New BBC Newsnight editor’s Twitter fiasco raises concerns on impartiality

Less than two weeks into his new job, the editor of BBC Two’s already scandal-ridden flagship current affairs programme ‘Newsnight‘ has drawn accusations regarding the programme’s lack of impartiality and once again resulted in the BBC having to report on its own controversies.  

Former Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz – who is apparently not yet up to speed with the BBC’s guidelines on the use of Twitter – inadvertently sent a Tweet to more than 26,000 followers describing one of the programme’s interviewees as “boring snoring”.

Katz apologised on Twitter to interviewee Rachel Reeves MP, but Ms Reeves’ party was not impressed. 

“But Labour sent Katz an email demanding a full public apology for the “completely unacceptable” comment.

The message sent by the party said: “We would like to express our anger and disappointment at your tweet following Newsnight’s interview with Rachel Reeves.

“It is completely unacceptable for a senior BBC editor to have expressed this view, whether or not you intended for it to be made public.

“It is vitally important that the Labour party, our shadow cabinet and Newsnight viewers have confidence in the impartiality and fairness of your programme, and the criteria on which guests and interviews are judged.

“This incident undermines that confidence and it is important that this is redressed. Although a tweet of apology has been made, a full written public apology should be made by the end of the day.” “

Katz’s reply to that e-mail does not do himself or the organisation he represents any favours:

“I don’t accept your implication that my tweet reflects in any way on the impartiality of Newsnight..”

Apparently Mr Katz has not yet caught on to the fact that he no longer works for a private media organization but is now part of a publicly funded body bound by editorial guidelines. The issue of subjective interpretations of those guidelines by BBC editors tasked with implementing them is of course a matter of wider concern for BBC audiences than that raised by this incident alone.  

6 comments on “New BBC Newsnight editor’s Twitter fiasco raises concerns on impartiality

  1. IMO, Katz’s tweet was foolish and indiscreet, but it doesn’t seem to reflect on his or the BBC’s impartiality.

  2. Katz the Klutz.

    “Born into a Jewish family, although his “identification” as a Jew is “flimsier than most”,[1] he spent the first ten years of his life in South Africa. Following studies at New College, Oxford,[4] Katz joined the short-lived Sunday Correspondent as a graduate trainee in 1989 along with Jonathan Freedland, a future colleague. During the following year Katz moved to The Guardian”

    Hat tip Wikipedia. Cue Spitting Image, I’ve never met a nice South African:

  3. Meanwhile, the BBC is making yet more news today rather than reporting it, with a further arrest of 72-year old former BBC DJ Chris Denning on suspicion of sex offences by police investigating BBC child rapist the late Sir Jimmy Savile:

  4. I’d have said more questions on personal competence, and professional internal systems and oversight.

    The BBC staff’s twitter estate and behaviour is frankly the gift that keeps on giving in terms of how out of control they are in terms of accuracy and objectivity, yet the BBC indulges them all in this as if what the staff think and go on to say has nothing to do with them. All with a curious mix of pure personal (though littered with BBC branding), pure BBC and weird hybrids like that of Mr. Katz that appear personal but are obviously meant to be BBC representative, yet does not have the almost tiresomely smug legal weasel of ‘views my/own..’ (or some trite variation) that is felt by individual and corporation to be a full ‘get out of anything free’ legality.

    Few other companies seem to feel this is the case in how they are represented. Again the BBC appears ‘unique’ to the rest of the world; not in a good way.

    On impartiality his politically tribal views should of course be unknown or at least unstated. Technically, in that tweet they still are. It’s about delivery.

    However, if one’s corporate remit is to trash the competition and coalition and push Labour at any opportunity then who is invited on and what they are invited to share becomes pertinent.

    Chris Huhne kicked off a heck of a day, where his rantings about Murdoch went seamlessly from the Guardian through Today up to Newsnight. Job done. That it backfired for him, and the BBC, is a matter of some amusement.

    Ms. Reeves was there to make Labour look good. She failed. Mr. Katz’ supposedly private DM appears more in frustration that, even when the BBC sets up the whole shy, it’s tame patsies given a free ride actually make things worse.

    His reply basically says ‘I did what I could, fouled up and made us both look stupid… but please help out on who you put up in future’.

  5. The fact that is disturbing is how the Labour Party gets direct access to an editor of a BBC programme and succeeds in eliciting an immediate public apology for what after all was a silly comment about the subjective matter of whether or not a person is boring, hardly the stuff propaganda spreading is made of. Whereas the general public that funds the BBC have to dance through the hoops of the BBC complaints system, more often than not to get fobbed off, mostly on the basis that the BBC is not a public body under the Freedom of Information Act! So we have the matter of certain Labour Party politicians providing non sequita personal inaccurate subjective opinions as facts that demonise Israel on programmes like Radio Five Live and who get away with it because the BBC cries protection due to Journalism Art and Literature, a smoke screen excuse gifted to them by the Law Lords who ruled the publicly funded (to the tune of some £350,000) Balen Report on Antisemitism at the BBC the secret property of the BBC, general public be damned! That precedent is now rolled out at every opportunity to fob off the public when they request information or apologies for inaccuracies, insults abuse and bias.

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