A few more steps towards a fully diverse TV news industry

This is a version of an article which will appear in next month’s edition of the ITN 1955 Club newsletter. Disclosure: I was the chairman of this year’s RTS TV Journalism awards.

This year’s RTS Television Journalism awards felt like something of a sea change in our industry and I don’t mean the debate over the new rules (Head of Sky News,John Ryley, praised them as ‘fair and transparent’ but then Sky did win 5 awards). The industry is beginning to look more like the society that it reports on.
Consider winners like Nima Elbagir and Ramita Navai. More women,more ethnic minorities. Overall it was a good night for the sisterhood;Julie Etchingham,Jackie Faulkner and Alex Crawford all won big awards.Julie told me afterwards she also sensed it was a turning point,more nominations from a wider field of entries,more competitors and good ones too. Nobody can afford to rest on their laurels,not even veteran British correspondents like the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen ,worthy winner of Interview of the Year for his encounter with President Assad.Not when there are up and coming TV journalists like Young Talent of the Year Benjamin Zand who explained in a wonderfully youthful way on stage that he’d decided he had to learn to do everything himself -report,film,edit- and had persuaded the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Programme to let him do that. And last year’s Young Talent now this year’s Camera Operator of the Year ,Mstyslav Chernov of Associated Press ,who gave the most thoughtful comments of the evening on the ethics of news coverage.
The privilege of chairing the event (and therefore knowing the results in advance) gave me the chance to make a point about diversity at the start of the evening.The increased number of neutral jurors enabled more women to be on juries and more jurors from ethnic minorities.The entries also showed greater diversity and that was reflected in the nominations and the winners.But we all know that more needs to be done. The jury for Camera Operator of the Year couldn’t but help notice that for all the political correctness of the title there were 20 entries and all were from men.One news cameraman in the room offered the view that there were no ‘ladies’ because there was so much war coverage.I pointed out that of the three finalists in the international news category none was for coverage of a war.
The winner who gave me most cause for thought was Nima Elbagir whose CNN portfolio of stories from Africa about the human rights of children won her Specialist Journalist of the Year and a nomination for TV Journalist of the Year.Nima was born in Sudan,came to England and graduated from the LSE.She freelanced for Reuters and in 2005 her break into broadcast journalism came at ITN where she did some reports on More4 News.She then worked for Channel 4’s Unreported World.In 2011 she joined CNN where,under the stewardship of former Channel Four News executive Deborah Rayner, her career has blossomed winning awards in the USA .
After her success at the RTS people in the business were gossiping about the offers Nima is already getting and how keen CNN were to keep her under contract.It reminded me of the diversity debate about why black British actors like David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor seem to have to go to Hollywood to get big roles.ITN should feel some pride that it helped develop Nima’s career but ITN and other British broadcasters might also ask themselves why she had to go to CNN to get a job as a mainstream foreign correspondent.
To try to help push the diversity cause along Sue Lloyd-Roberts’s family were at the RTS to launch an appeal to help young female journalists study for a year at Cardiff University.The Sue Lloyd-Roberts Scholarship will be a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman and hopefully will provide practical help to those inspired by Sue.

The BBC executive who talent-spotted Guy Burgess and David Attenborough

One of the most fascinating discoveries in the research which Jeff Hulbert and I conducted for our book ‘Guy Burgess-The Spy Who Knew Everyone’ was the story of a woman who talent-spotted the broadcasting potential of the young Cambridge graduate and after his defection had dinner with him in Moscow.

So who exactly was Mary Adams,who rose to become the BBC’s first woman TV producer despite the obstacles to married women having a career there ,a Socialist who was married to a Tory MP,  a ‘romantic Communist’ who ran wartime anti-communist propaganda campaigns, a member of the broadcasting establishment who had an MI5 file with the reference number PF.737,539 and who gave David Attenborough his first chance on television?

In the book we tell how in 1935 Mary Adams,then a BBC radio producer,booked Burgess to take part in a discussion about Russian communism. Burgess, already signed up as a spy for what became known as the KGB, was pretending to be a ‘liberal-minded Tory’. It was planned that he would debate with a young Russian but the broadcast was called off when the Soviet side,ironically,blamed Burgess for being too political.

Mary Campin was a research botanist at Newnham College, Cambridge, who gave talks on the radio .In 1925 she married Samuel Vyvyan Adams who five years later became Conservative MP for Leeds West. Her own politics were that she was a member of the Fabian Society and a friend of two of its early leading lights, Sidney and Beatrice Webb. In the same year that her husband was elected,1930,she took a part-time job with the BBC Talks Department.

Mrs Vyvyan Adams, as she then became known, worked her way up the BBC hierarchy until the TV service closed for the war in 1939. She took the job of Director of Home Intelligence at the Ministry of Information. Her main job was monitoring domestic morale prompted by research done by the social research unit Mass Observation. The files reveal the full range of her work from asking people ‘Would you approve or disapprove if the British Government were to discuss peace proposals with Germany now?’ to typing up pages and pages of possible speakers for morale boosting broadcasts to America (she did some of the broadcasts herself) to working with MI5 writing papers on how to counter Communist Party activities in Britain.
It might therefore come as something of a surprise to read in the National Dictionary of Biography, that Mary Adams herself was ‘‘a socialist, a romantic Communist … a fervent atheist and advocate of humanism’. The author of the profile was her daughter Sally. One BBC colleague we talked to her about her immediately replied ‘Mary was very left-wing’.
At a Ministry ‘Morning Meeting’ in December 1939 it was recorded that although Mrs Vivian (sic) Adams argued that their anti-Communist messages couldn’t avoid ‘treatment of peace aims’ because this was a regular Communist theme  ‘the meeting in general was , however, not certain that would be the case’, a minute-taker’s code for ‘she was over-ruled’.After all in an overwhelmingly male world,Mary Adams was a woman -‘a tiny, vivacious, brainy blonde with bright blue eyes who always dressed very elegantly’, according to Angus Calder in ‘Gods, Mongrels and Demons’.

In 1941 she resigned from the Ministry of Information, feeling ‘practically obliged to go’ because she was so unhappy about what she saw as the lack of support for Home Intelligence within the Ministry of Information.When the war ended and BBC TV resumed she began a distinguished career in television production. She encouraged the career of David Attenborough despite noting after his first broadcast that ‘David Attenborough is intelligent and promising and may well be producer material, but he is not to be used again as an interviewer. His teeth are too big’.

After retiring in 1958 she worked at what was then called the Association for Consumer Research and became the Consumers Association. In September of that year she went to Moscow on what looks like a private visit rather than part of her new job. She was among a British delegation attending the congress of the International Scientific Film Association . The British Embassy kept a special watch because it was believed the Association was an off-shoot of the Association of Scientific Workers ‘and is slightly penetrated by Communists’.A report back to London said that half of the dozen strong British delegation ,including Adams,had security records, PFs or Personal Files, at MI5.
Mary Adams took the opportunity to visit her 1935 protégé . She wrote a letter about her visit saying that she’d telephoned Burgess, who’d come freely to her hotel and they’d gone to dinner  with a fellow delegate ‘and talked about old and new times’. Adams found Burgess ‘lonely and longing to set foot in England again. Very anxious to know what all his old acquaintances thought about him’.Burgess wrote to his mother that the visit was evidence that, ‘I seem to be not quite so unpopular as I thought’ with ‘v nice people like Mary Adams’.


How the KGB used MI5 to get Guy Burgess a job at the BBC

From the Sunday Times of Sunday 24th January 2016.

This is the KGB news: how the BBC fell for Soviet ring

THE BBC was fooled into giving a job to Guy Burgess, a member of the Cambridge Five ring of Soviet agents, at the request of MI5 — with neither organisation realising that he used the position to betray Britain to the KGB, writes Nicholas Hellen.

His appointment was orchestrated by Anthony Blunt, another of the Cambridge Five and who worked for MI5 during the Second World War, according to newly discovered documents.

It was just one example of how Burgess and other traitors ran rings around the BBC as well as the security services in the late 1930s and during the war. They went on to occupy key positions in the Foreign Office, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, which they exploited to pass information to the Russians.

The revelations appear in Guy Burgess — The Spy Who Knew Everyone by Stewart Purvis and Jeff Hulbert which is to be published by Biteback on Wednesday.

They found an internal MI5 memo written by Blunt in which he told his boss at MI5, Guy Liddell, that “Burgess has been working for us for some time and has done extremely valuable work” and that at the BBC his “direction of a particular series of talks” put him in “a very useful position from our point of view”.

He said Sir Richard Maconachie, the BBC’s director of talks, had agreed to the arrangement apparently in early 1941.

The authors explain: “It was all dressed up as being for the benefit of MI5, but in reality it was for the benefit of the KGB that this had been arranged.”

They draw on MI5 files released in October from the National Archives and documents in the BBC Written Archives to tell a story which finds new significance in Burgess’s time at the BBC.

Purvis, a former editor-in-chief of ITN, said: “The normal narrative of Burgess at the BBC is that he merely called in on the way to his career at the Foreign Office [from where he leaked top secret documents to the KGB]. In BBC folklore, he was simply an awkward customer who never did his expenses on time and got drunk.”

In fact Burgess served two stints at the BBC. His first job there was in 1936 after the corporation ignored several warnings about his communist sympathies.

MI5 had already opened a file on him in 1934 after he took a trip to Leningrad. In 1935 he was recruited by a precursor of the KGB — officially formed only in 1954 — under the code name Mädchen (“girl” in German).

Burgess’s job producing talks for BBC radio helped him to cultivate political figures and to make friends in MI6 by inviting staff to appear on air.

In 1938 he gave Blunt, a close friend and fellow KGB spy, his radio broadcasting debut, ensuring he was paid the maximum rate for a nine-minute art programme.

Blunt was not the only KGB spy he put on air. In 1941 Burgess paid Peter Smollett, one of his significant recruits for Russia, 12 guineas (£12.60) for a radio talk.

The authors report: “The recording . . . might just be the only surviving example of a BBC radio broadcast by one KGB spy and produced by another.”

Once Russia and Britain became allies, Burgess’s war turned full circle with his job at the BBC now involving official pro-Russian propaganda. In 1944 he again exploited his position at the BBC to engineer a move to the Foreign Office, where he embarked on the most damaging phase of his career in the service of the KGB.

Despite drawing attention to himself again and again as a promiscuous homosexual and a drunk, Burgess was not unmasked by Britain’s spy-catchers until 1951. In that year he and Donald Maclean, another of the Cambridge Five, were tipped off that they were under suspicion and defected to Moscow.

The Establishment, which Burgess had outmanoeuvred for years, got its revenge by refusing to let him return. He died from acute liver failure in Moscow in 1963, aged 52.

One man’s journey from the BBC and Radio 210 Berkshire to MI6,the CIA and Pol Pot.

A former BBC journalist and commercial radio station executive who went to work in psychological warfare for the intelligence agencies of Britain and America has finally given some insights into his extraordinary life.
Neil ffrench-Blake has written what he calls ‘a work of fiction, but it is solidly based on autobiographical fact’. The novel ‘The Pol Pot Conspiracy’,published in July 2015 as a Kindle e-book on Amazon, tells what it is like to be a contractor hired by intelligence agencies to run clandestine propaganda radio stations. It also highlights an element of foreign policy that Britain would probably prefer to forget -how the British were in alliance for a time with Pol Pot.
In 1983 ffrench-Blake was recruited via MI6 ,the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), to work with the CIA and the Government of Singapore to run radio stations supporting what was known as CGDK -the Coalition Government of Democractic Kampuchea. After the Russian-backed Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea (Cambodia) in 1978 which overthrew the regime of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot, the West and its allies in South-East Asia decided to support an alliance of two non-Communist factions with the Khmer Rouge. Which is how a man with the very aristocratic name of ffrench-Blake, then the son-in-law of the Duke of St Albans, came to meet Pol Pot and to run clandestine radio stations based in neighbouring Thailand supporting the coalition in its aim of driving out the Vietnamese out of Cambodia. In 1989 Vietnam finally withdrew.
The author’s own view of the Khmer Rouge leader; ‘no world-class monster’ but ‘a fumbling idealist, a man never fully in control of the forces he purported to command, a patriot who believed he could improve the lot of his people’ will be controversial but it does at least come from somebody with first-hand experience.
The story behind the book is equally intriguing. I first met Neil when I was researching the history of the clandestine radio stations ,some of them secret,which British Governments had set up abroad at times of conflict .On an obscure specialist website I saw ffrench-Blake named as the programme controller of one of them. I contacted him via Facebook and my colleague Jeff Hulbert and I arranged to meet at his home in Newbury,Berkshire. We talked about his early career including his time in BBC TV Current affairs and Radio 210 in Reading where he helped launch the careers of DJs such as Steve Wright and Mike Read.He then worked for MI6 in the Middle East and Asia before agreeing to work on a station based in London but aimed at an audience thousands of miles away.
The more we talked the more I understood that whatever the shortcomings of this particular British station which he had agreed to work on at short notice it had pioneered propaganda techniques which have also been used in more recent British psychological warfare efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.He was effectively one of Britain’s few known practitioners using radio stations in psychological warfare.It was this experience working for the British that led him to be hired by the CIA.
Neil had many documents to verify his life and times- not many Britons have the equivalent of a contract with the CIA. This encouraged Jeff Hulbert and I to help Neil get his book published. There were a lot of problems .The book had been written after his return from South-East Asia in a word processing software which is rarely used today. The book was very long ,which is why I suspect the one mainstream publisher who’d seen it had turned it down. We worked our way through the technical problems and then came the process of taking the book through what most people still call ‘the D Notice system’. The Secretary of ‘The Defence,Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee’ helps to advise on anything that might endanger national security. As a long-time critic of the system I am not embarrassed to admit that in these circumstances it worked rather well and that the changes requested were very reasonable. Neil had already accepted that ‘because of the constraints of the Official Secrets Act and other agreements into which I freely entered, I am not able to write the whole story as it actually occurred’. He had therefore ‘ taken considerable care to ensure that nobody who is working, or has worked, for Western intelligence organisations, including particularly the SIS and the CIA, can be identified’.
When we first met, Neil was in what his doctors believed were the final stages of cancer. They had not reckoned on his resilience. A year and a half after they decided to stop medical treatment he was still alive at the time of publication and able to enjoy being a published author again, two decades after his last book on the golf courses of South-East Asia,another spin-off of his time working for the CIA.
What we thought was special about ’The Pol Pot Conspiracy’ was that so little has been written about British psychological warfare operations. Even though this one man’s account has been ‘fictionalised’ it is a piece of history that ought to be recorded properly. It now is.

How a company changed my personal history on Facebook without me knowing

How could your personal history in your Facebook profile be changed by a company without you knowing?

Having just had my past ‘rebranded’ until I spotted it,there have been lessons for me and potentially for other occasional users of Facebook who don’t realise the potential significance of every small keystroke they make.

From 1972 to 2003 I worked at Independent Television News (ITN).I started as a news scriptwriter and ended up as Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief.

I am an irregular user of Facebook but last month I noticed that a former colleague who I knew to be still working at ITN was,according to her Facebook page, now working for something called ODN.

I found there were a number of ODNs in the world but one was a new brand used by ITN.In an email exchange with the company’s executives they explained to me that although the company is still called ITN and uses that brand for the services it provides to companies such as ‘ITV News’ and archive clips,its online news services direct to consumers were being re-branded ODN-On Demand News.So for example itn.co.uk had become odn.co.uk.

For those of us who remain proud to have worked for ITN this is a controversial decision but one which the company is free to make.

Then I was alerted to the fact that on my own Facebook page ‘Worked at ITN’ had been replaced by ‘Worked at ODN’.

The same had happened to other past and present ITN staff and I suspected that in the company’s enthusiasm to replace their old online brand with their new one they had somehow also changed our life stories.And that has turned out to be the case.

One helpful person who saw a tweet I sent out (see the associated comment from Matt)  explained that when I originally put the letters ITN in my Facebook page this automatically linked my page to the ITN Facebook page .When ITN changed their Facebook page to ODN this automatically rebranded me and anybody else who had consciously or unconsciously ever linked their profile to the ITN Facebook page.

Which then got me thinking why ITN had changed their corporate Facebook page to ODN in the first place. It not only had the unintended ,rather Orwellian, consequence of changing people’s life stories but overnight 61,432 people who liked ITN now liked ODN -a brand which I wager the vast majority of them had never heard of.

ITN now tell me that the change in users’ Facebook profile settings was unforeseen and they have taken steps to address this. They have also taken two other steps.They are creating a new corporate ITN Facebook page, which users can link to instead, which will promote all their  brands and businesses. And itn.co.uk will be resurrected as a site which will direct users to all the different elements of the company.

If this is indeed the outcome I will consider it an excellent day’s work .

So lesson learned,if you type the name of a company into your personal profile and that connects to their Facebook page,whatever they call their page in future will automatically come up in your profile.Somebody tweeted me to say they’d had a similar experience with a previous employer on their LinkedIn page but my life story on LinkedIn seems unaffected.

But there is one fascinating loose end.Somebody tweeted me to say that he agreed with my opening proposition that a commercial company could change your profile without you knowing.He told me that he had worked for a giant multinational and had ‘listed my former jobtitle (appropriately) as Obergruppenfuhrer & was all deleted’.How strange.






Looking at the loose ends of the unusual encounter between the Chief Constable and the DG.

There have been many occasions when two sides in a row have offered utterly conflicting versions of an event.But it doesn’t happen very often in a Commons committee room and it has probably never happened at all when one side is the Chief Constable of a major police force and the other is the Director-General of the BBC .

Lets be blunt-somebody was either lying or seriously misinformed over what the BBC said to the South Yorkshire police about the investigation into Cliff Richard and the members of the Home Affairs Committee seemed pretty clear it wasn’t the BBC at fault.

The Committee Chairman Keith Vaz offered an immediate verdict that the BBC had acted ‘perfectly properly’ in this affair.

Two weeks ago on Radio Four’s Media Show I offered a preliminary view that whilst there was nothing to suggest the BBC had crossed a line it looked like the South Yorkshire Police had crossed a few lines of their own.My view was confirmed by what happened at the Select Committee.

But I’m interested in how some of the loose ends play out.

Loose End Number One: does South Yorkshire Police have any hard evidence to support their allegations against the BBC?

The Chief Constable David Crompton,said his force did a deal with the BBC because ‘my concern was that if we showed the BBC the door, the very clear impression which had been left with my staff in the media department was that they were likely to publish the story. That would have impeded our investigation’.

The BBC strongly denied leaving that impression and Director-General ,Tony Hall, pointed out that if Crompton ‘had said to us, or others in the BBC News operation, that broadcasting this story would in any way have damaged this investigation we would not have run it’.

Crompton’s other main allegation was about how BBC reporter Dan Johnson first came to know Cliff Richard was being investigated.

In his letter to Committee Chairman Keith Vaz in advance of the meeting Crompton wrote: 

‘On July 14 and July 15, 2014, shortly after the force had taken receipt of the investigation, a BBC journalist made contact with South Yorkshire Police both by telephone and in a face-to-face meeting. The journalist made reference to the investigation of the allegation and he named the suspect and indicated that the information was from a source outside South Yorkshire Police. The nature of the source was such that South Yorkshire Police believed the source to be credible’.

No mention in the letter of who exactly this source was,but at the hearing Crompton came out directly and said Johnson’s source was the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yew Tree team.And who had told the South Yorkshire police that? None other, Crompton claimed, than Dan Johnson himself.

Crompton told the Committee:’Dan Johnson,in the initial meeting and subsequently ,made that comment to my staff and it was noted down in the notes of the meeting’.The Head of BBC Newsgathering, Jonathan Munro,later told the Committee that Johnson totally denied saying this.

I should say that Jonathan Munro was a close colleague of mine at ITN and I have the greatest respect for his judgement.Dan Johnson happens to have been on the Broadcast Journalism course at City University London and would have sat through my lectures on compliance. So instinctively I find their case the more convincing.

But I remember the  words of Greg Dyke when,a decade ago, he told Andrew Gilligan -at the height of what became the ‘Hutton affair- ‘you’d better be fucking right’ and then turned to colleagues in the room and said ‘he’d better be fucking right’. Greg later learned that on some points Gilligan wasn’t right.

So is there anything revealing in the texts and emails between Johnson and the South Yorkshire Police which Crompton is releasing? I assume the BBC will have learned its lesson from Hutton and checked all the reporter’s texts and emails.

And is there anything  definitive about Johnson’s source in the official note of his meeting with the South Yorkshire Police media team. Crompton mentioned it but didn’t specifically quote from it.

Loose end Number two is rather different -what exactly is the police’s policy on getting reporter’s phone records from mobile companies to try to find the source of their stories?

One Committee member,Mark Reckless MP, raised this issue when he asked Crompton how the Met might go about finding out who,if anybody,in Yew Tree had tipped off Dan Johnson about the Cliff Richard investigation.

The exchange went:

Reckless : If they were to conduct that investigation what actions would they take as part of that investigation?

Crompton: Probably the first thing they would do would be speak to the reporter.

Reckless:First thing they wouldn’t do would be to get hold of the reporters’ telephone records? 

Crompton:That would be part and parcel of speaking to the reporter 

Reckless: I’m very interested in that conformation,is that standard police practice?You’ve seen very controversially today ,for most of us at least,Plebgate operation,as part of the internal disciplinary proceedings ,the police took the phone records of the Sun news desk and Newton Dunn the Political Editor from the phone provider and on that basis found the source and subjected them to disciplinary proceedings ending in them being sacked.Don’t we have protection for journalists sources in this country?

Crompton:Yes and it is a very jealously guarded principle.

Reckless:So why is it standard practice would you get the mobile phone records of the journalist ..

Crompton:Apologies I think I took a step too far in that answer.You would certainly speak to the reporter in that instance.To be really clear to nail this one nobody would have any legal right to those mobile phone records unless there were certain serious criminal offences at play which would then give you the power to do that. 

So Crompton effectively back down after claiming that getting a reporter’s phone records would be ‘part and parcel’ of an investigation.

That definitely will not be the end of this issue.

Can the UK’s broadcast news providers keep doing more for less?

If there was an annual award for ‘The most (apparently) honest statement by a broadcast news executive ‘ then Jeff Zucker,President of CNN would have to be a front runner this year.Last week he warned his staff around the world,who are expecting job cuts,’We are going to do less and have to do it with less’.
James Harding,Director of BBC News,would get a nomination for the slightly longer ‘Taking nearly £50 million out of a well-run organisation that provides high quality news services that are trusted, relied upon and used by millions of people is an extremely difficult undertaking’ .But this wouldn’t get many votes in newsrooms where £50 million would be a healthy budget in itself.In truth,the most honest statement by most broadcast news organisations would be ‘let’s be clear,we need to do more for less’ .
Next month the top people at Britain’s three largest broadcast news providers-BBC,ITN and Sky News-are in a session at the Royal Television Society’s London conference ‘Power,Politics and the Media’.The session is  called ‘Have I got News for You?’ although as the chairman of the session I preferred ‘Can the UK’s broadcast news providers keep doing more for less?’.
James Harding has said ‘The challenge is how to make BBC News even better, despite having less money’. In his case the list of demands for ‘better’ or ‘more’ from the top of the BBC is daunting. The BBC Trust wants better mobile and online news,a wider news agenda and increased impact in current affairs.The BBC Director-General,Tony Hall,wants the global audience for BBC News increased to 500 million,there are corporate diversity commitments to be delivered on ethnicity,gender and disability not to mention goals set by outside experts commissioned by the Trust such as more coverage of rural affairs.All this while the unions at the BBC will be threatening industrial action and where a new focus on breaking exclusives like the Cliff Richard raid has proved controversial .There must be times when Harding reflects that working for one man,even if it was Rupert Murdoch, may have been easier.
For its main UK rivals ,ITN and Sky News,the BBC’s problems may be an opportunity but these two have pressures of their own.ITN’s customers ITV,Channel Four and Five,are always looking for even better value for money and generous as BSkyB has traditionally been to Sky News,resisting BT’s growth in sports rights has to be a more of a priority.
The challenge that unites all broadcast news organisations was illustrated last week in another session on news ,this time at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Ratings research by Enders Analysis for a debate on how engage younger viewers to news emphasises that there are increasingly three different audiences which news producers have to serve with high quality output.At the two ends of the scale are the traditional TV news audience,predominantly over 55 years of age, and the 16-34 audience which is adopting  predominantly online news use at a startling rate,especially since the arrival of smart phones and tablets.In the middle is the 35-54 audience which currently has a foot in both camps but whose future allegiance to TV news cannot be taken for granted.Enders points out that whereas daily average TV viewing is currently three times higher among adults 55+ than among adults 16-34,the ratio is more like five/six to one when it comes to news.And the gap is widening all the time.
At least younger audiences are interested enough in news,and especially dramatic international news of which we currently have a surfeit,to go and find it,if not necessarily from ‘trusted’ news providers as the status quo love to bill themselves.
The long term challenge as I see it is the broadcasting equivalent of the ‘analogue dollars,digital cents’ dilemma which has faced newspapers since they went online. The commercial currency of flagship TV news bulletins has always been blocks of time-normally half-hour slots-into which ads are inserted at traditionally high TV rates.Online news is a much more time-efficient way of consuming news,especially for those busy 35-54 year olds, and the associated revenue per consumer is lower.
For the next decade or so,this dual economy should survive and existing producers will serve both markets.But they will be under pressure from funders to provide more and increasingly focused news for both ,there will be many more challenger brands like Vice News for that online audience and on present trends a point will come where news on demand overtakes sit back and watch news. Then a whole new debate will begin.

This blog first appeared on the Press Gazette website.The RTS Conference ‘Power,Politics and the Media’ is at Kings Place,London on 9th September 2014.

Guy Burgess,the FBI,an FOI and me and my friend Jeff.

Guy Burgess was, variously and often simultaneously, a radio producer for the BBC, an informer for MI5,a propagandist for MI6,a diplomat for the Foreign Office  and a spy for the KGB. In the book which I wrote with City University colleague Jeff Hulbert last year, ‘When Reporters Cross the Line’, we said that Guy Burgess set something of a gold standard for conflicts of interest.

During the research for our Burgess chapter we found all sorts of facts about the man and his extraordinary life. We knew what he looked like from stills and one piece of silent newsreel. We knew how tall he was, what he weighed , the various ailments he collected because of his prodigious drinking and who he slept with . We even found out that he smelt like a combination of the previous night’s alcohol and that morning’s chewed garlic cloves.

But nowhere could we find exactly what he sounded like. The BBC sound archive produced no trace of a recording of their former employee. We had a hunch that somewhere in the many radio programmes Burgess had produced he probably had appeared on the air at some point, but maybe nobody wrote it down.

All we could find was a reference in, of all places the F.B.I files in Washington, to Burgess having made a sound recording in 1951, just before he defected to Russia, in which he told his favourite anecdote .He had talked about the day back in September 1938 when he met Winston Churchill  and they shared their mutual despair at the Munich agreement  which Chamberlain had just signed with Hitler. The files had a transcript of what Burgess had said about this meeting into a friend’s tape-recorder in New York the day before he got on the boat back to Britain and then on to Russia.

We thought that if a transcript existed it was obvious that at some point a tape existed and might still exist. So Jeff  put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request on our behalf to both the British and American authorities. The British came back saying they didn’t know where any such  tape was but nine months after our request the FBI told us they had put  ‘a release’ in the transatlantic mail . It came in the Christmas post and on our first day back after the holiday break we found an FBI envelope sitting in my post box at City University. I was so excited that   I took Jeff and the envelope into a studio at City University to record in sound and video the moment of us opening the envelope. Michael Crick of Channel Four News, to whom we gave the tapes ,was to say later that only an old newsman would think of  recording the moment . We feared that the ‘release’ might be just more paperwork but in fact the FBI  had run off a CD for us of Burgess’s tape which they had discovered in New York  during their inquiries after his defection to Russia. The only known recording of the voice of one of Britain’s biggest traitors was in excellent quality and alongside it was an FBI letter declaring that the tape was now declassified and released without any deletions.

When we listened to the CD we realised that it contained what was the third attempt by Burgess and his friend on that slightly drunken night to put his anecdote onto  tape. The very first words on the recording – which weren’t on the transcript -are Burgess declaring, presumably in response to his friend giving him some kind of advice off mike ,  ‘I won’t take any notice of you…I’m not in the least shy. I am extremely tired’.

He then explains ‘I am now recording for the third time because I think the story is of some interest, my interview with Mr Winston Churchill in September 1938’. Burgess was known as a good mimic and he imitates Churchill’s side of the conversation . In some ways this is a short radio play about the meeting between Burgess and Churchill in which Burgess plays both  parts. He delivers his lines with a slight slur, which may be due to the amount of drink that he had been consuming just before finally sorting out the tape recorder.

Burgess has been played on screen half a dozen times by actors including Alan Bates, Benedict Cumberbatch and Derek Jacobi. Mostly they  played the Old Etonian with what we would regard as a posh accent. But being the first people anywhere to hear  the voice of the real Guy Burgess for the first time since he died in Moscow in 1963 what struck us that none of the actors had been anywhere near posh enough in their versions. The real Burgess was much closer to Harry Enfield’s character Mr Cholmondley-Warner than to a contemporary old Etonian like David Cameron.

We have gathered together everything from our research – video,audio ,documents,articles and stills-and put them on a microsite www.city.ac.uk/Burgess so that anybody inside or outside the university can use these resources. My thanks to one of the students on the broadcast journalism course ,Kristian Brunt-Seymour, who has edited the video and audio and voiced the news package we have produced, to Ben Sawtell who has created the microsite with his colleagues in the City University Communications team and to Dave Goodfellow and the technical team in the Journalism Department who made it all work.

As a hack at heart I get a cheap thrill of getting the exclusive which nobody else has before but my colleague Mr Hulbert thinks rather more deeply about the historical significance of what we have found. He believes that we can now hear for ourselves exactly how ‘establishment’ Burgess was and it helps to explain why he found it so easy to mix with the ruling elite: he spoke and sounded just like they did. But Jeff thinks the tape also reveals Burgess’s  underlying sense of humour, which for many was his underlying charm, as well as a quick wit. Jeff’s overall verdict is that we get a real glimpse of Burgess the man who, in spite of all his treachery, still commanded the respect and friendship of a loyal band of followers. Jeff says: “What is striking is that his voice betrays no hint of tension. This is remarkable because less than four weeks later he would defect to the Soviet Union with Donald Maclean”.

Inside Europe’s last dictatorship it is business as usual for the KGB and the ‘Ideology Department’

A decade ago I was asked to meet a group of journalists from Belarus who were crossing over the border into Latvia for a few days. Latvia was just joining the European Union and the trip,funded by the British Foreign Office, was intended to give the Belarussians some idea of the freedoms enjoyed by their journalistic counterparts in a ‘normal’ European country. My strongest memory of our time together in the Latvian capital,Riga,was not their enthusiasm for learning about European institutions because frankly they weren’t that interested,it was the presence among them of a journalist from the Belarus state broadcaster who seemed to be taking copious notes of not only what I said but what her colleagues from various newspapers said to me. To their credit this note-taking didn’t seem to inhibit conversation,the Belarussians seemed used to it.

This month I finally got to visit Belarus itself as part of my hobby/obsession with travelling to every country in Europe.I found the centre of the capital Minsk apparently more prosperous than one might have expected,no more shops with nothing on the shelves though the surly Soviet style of service remains amongst the older staff.Lots of casinos seem to have opened since Putin cracked down on them in Russia and five star hotels are opening for the richer casino tourists. I stayed in a three star Soviet era hotel where men in dark suits still sit around in the foyer with nothing much to do other than keep an eye on the customers. I visited the block of flats where Lee Harvey Oswald lived for a time as a defector from the U.S before returning to live in Dallas with the wife,Marina,he met at a dance in Minsk. Most of the city’s other landmarks  relate to World War Two which is understandable when you remember that a quarter of Belarus’s population was killed by the Nazis, many of them in the numerous incidents when German troops and collaborators herded villagers into barns and set fire to them.Belarus is the country where a group of Jewish partisans living in the forests fought the German army,as portrayed in the film ‘Defiance’ with Daniel Craig.Minsk certainly earned its place as one of the Soviet Union’s ‘hero’ cities in WW2.

Belarus would have been the 47th member of the Council of Europe I’ve visited but Belarus is not actually a member.Along with Kazakhstan its human rights record has kept it out.  My very modest effort a decade ago to help bring new freedoms to its media,along with countless other initiatives to bring Belarus into that group of former Soviet states who now look west instead of east,have achieved very little. 

Belarus has come to be known as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’ and that seems a fair description but it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.Take my first night in the capital Minsk. A taxi drove me past one of the enormous presidential palaces which Alexander Lukashenko has built himself.He says no Government money was spent on it which leaves the intriguing question of who did pay for it. Just along the road was a modern sports and events arena of the type you see in most American cities and a shopping mall with similar American antecedents. Inside the arena it was pizza and hot dogs,beer and coke,rock bands and cheer-leaders. The top   local ice-hockey team was at home in the KHL ,Russia’s equivalent of North America’s NHL,and having seen the New York Rangers play at Madison Square Garden in New York, I can report that it is not that different when Dinamo Minsk play at the Minsk Arena.One of the Minsk players was even a former NHL man ,Geoff Platt, who likes the place so much he’s taken out Belarussian citizenship.

The KHL stands for Kontinental Hockey League which has 21 teams from Russia and 7 from former parts of the Soviet empire.Having now visited many of the countries in that empire I have found that a common feature is a museum or exhibition condemning the Soviet imperial period.The best examples are the former KGB headquarters in Lithuania where resistance leaders were murdered in a special facility in the basement,the Occupation Museum in Latvia where you are left with the clear impression that the Latvians thought their Soviet occupiers were a lot worse than their Nazi ones,and the Museum of Soviet Occupation in Georgia,a country still occupied in part by the Russians after the Georgians had the nerve to take on their former masters.

It is different in Minsk. At the ice hockey match there was warm applause when the Russian national anthem was played for the visiting team.In Minsk’s main street Independence Avenue, a classic piece of large scale Stalinist post-war architecture ,proudly stands the KGB building where it is absolutely business as usual. Everybody still calls it the KGB and former KGB men like Viktor Rusak, now a parliamentarian and ‘Deputy Chairman of the Standing Commission on National Security’ boasts in his CV that he is a ‘KGB honored security officer’ and lists his former roles in the KGB.

Along the road from the KGB is the Ministry of Justice’s ‘Department on Personnel and Ideology’ ,one of whose roles,according to its website,is ‘enforcement of regulatory and other acts of higher bodies on ideological issues’. It is said to be devoting more of its time to making sure bloggers in Belarus understand  the enforcement of ‘ideological issues’. I was told the biggest threat to a blogger is that he or she becomes so popular that they are deemed to have fallen into the category of  official media and become fully state-controlled.

Nearly two years ago Andrei Khrapavitski summed up in his belarusblog what I found to be still  the mood in Minsk: 

The last year in my home country could be summed up with one word “crisis.” It was the year of unprecedented weakness of Lukashenko. It was the year of awakening for many people who had previously kept silent . It was the year when many of us hoped the regime would fall by the end of the year.It’s 2012, and Lukashenko is still in power. 

Since then Belarus has had an election of a kind in September 2012 and at the end of 2013 Lukashenko is still in power.According to official figures the three main parties,including the Communist Party, won just 5 of the 110 seats,the rest were all won by ‘independents’ who just happen to agree that Lukashenko is the man to run the country.So although the state controls most economic activity Europe’s last dictatorship isn’t so much a Communist one as a Lukashenkoist one.The dictator will be 60 next year and he doesn’t plan on changing much any time soon.



Peter Frank 1934-2013 the TV Kremlinologist who gave academic pundits a good name

There are two types of academic pundits- those who make simple things complicated and those who make complicated things simple.Professor Peter Frank,who died on Thursday 14th November,was one of the best of the latter. He became a familar face to British viewers and listeners because of his ability to explain and predict the extraordinary changes in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Peter’s base was the Department of Government at Essex University but after work he had an equally familar perch in the Channel Four Newsroom at ITN in  London monitoring  satellite feeds of the Vremya TV news programmme for any coded clues of new developments in Moscow.

As the editor of a programme that couldn’t afford its own Moscow correspondent I found his train fares from Essex and a modest appearance fee the best ‘foreign’ desk investment we ever made. Peter also appeared on other ITN programmes and on BBC radio.

In a tribute Ian Budge of Essex University said With the Cold War in full swing, Russian studies was a progressive and very relevant subject to develop. Peter was their presiding spirit both in the University and in wider spheres.  He was a strong believer in having personal and hands-on contact with the Soviet Union and followed on this by travelling there extensively, making many friends and contacts. Peter’s expertise was nationally recognised when he became the Soviet specialist for Channel 4 News’.

Professor Budge says Peter Frank was a provincial working class lad who worked as a bicycle mechanic after leaving school, was conscripted into the Army at 18 and on the basis of his O-levels was offered a chance to study Russian and interpret radio communications. He managed to pass the course ,was demobbed with a command of Russian, trained as a teacher and then went on to University.

From what he learned and taught at Essex,from those clues gleaned from Soviet TV and from his briefings with his contacts,Peter Frank consistently called it right as President Gorbachev struggled to reform the unreformable .As an example,take the events of 15 March 1989 where the ITN archive database chronicles the output of that night’s C4N as:

President Mikhail Gorbachev urges the Central Committee to accept new reforms which will overhaul Soviet agriculture and address the problem of food supplies.             The proceedings are shown on state TV.  Peter Frank of Essex University believes that the risk of failure is fairly high since the entrenched interests of bureaucrats are at stake.  

Peter’s humble background stood him in wonderfully good stead as a communicator.He was an expert but one with a common sense touch that viewers warmed to.On Channel Four News we were pleased for his growing reputation and he for ours.A proud academic he was also a good friend to journalism and journalists and we will remember him with great affection.

A note from Essex University: Professor Frank’s funeral takes place on Monday 2 December at 2.45pm at Colchester Crematorium.  The family have asked that there should be family flowers only but donations may be made to British Lung Foundation for research into pulmonary fibrosis, c/o Hunnaball of Colchester, York House, 41 Mersea Road, Colchester CO2 7QT.