Sambrook rounds on 'sloppy' Gilligan over Hutton row

‘Arrogance’was a major part of how the BBC ‘tripped up’in reporting the story that led to the Hutton inquiry, and journalists should show greater humility and transparency, the BBC’s director of global news, Richard Sambrook, has said.

Sambrook made the comment last night while interviewing Web 2.0 critic and Cult of the Amateur author Andrew Keen at the Frontline Club in London.

Sambrook’s remarks came during an exchange about trust in the media, after Keen had argued that journalists ‘should be more arrogant”.

‘There’s a crisis of confidence in mainstream journalists,’Keen said.

‘They need to be more arrogant. They need to remind people that they are seasoned professionals, the way doctors and lawyers and chefs do.

‘Why apologise to the public? I see that more and more: The idea that we don’t know any more than you, so you should be telling us we should be reporting.If that’s true, all of you should just resign. Let’s just have the blogosphere.”

Sambrook disputed this view, saying that the real problem is that there isn’t enough humility or transparency in journalism.

‘Yes, we do have expertise or skill, but we we’re not going to get the credit that may be conferred on that if we behave arrogantly or say ‘we know best’,’said Sambrook.

When Keen challenged Sambrook to offer an example where the BBC has been ‘really screwed up’or should have shown more humility, Sambrook mentioned the crisis that engulfed the BBC following Andrew Gilligan’s May 2003 Today programme report that the Blair government had, against the wishes of intelligence agencies, ‘sexed up’a dossier on the case for going to war in Iraq. That report was followed by the death of Gilligan’s source, Dr David Kelly, and led to the Hutton inquiry. Sambrook was director of BBC News during the crisis and testified before the inquiry.

‘Personally, I think we got a lot of things right, but where we went wrong and where it became a crisis was because Andrew Gillian was sloppy – and he was sloppy probably because there was a touch of arrogance there. And the Today programme was overly defensive, probably because there was a touch of arrogance there.”

‘Actually the story was right. Others may disagree with that, but I think the story was right but we tripped up because of our arrogance, which covered up a degree of sloppiness and let the government and other critics come in and the whole thing kicked off.”

Journalism’s gatekeeping function requires professionalism, not arrogance, Sambrook went on to say. Making decisions about what to report should be based on reassons, which should be open and transparent.

‘If one of our journalists makes a statement on TV as a professional judgment, then I would hope they have some evidence or backing behind that to justify that – and by showing that evidence, the public can have faith in their professional judgment. If they just say ‘hey I’m a really clever person, I’m cleverer than you and I say this’, why would you trust them? I wouldn’t.”

FOR AUDIO – CLICK HERE: Sambrook at the Frontline Club

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