Why the parable of the canoe man is important for media freedom

This is a paper I presented in October to a seminar on ‘Ethical Spaces :What Leveson Missed’ which was part of  the 10th annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics in London:

During Lord Justice Leveson’s long search for enough regulatory and legal clarity and certainty to reform the practices of the press without constraining the freedom of the press, I was on a rather more modest search for an editorial holy grail which had interested me for a decade- when exactly  do reporters ‘cross the line’?

Leveson’s conclusion was based –in part- on evidence given to him and –in other parts –on his own legal experience. Mine-again rather more modest- was based on something one reporter said at one of Leveson’s hearings.

Leveson was searching ,and a year on the search still continues, for the certainty of an agreed regulatory model. My own experience these past two years considering the ethical issues facing broadcast and print journalists through case studies from the 1920s to phone-hacking, tends more towards the inevitability of regulatory uncertainty.

I will explain that and then go on to say why I think there are things about Leveson that others may have missed which made it an important and worthwhile process, whether or not (and who can yet tell ) his regulatory model or a version of it is ever agreed. And my evidence for that is the parable of the canoe man which I will relate later.

My research was conducted in partnership with Jeff Hulbert, an Honorary Research Fellow at City University London. A review of our work in the Spectator said that we were ‘safe and snug in higher education’, I’m not sure those of us involved in higher education find it that ‘safe and snug’.

In my four decades in journalism I had often heard colleagues talk about ‘not crossing a line’ but where or how this line was drawn was never clear. In the introduction to ‘When Reporters Cross the Line’ I explained that by and large  British journalists are not very interested in reading rules that someone has written for them.

I quoted my conversation with one of the country’s most respected correspondents, the late Charles Wheeler, who told me that he’d never seen and never read a copy of the BBC’s editorial guidelines. His own guideline was ‘push it as far as you can but make sure you get it right’.

During my time at Ofcom, I had been effectively the Editor-in-Chief of the Broadcast Bulletin, a fortnightly list of Ofcom judgements on which broadcasters have been found to be ‘in breach’ of Ofcom broadcast regulations ,which have been investigated and found ‘not in breach’  and the cases which are declared to be ‘resolved’.

Jeff Hulbert and I decided we would not repeat that model. We would not attempt to adjudicate whether or not individual journalists crossed those uncodified lines , instead we would use a mixture of new archive research, interviews and story-telling to highlight the ethical issues .Then we would try to draw out some of the  morals of the stories.

The full title of the book is ‘When Reporters Cross the Line-the heroes, the villains, the hackers and the spies’. The subjects of the chapters range from Guy Burgess to Andrew Gilligan, from Charles Wheeler to Frederick Forsyth. We never associate a particular name with a particular category.

It wouldn’t be appropriate today to attempt to summarise their stories though the Observer did it rather well in the headline to Peter Preston’s review of the book ;

Reporter?  Secret agent? It’s hard to tell with spies like us.

From the cold war to Syria, journalists have to negotiate ethical waters far murkier than anything considered by Leveson.

Actually the thought of Guy Burgess being cross-examined by Robert Jay QC on how the ethics of how he simultaneously held the posts of BBC producer, MI5 informer and KGB spy would definitely have been worth the price of admission to the Leveson hearings.

Putting that aside, I think there are initiatives that flowed directly or indirectly from Leveson that will benefit journalism, quite apart from the debate about regulatory models.

Buried away in the transcripts of the hours of Leveson hearings is a useful tutorial. More specifically it is Leveson himself explaining how the law recognises that sometimes it is acceptable to break the law.

He outlined four ‘backstops’ that were available to journalists who were news-gathering and reporting ‘in the public interest’. There were, he said, ‘a number of hoops through which a journalist would jump or not jump, as he might prefer’.

First, sometimes, but not always, a statute can specifically provide for a defence. For instance, under the Data Protection Act of 1998 there is a specific defence in section 55 which says ‘in the particular circumstances the obtaining, disclosing or procuring was justified as being in the public interest’.

Secondly there are the guidelines for prosecutors which Leveson says he ‘encouraged’ the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP),Keir Starmer QC, to set out. These suggest journalists should not be charged when ‘the public interest served by the conduct in question outweighs the overall criminality’. The guidelines offer what the DPP called ‘examples of conduct … capable of serving the public interest’.

Only last week the DPP, Keir Starmer, was telling the Guardian that his guidelines will protect reporters working in the public interest.

The third Leveson ‘backstop’ was a British jury , which I remembered from the case of the senior civil servant Clive Ponting where a jury acquitted him of charges under the Official Secrets Act even though he admitted to leaking key documents after the Falklands War.

‘Finally,’ said Leveson, ‘there is, I hope, at the end of the line, a sensible judge who would take a view that even if it is a strict breach of the law, and even if there isn’t a public interest defence, then this is not a very egregious problem.’

But since Leveson , in addition to new guidelines and reminders of judicial safeguards , we have,helpfully the practical parable of the canoe man.

In March 2002, John Darwin from County Durham paddled off into the North Sea and, it appeared at the time, never came back. He was reported missing, presumed dead and his wife Anne collected more than £500,000 in life insurance pay-outs. In fact he was hiding in their home. He had even allowed their two sons to think he was dead.

In July 2008 John and Anne Darwin were both sentenced to six years in prison. Sky News transmitted a report about ‘John and Anne Darwin’s masterplan’, quoting from emails that the ‘canoe-man’ had written to his wife and to a lawyer.

Four years later, John Ryley, head of Sky News, issued a press release which said, ‘On two occasions, we have authorised a journalist to access the email of individuals suspected of criminal activity… We stand by these actions as editorially justified and in the public interest.’

When John Ryley appeared before the Leveson Inquiry it is fair to say John’s demeanour was not quite so robust. Lord Justice Leveson himself joined in the questioning in a censorious tone.

Firstly, about the law.

Lord Justice Leveson: What you were doing wasn’t merely invading somebody’s privacy; it was breaching the criminal law.

John Ryley replied : It was.

Then about regulation.

Lord Justice Leveson: Well, where does the Ofcom Broadcasting Code give any authority to a breach of the criminal law?

Ryley: It doesn’t.

But no action was ever taken against Sky News and its staff by either the UK’s public prosecutors or the broadcasting regulator.

In March 2013 the Crown Prosecution Service announced they would not proceed against Sky News over the hacking of the canoe man’s e-mails. A statement said:

‘The evidence indicates that the public interest served by the conduct in question outweighs the potential overall criminality… In reaching this decision, we took into account that the emails were accessed with a view to showing that a criminal offence had been committed.

In July 2013 Ofcom decided that Sky News had not breached the Broadcasting Code by ‘obtaining and subsequently broadcasting material accessed improperly by gaining unauthorised access to the email accounts’ .Ofcom accepted Sky’s public interest defence but it also cited ‘the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression……, in the exceptional circumstances of this case, outweighed Mr and Mrs Darwin’s expectation of privacy’.

What students of the European Convention on Human Rights would call favouring Article 10 about freedom of speech over Article 8 about a right to privacy.

However Ofcom also noted that ‘BSkyB’s conduct is at the boundaries of what is appropriate’, presumably putting something of a marker down to those who might consider following Sky’s example.

Now an investigation about a crime is arguably the easiest threshold to meet for a story claiming to be in the public interest. There may be other stories ahead where the public interest is more arguable. But at least the model has been tested and it has worked. We are now more clear, if not entirely clear, when journalists can break the law and breach statutory regulations.

The hacking affair and the Leveson Inquiry have brought –among many other things –a new awareness that the media can’t just opt in and out of observing the law without some basis. One other benefit may turn out to have an even wider and longer-lasting impact.

‘Transparency’ is arguably the most overused word in the English language but that doesn’t mean the value of the concept is completely diminished.

It doesn’t come much more transparent than an editor being interrogated live on television in front of a senior judge by a top barrister. At the Leveson Inquiry public hearings, the live television coverage and the simultaneous commentary on social media made a powerful combination for holding journalists to account in the same way as they, rightly, hold others to account.

My own conclusion is that nothing will ever be the same again after Leveson and that real journalism has nothing to fear from the transparency and accountability it represented. I am not advocating regular ‘trial by television’ of journalists. It wouldn’t be right and it wouldn’t be needed. I believe that the outside possibility of being questioned in public, the possible chance of the disclosure of internal emails (as reinforced by the disclosures to both the Hutton Inquiry and the Pollard review for the BBC of the Savile affair), and the likelihood of peer review on social media have changed behaviours and will continue to do so.

Those who believe they can meet the public interest should have nothing to fear.

So I commend one new ‘line’ and I call it the ‘Leigh line’ after the former investigations editor of The Guardian, David Leigh, who said at a Leveson hearing:

‘I think I would say a journalist ought to be prepared to face up to the consequences of what they’ve done. I mean, if I do something that I think is OK in the public interest, I have to be prepared to take the consequences.’

Who were the first female news reporter and presenter on UK national TV?

It was, according to a BBC Radio Four programme in November 2013 , ‘a forgotten piece of broadcasting history, the first woman to present the news on a national television service in Britain did not work for the BBC’.

To those of us latecomers to ITN who only joined in 1972, that woman was just Barbara, an always polite copytaster in the Wells Street newsroom. We’d heard that she’d once been an ITN newsreader on ‘Lunchbox’, ITV’s first attempt at daytime television back in 1955. But she hardly ever talked about it.

Now nearly sixty years after the event and fifteen years after her death, media history –and maybe some of us too- are catching up with the full significance of the life and work of Barbara Mandell.

‘Getting on Air-the Female Pioneers’  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03ffp9q) was a five part lunchtime series presented by Jane Garvey and produced by an independent, Jane Reck. They managed to track down all eleven seconds of the only surviving recording of Barbara on-air as a news reader. Media historian Jean Seaton  said that judged by the clip Barbara didn’t conform to the  normal stereotype of a female newsreader  which was ‘a small nose, be pretty, not move very much ..and be accompanied by an older, greyer chap’. Instead, said Professor Seaton, ‘Mrs Mandell, when you see her, she’s eager, she leans forward, she’s a middle-aged intelligent woman’.

According to the programme Barbara had ‘proved an important point, a woman could be a voice of authority without upsetting the audience’

Barbara’s importance is also acknowledged by Suzanne Franks, author of  a new book ‘Women and Journalism’. Nearly two decades after Barbara’s first broadcast on ITV the BBC  still had what Professor Franks calls ‘a wide range of hostility towards women in the corporation’

She quotes from an internal BBC report from 1973:

On the prospect of female newsreaders it quoted a senior manager observing how ‘women have class bound voices unsuitable for news reading . . . [and] may introduce emotion’. On the possibility of hiring women reporters it noted that women would be ‘unable to work in the cold and wet . . . and (are) not able to make overnight stays on location with a man as wives would not like it’. Another senior male editor, commenting on the prospect of employing female reporters, said that ‘although he had interviewed many women for reporter jobs he had “never found any woman with the remotest chance of working in that capacity” . . . he believes that women are simply not able to do hard news stories .

An online search through the ITN Source archive database shows that Barbara was also significant for her role as a hard news reporter. The lunchtime news only lasted a few months before it was dropped for financial reasons, but Barbara had already proved her worth as a reporter and she focused on that.

The database shows that on 30th September 1955 she interviewed a man called Fred Russell on his 93rd birthday about the possibility of making it to 100,which was obviously less common then than it is now.

That transmission would have made Barbara the first female television reporter on air but for the fact that the database shows that the day before Lynne Reid Banks (later a successful novelist) had interviewed a boxer who had just got engaged.

Barbara did a wide range of interviews with people in the news and went on to do reporter packages on Paris fashion shows in the sixties.

She retired in 1980 and wrote travel books and made travel films with her partner, former  ITN cameraman Martin Gray. She had been divorced from Alan Mardell, better known as the broadcaster Alan Dell.

ITN is entitled to feel pride that a woman read the news a full 20 years before Angela Rippon became the BBC ‘s first permanent woman news reader. But maybe that pride should be tempered by the realization that it was 23 years after Barbara’s lunchtime news before Anna Ford joined the company as what was widely described in 1978 as ‘ITN’s first female newsreader’.

One footnote : in the same week as the Radio Four series went out I was on a train north when I thought the face of the woman sitting next to me was familiar. One name came to mind so I asked, rather clumsily, ‘did you used to be Victoria Brittain?’ .To which she replied ‘I still am Victoria Brittain’ .

Victoria was one of a group of women reporters hired by Nigel Ryan in the early seventies and was sent to cover the Vietnam war. She told me that afterwards she decided she wanted to go back to newspapers and she also wanted to go back to Vietnam, so she became the resident correspondent there for The Times. She went on to become a foreign editor at the Guardian and is a now a journalist and author specializing in ‘the war on terror’.

When Sir David Frost (just for once) was on the wrong side

I count myself as being in what Chris Mullin would call ‘the foothills’ of Sir David Frost’s acquaintancies. For example I was among those guests for his summer garden party who would arrive nervous that he would have no idea who we were or why on earth he had invited us.I needn’t have worried.Whether or not he remembered,his legendary charm got both of us through the encounter without stress.

And so it was in all our professional dealings. But just to show that none of us is perfect I can also remember a Sunday morning in 1991 when we were on very opposing sides.

We were both working for the same channel,Channel 3 in the UK.But such was the bizarre structure  that I was the editor of the channel’s news service for for twenty and a half hours each day,the ITN News on ITV,and he was one of the founding presenters of the news service for three and a half hours each breakfast time,on the separate franchise TVAM.

During the Gulf War of 1991 ITN kept a correspondent,Brent Sadler,and crew in the Iraqi capital,Baghdad ,despite constant pressure from John Major’s Government to withdraw.A number of people who should have known better called me privately to add to that pressure.We did not change our mind.Newspapers ,like the Mail on Sunday,who did not have their own person in Baghdad, asked us to get Sadler to write for them and displayed those articles prominently.

But then the Mail on Sunday seemed to change sides.They ran an article attacking television as ‘a messenger for Saddam’s lies’.According to the paper television was ‘ a poor medium for news.It corrupts the intellect.It destroys real debate’. The Mail characterised the previous week’s TV coverage from Baghdad as ‘they had war in all its brutality.And how they loved it’.

David’s response was not to stand up for television but to join in the criticism. After one of ITN’s many overnight programmes on the progress of the war,he opened his  Sunday show on TVAM by proudly announcing  that TVAM did not have a correspondent in Baghdad.I cannot remember any other TV station in the world  making such a proud announcement  about any news event. The main front man for one part of the ITV system was publicly criticising another part for its commitment to independent eye-witness reporting,

I put it down to David ,with his excellent contacts in Government,  telling them what they wanted to hear by distancing himself from us.

It was a pity because David had been a major part of one of the greatest successes for cooperation within the dysfunctional ITV system-the 1969 coverage of man landing on the Moon. The combination of David Frost and Alastair Burnet ,with brilliant production by David Nicholas of ITN (all three later knighted for services to broadcasting), won the creative and ratings competition with the BBC.

When David Frost,aged 21,crossed a line (twice in one programme)

While researching the book ‘When Reporters Cross the Line’ ,co-written with Jeff Hulbert and published by Biteback this Thursday (5th September 2013),I found an archive reference to what may well have been the late David Frost’s first conflict with the broadcasting authorities.

In the archive of the Independent Television Authority (ITA),safely stored at Bournemouth University, is a note from one ITA official to another in September 1960. It refers to an edition of ‘About Anglia’ the magazine programme produced by the ITV franchise holder for the East of England, Anglia Television.The note says:

You might be interested in this gaffe in About Anglia.David Frost is not on the regular payroll of Anglia.He is a young Cambridge undergraduate who made a creditable appearance in Town and Gown and was tried out as an interviewer.It is clear that he had not been properly briefed about 3(i)(f).ROA tells me that Anglia have frankly acknowledged a serious mistake’.

3 (i)(f) is a reference to the sections of the Television Act which required ‘due impartiality’ from the ITV licensees. ITV companies started to come  on the air in 1955 but in September 1960 Anglia had only been on the air for less than a year.’ROA’ probably stands for Regional Officer Anglia,the ITA’s regional representative. David Frost was aged 21 at the time.

Also in the file is a letter from the ITA to Anglia Television formally recording that they had breached the Act. The background was that Norwich Education Committee had submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Education asking for funding for a major expansion of schools but this had been rejected by the Ministry. The Secretary of State for Education then would have been the Conservative Sir David Eccles. On ‘About Anglia’ David Frost interviewed the Chairman of the Norwich Committee,a Councillor Smith, and at the end of the interview Frost summed up;

Well thank you very much indeed,Councillor Smith.Well the verdict is yours…Is the rejection of the plan by the Ministry a wise step to stop inflation,or is it an act of blind,short-sighted and criminal folly?’

In the copy of the transcript kept in the ITA files,the words  ‘or is it an act of blind,short-sighted and criminal folly?’ are underlined. The ITA’s letter to Anglia Television pointed out that there was no representative of the Ministry of Education on the programme . It went on:

‘When viewers have only one view to consider how can they possibly give a verdict of whether the rejection of the plan is wise or blind,short-sighted and criminal folly’

There was more criticism to come in the letter:

‘Later in the programme in the interview between David Frost and Peter Starling relating to the Olympics, Anglia Television identified itself through David Frost as awarding the second wooden spoon of the night to the Ministry of Education.I consider that this expression,in the absence of a representative of the Ministry,as most unfortunate and quite unnecessary’.

Sadly there is nothing in the file to indicate what the ‘young Cambridge undergraduate’ made of broadcasting regulation.

Margaret Thatcher and TV News.

Here are two pieces I’ve done recently which are pegged to the death of Baroness Thatcher. First an article for the ITN 55 Club magazine which is read by former ITN staff:

If you had to sum up the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and ITN in one episode it would be the night in 1987 that she came to visit the Superchannel News portacabin. Perched proudly on the roof at Wells Street it seemed to symbolize to her a cost-effective, enterprising, commercially-funded international news service in contrast to the BBC’s plan for a publicly-funded BBC World channel. The fact that the BBC never did get that public funding for their channel is testimony to the impact the visit made on government policy. (Pity that the ITV companies couldn’t agree on the future of Superchannel and later sold it to an Italian family that didn’t want a news service). Mostly the Thatcher-ITN relationship was based on people. Gordon Reece was a television producer who’d worked at ITN and other ITV companies and became her adviser on all things television. Apart from his advice on how she should look and sound, it was his idea that during election campaigns she should focus as much on photo-opportunities as she should on the speeches which until then had been the staple diet of TV news at election time. I remember the day he came to ITN and told us his plan. From that meeting grew our idea of so-called ‘target teams’, three or four person units who would each follow a party leader and provide not just the pictures that Reece and his counterparts laid on but also insider analysis. Michael Brunson was to be our target team reporter on that famous 1979 photo-op as Margaret Thatcher cuddled a calf. But it wasn’t just an ex-ITN man that provided a link between Downing Street and Wells Street. Alastair Burnet had always been close to her predecessor as Conservative Party leader, Ted Heath. Despite that, rather than because of that, he had good contacts with the next Tory at Number Ten. Sue Tinson also had contacts there and received a damehood in the Thatcher resignation honours list. She remained a close friend for many years and ensured that when Lady Thatcher gave her first interview after leaving power it was to Michael Brunson. To those who wondered if ITN and the Thatcher Government were too close at times my view, as somebody who was never that close, was that the relationship never strayed into pro-Tory bias. But undoubtedly that’s how it looked to the up and coming New Labour spin doctors like Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. Or how they chose to see it.

Undoubtedly the most lasting Thatcher legacy at ITN was the change to the ownership of the company. Alastair –working mostly through Press Secretary Bernard Ingham-persuaded her that the ITV companies should no longer  be able to own all of ITN’s shares and should be limited to 49%. I don’t think the Prime Minister was ever involved in the detail of it but I do remember David Mellor,  the Minister in charge of the Broadcasting Bill, being challenged in the Commons about the clause and replying that MPs who didn’t like it had better speak to Number Ten .I’m not sure anybody dared. The second piece is my text for some opening remarks at a Royal Television Society event at the Houses of Parliament about political reporting on television. ‘I was a broadcast journalist for three decades and a broadcast regulator for three years.My first relevant experience as a broadcast news editor goes back to 1979 when I edited ITN’s News at Ten the night when the Callaghan Government lost a vote of confidence live. Of course the subsequent election brought Mrs Thatcher to power.My most recent experience is as a regulator and goes back to the 2010 General Election when I was the head of Ofcom’s content regulation group.  When I was asked to say a few words tonight I thought I would highlight five of the changes over those three decades – which stretch from the election of Margaret Thatcher almost to the death of Margaret Thatcher. 1. The first and most obvious is the sheer scale of the news output and the speed of the news cycle; in 1979 there were just 3 news transmission a day on ITV-lunchtime,early evening and primetime- 3 on BBC1 and one bulletin on BBC2 .That was it on TV. There was nothing in between and no other channels. No words on any screen of any kind other than those early pages of teletext. By the time of the last election I counted more than 20 English language TV channels available in the UK, the most significant based here but many based abroad, which reported the election in some form or other. In addition TV political correspondents work online, on-demand and on twitter.  2. The second you could call ‘the changing of the guard at the gatekeepers’. Those political correspondents now work to two different agenda: one is the airtime agenda –and even with the greater space available this is still limited – and it consists of stories which their editors decide are important. Then there is the online agenda where space is unlimited and this is one where the correspondents themselves decide what their twitter followers and blog readers will be interested in.  3. Parliament is less important and less reported ,politics is more important and more practiced. When I joined the BBC in 1969 there were parliamentary correspondents and there were political correspondents –the twain might meet but they rarely crossed over roles. Indeed, the very existence of the lobby was rarely mentioned.There had always been political spinners, Neville Chamberlain did a great job in 1938 spinning the Munich agreement to press and the BBC. But spinning has gone from a pastime to a trade.  4. In 79 the regulatory emphasis was on ‘balance’ now it is on ‘impartiality’. In 1979 balance was measured in units of time ,minutes on screen, especially speeches on screen. Parties complained about how long they were given to say things, rarely about what was said about them –partly because what was said was often so bland.By  2010 speeches on screen were long gone. There is no easy metric for ‘impartiality’, in fact the last BBC review of impartiality didn’t actually define the term.  5. Political correspondents have become much more direct.John Simpson talked recently about his time as the BBC’s Political Editor –a job he took up just after Mrs Thatcher’s election.He said ‘you were utterly, utterly shackled, the BBC had to be so careful, I suppose, that it didn’t feel able to report on things. I couldn’t take it anymore’. He gave up after a year.I don’t think Nick Robinson would say he was utterly,utterly shackled. As a result –and I very much welcome this- political editors occasionally tell politicians they have got their facts wrong. Indeed Channel Four’s Factcheck makes a feature of this. But I once got into a very stormy debate with the late Philip Gould at one of David Butler’s Nuffield Seminars at Oxford. He claimed it was no part of a reporter’s job to point out politicians mistakes. I completely disagreed.  Which leaves us with a question. ‘Comment’ by political correspondents may still be a taboo word but has the freedom for ‘analysis’ and ‘professional judgment’ gone too far or not far enough? I think the most interesting period in recent times were the few days immediately after the last election produced a hung parliament. Negotiations were going on between the three main parties about the formation of a government. Some TV political correspondents seemed offended by the horse-trading that inevitably went on.One asked on air ‘is this what we voted for? To which the answer probably was, ‘well nobody actually voted for it but the way votes were cast made it inevitable’. I don’t think the coverage breached the rules on political impartiality, thus there was no regulatory action. But as a former editor, I did think it was caused by political naivety. Fortunately there is no statutory regulation about that.

Remembering Terry,Fred,Hussein and Gaby at the journalists’ church ten years on.

It was called ‘A Service of Thanksgiving Celebrating the Lives of Terry Lloyd,Frederic Nerac,Hussein Osman and Gaby Rado’. The organisers,ITN, didn’t call it a memorial service,probably because Fred Nerac’s body has never been found therefore officially he is ‘missing’. There was thanksgiving for their lives but so emotional was the event that at times it felt like a delayed funeral. Ten years may have passed but for many of those at the journalists’ church,St Bride’s in Fleet Street, those sad days in Iraq felt more recent,much more recent, than that.

I have attended many sad services at St Bride’s,at one the then rector invited me to come back ‘for the events we do other than memorial services’ .But undoubtedly this was the most moving. That’s partly because four men were lost ,three in one incident and one in another,partly because Fred is still missing,but mostly because six children of the men were there and,ten years after their father’s deaths or disappearance ,were old enough to take a full part  in the service.

Fred Nerac’s daughter Camille and his son Alexandre (himself a news cameraman) read letters to their father they had written for the service and Terry Lloyd’s daughter Chelsey gave a reading.At the end of the service they were joined by Chelsey’s brother Oliver, and by Gaby Rado’s sons, Tom and Louis, to light candles in the heart of the church. A  clip of Hussein Osman with his son was included in a video tribute.

The four men’s former colleagues also took part in the service. ITV News’s Bill Neely,who had hired Fred as a video editor/cameraman for the Brussels bureau,gave an address as did Martin Geissler who remembered his ‘mentor’,Terry Lloyd. From Channel Four News Lindsey Hilsum  read a Shakespeare sonnet in memory of Gaby Rado and Lindsay Taylor imagined a phone call to his old friend recalling memories and recapping the missed events of the last ten years.

The Editor of ITV News ,Deborah Turness,sat next to Fred’s wife Fabienne who she had helped through the trauma ten years ago,and read ‘Memorial’ by James Fenton. The wonderful St Bride’s Choir ended the service with  their own interpretation of ‘I know him so well’.

The congregation who comprised all facets of the ‘ITN family’ past and present and  included some of the ITN diaspora now working at the BBC and Sky News went round the corner for a drink and talked about a special night and some very special fallen colleagues.



Ten years on from Terry Lloyd’s death,a mention in dispatches for an officer,two women journalists and a widow.

On the 22nd March 2003 ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd died on the outskirts of Basra as coalition troops advanced on Iraq’s second city. The post-mortem showed he was killed by ammunition fired by  American troops and Iraqi forces. It was the first time an ITN reporter had been killed in a combat zone and remains the heaviest loss of life among any British television team. One of Terry’s crew, Frederic Nerac, and his translator, Hussein Osman, were also killed .

The tenth anniversary is a reflective moment for those of us who worked with them and specifically those of us  who commissioned their journey to the front line. I was the Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief of ITN. Primarily we remember the men and their families. ITV has shown a documentary made by ITN Productions in which ITV News anchor Mark Austin accompanied Terry’s daughter Chelsey to Iraq and America to make ‘Who Killed My Dad –the Death of Terry Lloyd’. Some of us will gather with Chelsey at Terry’s local to remember his bravery and his humour.ITN correspondent Bill Neely wrote movingly in the Observer of Fred Nerac who was one of his crew in the Brussels bureau at that time. ITN has organized an event at the journalists’ church, St Bride’s in Fleet Street, to mark the death of not just Terry, Fred and Hussein but also Gaby Rado of Channel Four News who died in Northern Iraq just one week later. In that church there is a list of the media who died in that war that includes Richard Wild a young journalist who worked at ITN during that war and afterwards went to Baghdad as a freelance and was shot dead in the street.

Therefore it might seem odd in these circumstances to add a further special mention for the man who gave the first order for American troops to open fire at Terry and his team.

Back on that Saturday morning in March 2013 those of us at ITN headquarters feared Terry and his team had died when we got the first reports back from the only survivor among the crew, cameraman Daniel Demoustier.

We knew that night that Terry was dead when we saw Al Jazeera footage of his body being taken into a mortuary in Basra. But we didn’t know what had caused his death and we had no idea what had happened to Fred and Hussein. Were they dead too? Perhaps they were still alive in the hands of the Iraqis. The American authorities initially denied, in writing, that their troops were even in the relevant area at the time. It became clear very soon that the British authorities weren’t going to do much to help.

Being the junior partner in a wartime coalition left the British more concerned about upsetting their allies than finding the truth about the incident. And it probably didn’t help our cause that the missing men weren’t British passport holders but just employees of a British company.

The fact that more information was eventually discovered, though sadly it was mostly confirmation of bad news, was down to two women journalists at ITN.

The first was ITN producer Glenda Gaitz who we sent to Basra and, taking many more risks than we or she realized at the time, searched the city for any signs of her missing colleagues. With fellow producer Nick Walshe and ex-SAS men we had hired, she put up missing person posters, hired translators to check every hospital and they even arranged for DNA swabs to be taken from mortuaries and graves for any sign of the missing men. The DNA tests led to the discovery of Hussein’s body but Fred’s body has never been found. Glenda also managed to track down an American officer who witnessed what had happened. He explained that soldiers had seen an armed Iraqi vehicle coming towards them , feared for their own safety, and opened fire not realizing that the vehicle alongside the Iraqis was an ITN car driven by Daniel with Terry alongside him in the passenger seat. The Iraqis fired back and Terry was hit. Glenda also found the Iraqi driver of a minibus who put Terry and other injured people on board to drive them to hospital .He reported that the Americans had opened fire on his makeshift ambulance.

Glenda handed over her evidence to the British military police where Major Kay Roberts had been the sole internal voice trying to get enough resources from her MoD masters to help.

In 2006 a British coroner recorded a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’ by American troops. The American military had refused to take part in the proceedings just as they had at any inquest into any British death in that war in which they had been involved.

As Mark Austin wrote this month  in a preview of his anniversary film: ‘the American authorities blocked and stalled, British prosecutors ruled there was insufficient evidence to take the matter any further and there have been no trials, no courts martial and no closure’.

ITN correspondent Penny Marshall set out to find more about the American troops who were involved. Through sustained journalistic enterprise she worked out that US Marine Lieutenant Vince Hogan was the commander of Red Platoon, Delta Company, on that day. He had given the order to open fire. Then she set about finding him. From the moment that Penny located Hogan in his home town he has never sought to avoid responsibility for what he did. When the idea of an anniversary film was mooted ITN asked if he would agree to meet Terry’s daughter Chelsey. He helped to provide her with a better understanding of what happened and why he had given the first order to open fire as the vehicles came towards him.

But he said he knew nothing of the shooting at the makeshift ambulance with the injured on board when it set off  in the opposite direction, away from his troops, towards the nearest hospital.Indeed he said he did not know it had happened.

Perhaps most importantly Lieutenant Hogan seems to have provided closure of a kind for Chelsey Lloyd.

As Mark Austin recorded after that meeting: “Chelsey, no longer consumed by a desire for vengeance, hugged Hogan before he left.As Chelsey and I walked from the coffee shop, I asked her whether the meeting had changed things for her .

“He was a good man, a nice man,” she said. “And I think I know why he did what he did.”

Mark continued:’She still doesn’t know exactly who killed her Dad. But ten years on she has some answers, she has some peace and she has a little more understanding.And that, for Chelsey, is something.’

Sadly there is no such comfort or closure for Fred Nerac’s wife Fabienne . With no clear evidence of what happened to her husband she kept a hope alive that perhaps one day he might be found alive. Eventually she had to give up that hope but maybe one day she,like Chelsey Lloyd ,will get some peace,some answers as to what happened on that day outside Basra ten years ago.

John Simpson says BBC gives far too many chances for staff to back out of dangerous places.

‘When Reporters Cross the Line’ is the title of a book which I am currently completing with a colleague,Jeff Hulbert. It will be published by Biteback in August.This enterprise partly explains the lack of blogs on this site recently.

One of the undrawn lines in journalism is what risks are worth taking in pursuit of a story.

As part of my research I have been listening to an interview which John Simpson,World Affairs Editor of the BBC,gave on 16th January to a former BBC Foreign Editor,Vin Ray, at the Frontline Club in London. The audio is available on a Frontline Club podcast on itunes.

I have transcribed a section of the interview in which Vin Ray asks about safety issues in dangerous places.


Do you have any kind of policy when it comes to safety,how do you make that judgement about what to do?

JOHN SIMPSON:‘I do but it sounds so self- regarding, I’m a bit embarrassed to say it but I’ve learned two things,only two things in my career,one is just to keep on going and manifestly I have done that but the other thing is when you are in these kinds of situations,get in there, just absolutely get in there,get closer to it…Sometimes your colleagues aren’t as enthusiastic and as willing as you may be,but what I feel about it is..


VIN RAY:you don’t worry about putting your colleagues lives by ‘getting in there’?

JOHN SIMPSON : I,I,no, no I don’t, because they are there to do a job, just as I am, I wouldn’t let them,I really,really wouldn’t let them go ahead of me or go to places where I’m not prepared to go,certainly I would think that was the most disgusting way of behaving but you know,the only point of being somewhere like that is to show people back home and around the world what is really going on.The cameraman,whoever else may be there knows that and that’s why they are there and it’s a duty which I think you don’t abrogate and I just think that you’ve got to get stuck in and if you don’t get stuck in you don’t get the pictures, and if you don’t get the pictures you’re not doing the job,and if you’re not doing the job,you’re not telling people what is really,really happening.You know nobody has to do this, you can be the Arts Correspondent, you can specialize, nobody in the BBC –I mean God you know as Foreign Editor of the BBC-sometimes its really difficult to drag people out of the BBC’s embrace,to get to dangerous places,so many people coming up to them and saying you don’t need to go if you don’t want to and don’t ,you know sometimes you really got to kind of grit your teeth and get  out of the bloody place because they want you to, they give you far too many chances I think to back out but that’s what I think. The cameraman, the kind of cameraman that I work with are people that understand that,I wouldn’t take anybody to anything that didn’t understand the problem and wasn’t prepared to do it. I wouldn’t look down on them,I wouldn’t criticise them, everybody has got a right to say this is a line beyond which I am not going to go but you are paid to do the job, you are paid to tell people what’s happening, then you got to do it.’




The BBC’s Battle of the Barons -what Tony Hall can learn from the reign of the late Alasdair Milne

Today (Friday 18th January 2013) the funeral is being held of the former BBC Director-General of the BBC, Alasdair Milne. As befits a bagpipe-playing former Gordon Highlander and Controller of BBC Scotland, the service will be at the main Church of Scotland ‘Kirk’ in London, St Columba’s in Pont Street.

Most of the newspaper obituaries of Milne have understandably focused on his tensions with Margaret Thatcher’s Government and with the BBC Governors who finally removed him after five years in 1987.But Milne’s years at the top of the BBC are also interesting for the way he chose to run the place and whether there are any lessons for the incoming Director-General Lord (Tony) Hall.

There are some similarities between the two men; BBC lifers with one career excursion, Milne to independent production, Hall to the Royal Opera House. But there are more differences, for starters Milne was arrogant, Hall is not.

The issue that connects them, and indeed all the successors and predecessors, is what a DG does about ‘the Barons’. These were and are the senior BBC executives, previously only men but now men and women, who control large chunks of BBC turf, remain publicly loyal to the concept of ‘one BBC’ but are brilliantly manipulative of the opportunities for personal fiefdom that such a massive organization inevitably creates.

Never having met Alasdair Milne myself I’ve taken the counsel of David Barlow, formerly Secretary of the BBC,a role which has always provided a perfect observation post for monitoring DGs at the ‘Third Floor Front’ of Broadcasting House (BH). He saw Milne in but had been succeeded by Patricia Hodgson by the time of the infamous Governors’ meeting when Chairman of the Governors ,Duke Hussey, showed Milne out.

David told me: ‘a Baron’s success and status was often determined not by creative achievement but by the size of his or her share of the licence fee cake. As someone once said, the BBC was a spend organization not, in those days, an earn one and this helped to determine the nature of the beast’.

BBC DGs have tried to manage the Barons in different ways.

The first was Milne’s way which, it seems, was to do a deal with them, ‘I’m a programme person too, you stay loyal to me and I won’t interfere’. This may sound surprising considering that Milne apparently had a very high opinion of his own ability to do whatever he chose to do. But not so surprising when you remember that he’d been a Baron himself, in charge of BBC TV, and that he’d grown up in a BBC which was used to feudal domains.

David Barlow’s view is that this practice goes back at least as far as when Charles Curran became the overall feudal ruler in 1969. Curran had little experience in television so did a deal with the Barons of Television Centre (TVC), especially Huw Wheldon, to keep out of their affairs. In return he would expect loyalty from them in other matters.  The next DG, Ian Trethowan, apparently did the same –he promised the succession to Alasdair Milne (which he later delivered) and left him to run TV. Trethowan also kept away from radio at BH which he had recently run and from external services at Bush House.

David Barlow remembers that when Milne was appointed as DG he broadly kept to the same rules – Aubrey Singer and Bill Cotton ran TV and Milne too also wasn’t that interested in Radio or Bush. But this regime apparently worked less well. Milne was bored with admin and missed the buzz of TVC, he was after all the first BBC DG who’d ever made big TV shows. He had major battles with his second Chairman, Stuart Young (brother of Tory minister Lord Young) who concluded together with some other Governors that Milne did not bring a coherent editorial strategy across the BBC and that in this vacuum what united the BBCmore than anything was not a programme ethic but resources –what David Barlow calls ‘the bogs, boilers and equipment’. Stuart Young died of cancer in his early 50s and was succeeded by Duke Hussey. In David Barlow’s view this emphasis on resources predominated in a divided Board under Hussey and when they fired Milne they appointed a man who knew about resources, Michael Checkland.

He provided model number two.:‘I’m not a programmes person but I will hire a deputy who is’ (enter John Birt) . The Baron who actually suggested Checkland hire Birt, Michael Grade, came to regret it as Birt,having spotted the flaw in the feudal/resources argument, saw an opportunity for another view of the corporation more to his liking. From his role of Deputy DG ,whose main responsibility was news and current affairs, he began to intervene in other key appointments at TVC and expressed views about scheduling. Birt had indeed seen that the feudal model did not handle News and Current Affairs satisfactorily – indeed different solutions had been found over the years none of them wholly worked and was much to the benefit of those of us over at ITN.

John Birt started his revolution by remedying that and as DG  developed his own solution for the battle with the Barons: ‘Tell me or my team absolutely everything that’s going on’.  At the time people compared it to the Stasi though some have since got nostalgic about it as they observed subsequent BBC crises where the centre wasn’t on top of the detail.

Model Number Four was ‘cut the crap’ –Greg Dyke’s antidote to Birtism. Staff loved the focus on creativity over control but it came a cropper when,during what became known simply as Hutton, it turned out that the centre didn’t know as much about what Dr David Kelly did or didn’t tell Andrew Gilligan about WMD as Greg thought it did.

Mark Thompson always struck me as a man who knew a lot of the detail about what was going on in a lot of BBC places and wasn’t frightened to put his boot in when necessary but Savile seems to tell us otherwise. The Pollard report suggests no great progress in inter-departmental co-operation.

Which brings us to George.

According to Lord Patten Entwistle got the job because he had a plan for sorting this problem out once and for all. The new DG certainly dispatched Baron John Smith of BBC Worldwide pretty quickly and COO Caroline Thompson wasn’t encouraged to hang around.

But we never got the chance to find out what exactly his plan was (one Baron tells me it wouldn’t have worked anyway) partly because he deliberately or accidentally didn’t know what was going on in BBC News. Bizarrely, even as George was resigning, the Chairman told us that he (and therefore presumably the next DG) would implement George’s plan anyway. I assume Lord Hall will have told Lord Patten when he took the job that he would come up with his own plan thanks very much.

Tony has the advantage of a programme background (so no Checkland style problems),a chance to appoint some Barons of his own on his own terms plus years of experience of what John Birt called ‘The Harder Path’ style of management.

But as Alasdair Milne would have told him ruefully, keep an eye on the Chairman. And that’s advice that John Birt, who like Milne had problems with Duke Hussey, would surely underline.



Robert Kee 1919-2013

Robert Kee was one of those broadcasters who lived amazing lives before they ever set foot in a TV or radio studio. He was an RAF bomber pilot in World War Two,was shot down,captured and sent to the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft 3. He was friends with some of those who took part in the ‘Great Escape’ from the camp and escaped himself.

He wrote a book about life in a POW camp ‘A Crowd is not Company’ which he said was a novel but turned out to be the true story of his own time there. In the introduction he wrote;
‘Everything that has happened to me since seems somehow secondary to what happened then’.

He went on to live what he called,in 1981, a ‘reasonably full life’,which is putting it modestly.

After the war we worked for Picture Post,the Observer,the Sunday Times,was Literary Editor of the Spectator and then went into television in 1958. He was a reporter on Panorama and then in 1972 was invited by the then Editor of ITN,Nigel Ryan,to present Britain’s first proper television news programme at lunchtime.It was called ‘First Report’ because there was no TV news before lunchtime in those days. There was also little newsfilm ready by lunchtime so the show was based around Kee himself.I worked on the programme as a junior producer .Kee interviewed all the newsmakers of the day and in a bold experiment that didn’t entirely come off he did live ‘vox pop’ interviewing people in the street via an outside broadcast camera and an amplifier through which he barked questions to rather startled citizens.

Kee was also no great fan of the teleprompter,preferring to read from a cluster of scripts which he clutched in front of him.When he and the rest of the ‘famous five’ launched the breakfast TV programme TVAM that didn’t turn out quite the way they planned.

But his greatest legacy to broadcasting and to literature was his interest in Ireland. Books like ‘The Green Flag’ and his 1982 BBC Two series ‘Ireland-a Television History’ were Robert Kee at his absolute best. You can get a flavour of the great man in clips from the series  here.

I did an interview about him for the Radio Four programme PM on the 11th January 2013 which should be on their Episodes page here.