21 October 2010

Nick Robinson's rage video - and the question of free speech for whom?

I came across the news that Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, had lost his temper via a Twitter link to his blog. To save you looking it up, here is how he reports and explains what happened:

'If you were watching the 6 O'Clock News last night, you may have seen a "Troops Out" sign on a large pole being waved behind my head.

'I have a confession. After the news was over, I grabbed the sign and ripped it up - apparently you can watch video of my sign rage in full glorious technicolour on the web. I lost my temper and I regret that. However, as I explained afterwards to the protesters who disrupted my broadcast, there are many opportunities to debate whether the troops should be out of Afghanistan without the need to stick a sign on a long pole and wave it in front of a camera.

I am a great believer in free speech but I also care passionately about being able to do my job reporting and analysing one of the most important political stories for years.'


As he didn't provide a link to where the video can be seen, you can now watch it here:

video

My complaint about Mr Robinson
Although I don't have much of a problem with what Mr Robinson did, regular readers of this blog will know that I do have a problem with the fact that he prefers the sound of his own voice to those of the people in the news he's supposed to be reporting on. This manifests itself in his constantly telling us what politicians are saying rather than letting us, the viewers, hear and judge for ourselves what they are saying (for more on which, see selection of posts below).

He's not the only BBC reporter who does this, as I noted during their coverage of the US presidential TV debates (in a post on Mediated speeches - whom do we really want to hear? ) which included the following observation:

'.. the reporter was speaking for 2.4 minutes compared with 30 seconds each for the two candidates-- i.e. the BBC forced its viewers to listen to more than twice as much media commentary as we were allowed to hear from the the candidates themselves.'

If he knows there's a problem, why doesn't he do something about it?
The odd thing is that John Rentoul of the Independent on Sunday says that there was a time when Robinson was fully aware of the problem:

'when I worked with Nick at the BBC, we did some reporting on the way in which modern politics was mediated through ever shorter sound bites selected by journalists. Things have changed since, not least because of the internet, which means anyone can watch all of Brown's short speech on their computer. But should we have to?' (full report by John Rentoul HERE).

Needless to say, I don't think that we should have to. The trouble is that Robinson's passionate belief in free speech seems to be rather too narrowly concentrated on preserving his own freedom of speech:

'I am a great believer in free speech but I also care passionately about being able to do my job reporting and analysing one of the most important political stories for years' (N. Robinson, 21 October 2010).

Other posts on Nick Robinson's reportage and mediation:

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