The BBC has taken to littering its news programmes with phrases such as 'The BBC has learned...' and 'The BBC understands....' to indicate that its journalists have the inside scoop and have broken a story. This is something that has been borrowed from newspapers and its recent prevalence seems to date from this memo stemming from the BBC's failure at the last Royal Television Society awards. More exclusives is the mantra.
At the same time, BBC news seems to have been co-opted into the promotional process for certain of its documentaries. Stories emanating from Panorama, in particular, seem to be given undue prominence in the news running order, most notably on the BBC website.
These two trends come together today with the story about Thaksin Shinawatra, the new owner of Manchester City football club, being accused of human rights abuses. The substance of the allegations is not new; the BBC has advanced the story only to the extent that an organisation called Human Rights Watch has complained to the Premier League about Shinawatra. If a newspaper wants to freshen up an old story, it is standard practice to get a pressure group to make a public fuss about the issue; possibly that is what the BBC has done here. If so, is it stepping into the grey area that marks the unclear divide between reporting the news and becoming involved in the creation of the news - and is that a comfortable place for the BBC to be?
In any case, the story is being used to promote an interesting-sounding Radio 5 documentary on the takeover of British clubs by possibly unsuitable foreign tycoons. Would the Human Rights Watch letter have been given the same prominence had it not allowed BBC News to puff the Radio 5 programme? If the answer is no, what does this tell us about the objectivity of the BBC's news agenda?