The BBC and New Editorial Policy: One Step Too Far?

The BBC is currently reviewing its Editorial Guidelines, with the updated rules and regulations due for release and implementation in 2010.  Focusing on the BBC’s values of reputation, trust and respect, the Editorial Policy ensures that the BBC’s output consists of no excessive strong language, violence or overt sexuality or harassment, contains due accuracy and impartiality,    The rules aim to make it clear for programme makers and regulators what can and cannot be accepted in the recording or transmission of a broadcast.

The key, here, is to maintain a balance between restriction and a free-for-all, in order that all programmes are of the highest quality yet do not offend in any way.

There is no doubt that these rules are in place in order to ensure that the BBC remains as a respected public service broadcaster – particularly in the wake of recent scandals, including phone vote scams, manipulation of filmed content and ‘Sachsgate’, where an inappropriate, pre-recorded conversation between comedians Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand concerning the granddaughter of actor Andrew Sachs was allowed to air on BBC Radio 2.  The latter event, in particular, set the continuing tone of ‘heavy-handed’ editorial restrictions in the BBC and the media as a whole, in order to ensure that another polemicizing affair does not materialize.

However, there are already worries that the new guidelines will be too restrictive for programme makers.  Combined with aggressive Health and Safety measures, it is thought that innovative, dynamic and forward-thinking comedy, factual and current affairs programmes may disappear from local and national broadcast schedules.

Editorial Policy ‘Post Sachsgate’ was a key issue at this year’s Guardian Media Festival, highlighting the ongoing importance of the issue and profound impact that it could have on the whole of the media industry.

Speaking to a large audience, Top Gear Executive Producer Andy Wilman spoke with hesitation about the forthcoming policy changes.

While it is true that in general, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and Editorial Policy are correctly tuned for the benefit of both the BBC’s comprehensive and diverse output and the average viewer, it is nonetheless hoped that the impending Editorial Policy will remain as a series of Guidelines, rather than a Nazi-esque doctrine of necessary precautions and/or omissions to content.

It is natural – and critically important – for key media policies to come under review in order to maintain relevance and increase innovation and modernisation within the dynamic, ever-changing media environment.

However, no matter the detrimental effects of previous events, many within the industry feel that individual ‘appeals’ or checks must be viewed in the context of each individual programme, presenter, time or content.

There have been too many instances when the necessarily strict Guidelines have ruined the atmosphere or the content of certain established ‘laid-back’ BBC programmes, the likes of which have continuously proved themselves to be successful in what they achieve to a wide audience and over a long period, without any serious issues.

It is imperative that care must be taken to avoid too much censorship in these instances, and why, therefore, the review of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines should be viewed from the side of the programme makers, rather than the over-regulatory monitoring agencies.

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