17 December 2007

Put ethics at the heart of journalism, urges BBC man

Kevin Marsh

A senior BBC editor has made a plea for journalists to put ethics at the centre of their profession following a series of 'fakery' scandals.

Kevin Marsh, a former editor of Radio 4's Today programme told journalism students during a guest lecture at the University of Sheffield, that a wide ranging review of ethics at the BBC had unearthed a large degree of unhappiness among producers at the "artifices and contrivances" used in creating programmes.

He said staff had begun to think twice about such techniques as 'noddies', cut-aways, reconstructions and staging.

The BBC launched its ethical review earlier this year after broadcasting a series of misleading programmes including a trailer which appeared to show the Queen storming out of a photographic session, faked phone-ins and admitted cheating viewers over the naming of the Blue Peter cat.

Mr Marsh, now editor of the BBC College of Journalism, argued it was a mistake to judge whether such practices were acceptable purely on the effect they had on the audience – in other words whether they fostered the notion of trust or not.

Instead, journalists should make a moral judgment on whether something is right or wrong, regardless of whether the audience could be persuaded that such things are acceptable.

“We journalists have to change the context of the conversation about ourselves to put our own ethical behaviour at the heart of everything we do,” he said.

“Like a doctor, an architect or a teacher we have to have our own ethical stance in mind whenever we practise our trade.”

Mr Marsh, who also edited The World at One, the World This Weekend and PM, appeared at Sheffield in the latest in a series of guest lectures organised by the Department of Journalism Studies.