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Paid News: BBC, CNN, CNBC flouting journalistic standards

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

International broadcasters including the giant BBC repeatedly broke the Ofcom code by screening programmes funded by foreign governments, charities and NGOs, an investigation has revealed recently. Ofcom has uncovered nearly 50 breaches of its code by CNN, CNBC and the BBC after a four-year inquiry into the global news  channels, The Independent reported.

As a mater of fact, the Ofcom codes on due impartiality states that news, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality. Also, the funded broadcasting as per Ofcom codes leads to “inherent risk to independence and editorial integrity”.

The media regulator discovered a series of infringements of its impartiality guidelines and found that hundreds of nominal-fee programmes had been paid for by bodies ranging from United Nations departments to the Indonesian ministry of trade and a Cambodian casino firm.

It said the practice carried “inherent risk to independence and editorial integrity” and it has ordered an “industry-wide” meeting of news networks to address the matter.

The Ofcom probe, the biggest it has undertaken into television content, began after an investigation in 2011 by The Independent, which revealed that a London-based media company that had received millions of pounds from the Malaysian government for public relations work was making documentaries for the BBC on the subject of Malaysia.

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The Independent also detailed how the company, FBC Media (UK), had close ties to the American networks CNN and CNBC. Ofcom reported that both broadcasters had broken its rules on due impartiality. The regulator said it would now draw up new “best-practice guidelines” for broadcasters so that “viewers can continue to be confident in the independence of factual programming”.

The broadcaster most criticised in the findings was CNN International, which was found to have broken the code 26 times, including breaches of both the impartiality and sponsorship rules.

John Defterios, one of CNN’s leading business presenters, was a director and president of FBC from 2007 until 2011. Defterios conducted interviews on CNN with the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, in 2010 and 2011 on the shows Marketplace Middle East and Quest Means Business. John Defterios, a CNN presenter, was a director of FBC Media, which took money from the Malaysian state.

Given that “the government of Malaysia had been a client of FBC”, Ofcom ruled that “FBC’s relationship with the government of Malaysia and Defterios’s relationship with FBC would have called into question the due impartiality of the interviews”. It identified a third breach of impartiality rules in an interview Defterios conducted with the governor of Malaysia’s central bank, also on Marketplace Middle East.

Ofcom also found CNN in breach of impartiality rules over a 2009 interview by Defterios with Gamal Mubarak, son of the then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian government’s investment authority, Gafi, was another FBC client.

The regulator also found CNN had committed more than 20 breaches of its code on sponsorship by failing to properly declare content funding by organisations ranging from the Singapore Economic Development Board to Macedonia Tourism.

In a statement, CNN said: “We welcome Ofcom’s conclusion that the way our programmes were funded did not compromise CNN International’s editorial independence.” It added that “we … accept that a very small portion of our sponsored content fell under what Ofcom categorises as current affairs, which under UK regulations may not be sponsored”.

The BBC was found to have breached Ofcom’s code on sponsorship 20 times on its World News channel, where it featured programmes underwritten by funders ranging from the Aga Khan Foundation to the International Diabetes Foundation and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. BBC World News, the broadcaster’s 24-hour global news channel, handed Ofcom details of 186 programmes supplied to it for no cost or a nominal sum (typically £1).

The regulator asked the BBC to “explain in full its practice of accepting free or nominal-cost programming and broadcasting this without sponsorship credits”. The BBC replied that this practice dated back to 1991 when World News began.

The BBC defended itself by arguing that it invariably included a “thanks to” message to the funder in the credits for the programme. Ofcom said this was insufficient.

One programme, Architects on the Frontline, was paid for by the Aga Khan Foundation, a not-for-profit development organisation set up by one of the world’s wealthiest men, and featured the boast that the Aga Khan Award for Architecture was “widely recognised as the most prestigious in its field”. Ofcom said the fact that a programme’s “interests are humanitarian and highly laudable” did not mean it was exempt from rules on declaring sponsors.

Another BBC programme, Stealing the Past, covered the traffic in stolen antiquities and featured interviews with Irina Bokova, director general of Unesco, the UN body which funded the documentary.

Ofcom’s investigation into FBC’s programmes for the BBC was hampered by the fact that the company went into liquidation months after The Independent exposé. The regulator could not find evidence that FBC specifically spent money from the millions it received from the Malaysian government on programmes it made for the BBC about Malaysia “as opposed to non-television public relations and lobbying activity”.

The BBC had previously broadcasted an on-air apology for the scandal, which was the subject of “extensive internal investigation”, it told the regulator. “We know that FBC had a PR relationship with Malaysian clients and as such we fully accept that it was not an appropriate producer of the programmes it produced for BBC World News,” it admitted. “We acknowledge that a conflict of interest existed here, in breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines and that this relationship could have undermined our editorial independence.”

The BBC said last night that it had already strengthened its procedures to protect editorial integrity. “We are pleased that Ofcom welcomes the steps we continue to apply to prevent further issues and we look forward to working with Ofcom and the other broadcasters to develop best practice guidelines to help maintain compliance with the Code in this complex area.”

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BBC Decides to Expand its Shortwave Radio Service in Kashmir to Beat Communications Blackout

Although he did not mention the media, he traced the general obsequiousness to 1,200 years of "ghulami" or subjugation

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Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had touched on the reasons for this spinelessness in his very first speech in Parliament in May, 2014. Pixabay

It is just as well that the BBC has decided to expand its shortwave radio service in Kashmir to beat the communications blackout. This is not the first time the BBC has played this role – and for good reason. Because the supine, mainstream media in L.K. Advanis words crawls when it is asked to bend.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had touched on the reasons for this spinelessness in his very first speech in Parliament in May, 2014. Although he did not mention the media, he traced the general obsequiousness to 1,200 years of “ghulami” or subjugation. Moghuls cannot be blamed for warts on the media’s face because in their period there was no media to speak of. Yes, one great editor of a paper called Urdu Akhbar, was tied to a cannon by the British and blown to smithereens for his critical writings. The Editor, Molvi Mohammad Baqar was the son of the greatest stylist in Urdu literature, Mohammad Hussain Azad.

The media, as we know it today, was a gift of the British. The imperial DNA is indelibly embedded in this media, both electronic and print, which dominates the Indian mindscape.

Mark Twain had put his finger on the nerve. “There are only two forces that carry light to all corners of the globe – the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here.”

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It is just as well that the BBC has decided to expand its shortwave radio service in Kashmir to beat the communications blackout. Pixabay

It is this western “ghulami”, which tempers our nationalism. To wear the badge of nationalism, the formula is simple: heap hatred on Pakistan and work assiduously to have your progeny parked permanently in the US.

The other day The Indian Express devoted its entire front page to an advertisement about itself. The heading was: “Is Your Opinion Yours?”

“Your opinion should belong to you.”

The ad signs off:

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“The Indian Express.

For the Indian Intelligent.”

The ad is loaded with irony. One full inside page of the newspaper, at least three to five times a week, is a straight lift from The Economist including its main editorial. Why Xi Jinping is slipping, how Putin’s end is round the corner, why Maduro must quit Venezuela, how the Jewish museum in Berlin reflects the Muslim-Palestinian perspective and so on. This is in addition to countless other news items from French, British and American news agencies.

How then do you explain the July 28, 2019 page one of the Indian Express asking a young lady, stepping out into the world, “Is your opinion yours?” It is a little impertinent of the newspaper to pose the question when its own opinions on foreign affairs are The Economist’s, and sundry western agencies. Most newspapers are guilty on that count.

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This is not the first time the BBC has played this role – and for good reason. Because the supine, mainstream media in L.K. Advanis words crawls when it is asked. Pixabay

The Economist is a great magazine but it represents interests of the right-wing western establishment. By having this publication saturate our media space, we expose our ruling class to a point of view which is not ours, unless we have avowedly surrendered our independence to our previous masters.

What the BBC is proposing now is to expand its short wave radio to beat the blackout in what is now “undisputedly” India. Here is yet another irony. The BBC has always had credibility in a state where a balanced, fearless Indian media would have gone miles to win hearts and minds.

When the senior Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, the present Mirwaiz’s father, was assassinated in 1990, I accompanied BBC’s Satish Jacob, to cover the Mirwaiz’s funeral at the Idgah. Why did Mark Tully the Bureau Chief himself not cover the most important of stories? After all, 72 men and women were killed in the violence. Since the BBC radio was the only credible media which covered Kashmir, Tully would be mobbed because he was too well known. Satish, his deputy, would turn up with his fancy recorder but he would project himself as “German radio” which the agitated Kashmiris had no interest in.

I sought protection joining the funeral as Satish’s sidekick. My appearances on Doordarshan were on issues unrelated to Kashmir. But the agitated processionists put two and two together and, not only did they identify me, they turned upon me with unspeakable fury. They had recognized me from my Doordarshan appearances. I had incurred their wrath because in a BBC radio interview I had pointed my finger of suspicion for the murder of Mirwaiz at various groups in the valley but not on Indian agencies. “You are a sarkari chamcha” they jeered at me.

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The mob multiplied in geometrical progression. Soon I had thousands, arms raised, about to assault me in unison. It was a frenzied, lynch mob. Just then a short man with light eyes, wearing a blue shirt and trouser, whipped out a revolver. He shouted above the din. “I shall finish him off.” Then he waved his revolver at the howling, screaming mob. “Move back.”

He dragged me by the sleeves to the exit. “Now you can go, and do not be seen here.” He was Feroz from the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). This was the Front’s signal that it was not anti-India.

The story now has taken a much more blistering turn. The BBC’s credibility will grow astronomically unless strings are pulled at its head office in London with the following message: “Look, you have turned your face away from the Palestinian story under pressure of the Jewish lobby. Why can’t you turn your face away from this one? BBC will have to ponder. The Arab audience has been neutralized by Israeli stratagem, Saudi money and the western media. But is the BBC prepared to forgo the steady, reliable clientele in Pakistan?

The only balm on the wounded Kashmiri psyche will be to shut up the screaming jingoist anchors controlling the multiple channels. Open the valley to a balanced, independent media. It may take time but it will work in the long run. Of course, I may be speaking out of turn because no one quite knows the depth of the brutality inflicted on the people. Only when the dark curtain of secrecy is lifted from the valley will we know whether the wounds are amenable to any kind of cure. (IANS)