The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, said last night the corporation had become introspective and was suffering from an unjustified, collective loss of confidence.
After accepting the Charles Wheeler Award to recognise his achievements in broadcast journalism, Bowen said the BBC needed to be less defensive and be prepared to offend more people with its news coverage.
Bowen said the corporation should not be cowed by external pressures. His role at BBC News brought constant pressure from individuals and lobby groups, he said, but he always tried to “stick to his guns”.
This culminated last April when the BBC Trust upheld a complaint about the accuracy and impartiality of his reporting on the legacy of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
“The BBC Trust accused me, wrongly in my view, of some inaccuracies in my reporting,” he told guests at the award ceremony in London last night.
“They did that because of a rather nasty campaign group in the United States and some highly politically-motivated individuals in this country who were in fact the enemies of impartiality, but they got their thoughts through.”
The trust’s ruling against him brought a wave of support from both inside and outside the BBC, Bowen said. He called on the corporation to show greater resolve in the face of criticism.
“I think we need to realise that proper news coverage is as important as ever,” he said.
“Charles Wheeler knew that telling the truth, which journalism is supposed to be about, that can put a few people’s noses out of jointâ€¦
“If that means that at the BBC we offend a few people and we receive a few nasty letter and some rude articles in some of the newspapers, then I think that is absolutely fine. I think it’s good, why not?
“I think we need to be proud of what we are doing. I think there is a reason why around the world people trust BBC News, there is a very good reason why the BBC is the paramount cultural institution in this country.
“We need to be proud of all that and not be defensive and to stick up for what we do well.”
Bowen said training practices introduced as a result of the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair were a “bit of a joke” and a reflection of how the BBC was in “a very introspective time in its development”.
“In the whole 26 years I have been with the BBC you’ll always find people who will say ‘morale has never been so low’,” he said.
“People are saying that now but there is also a sense of introspection and a loss of confidence in ourselvesâ€¦
“I don’t think the loss of self confidence, which is undeniable at the corporation, is justified.”