Meiron Jones: BBC needs to create investigations unit funded by cuts to PR budget

BBC News has more than 5,000 journalists, so why does it not have a dedicated investgations unit?

The Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sunday Times all have one. Even Buzzfeed has one. So why not the BBC?

It is a question former BBC producer Meirion Jones has sought to answer in a blog for Open Democracy.

Jones was one of a number of senior BBC staff involved in trying to expose the Jimmy Savile scandal who was squeezed out of the corporation (as he explained at length in this Press Gazette interview).

For Jones, having one investigations unit charged with breaking stories across multiple outlets is a no-brainer. It is true that the BBC does not break many exclusive stories given its huge size.
Jones was involved in trying to set up such a unit.

"But the proposal for an investigations unit foundered at an early stage amongst infighting about who would run it and where the budget would come from. From the outside, the BBC looks like a monolith, but inside it is more like Game of Thrones with feuding factions fighting for power, and neglecting the White Walkers gathering at Westminster."

He feels the BBC is essentially cautious and fundamentally pro-establishment in its approach.

He writes: "One time when I was investigating sex assaults in schools Ed Pol [the Editorial Policy unit] told me I couldn’t knock on the door of a paedophile (who had been convicted the previous year), because it would be infringing his human rights…

"People ask me is the BBC biased, and my answer is that the fundamental corporate bias is pro-government, regardless of party. It’s the licence fee – stupid. Of course not every story will be pro-government but the overwhelming narrative will be."

He also spoke in his Press Gazette of his concern at the betrayal, as he sees it, by the BBC of Savile sex abuse whistleblower Karin Ward. When she was sued by Freddie Starr she was abandoned by the BBC and ITV to face the legal ordeal on her own.

So what is the answer?

"In my view they need to apologise to Karin and guarantee support to whistleblowers, and scrap the Editorial Policy unit and the BBC Trust. Finally, they need set up a proper investigations unit funded by cuts in the press office and the other futile departments, and fully back those brilliant investigative journalists who are left in the corporation."

According to a Freedom of Information Act response the BBC has 241 staff in his communications "family".  More than 150 publicity contacts are listed on the BBC's media website.

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