average British citizens’ views, especially as it relates to coverage outside of Britain.

Dyke, entrepreneur and creator of Pearson Television, has served as Director-General of the BBC since 2000. The BBC, first formed in 1922, is the world’s largest public service broadcaster, with 27,000 employees and annual revenues of about $6 billion. Dyke is known for his restructuring of that organization in a program dubbed “One BBC”, which put him closer to program makers and devoted more of the BBC’s resources to programming. Dyke’s speech was a part of a two-day visit to HBS, where he participated in a case on One BBC in Professor Kanter’s EC course “Managing Change.” The talk was sponsored by the Entertainment & Media Club and the Consortium on Global Leadership.