Monday 16 July 2007

A bias towards controversy.

One of the interesting things to emerge from the BBC's abject apologies for their libelling of the Queen is that they appear not to know what the words "deliberate" and "accidental" mean.

The BBC and the production company involved, RDF Media, claim that the deceptive preview clip resulted from a blunder in editing at RDF which gave the impression the Queen was storming out when in fact she was storming in.


A source close to the RDF production team said: 'They are extremely good at what they do but this was a complete and utter cock-up. None of us saw the show reel before it happened. It was a case of, "What the hell?" It's mind-boggling but it's a bona fide cock-up rather than conspiracy. People are scratching their heads and asking, "How the bloody hell did this happen?"'

A quick unscientific straw poll of my own has revealed not one person who believes this "cock-up" story. You start off with footage in the order in which it was shot — in a documentary, that would be chronological order. Editing is the process whereby you can change that order. If a mistake is made, you might end up with a bit of dodgy continuity or something: a shot out of place. But what are the chances of making a complete mistake which results, by sheer luck, in a sequence that makes perfect sense, telling a convincing story of something which did not happen?

The BBC and RDF Media have said that the key footage featuring the Queen was put together months ago and never intended to be seen by press or public in the wrong sequence. Neither organisation has been able to explain why this was done or who it was intended to impress.

Note the slight change here from "blunder": they're saying the public weren't supposed to see this. If no-one knew there was anything wrong with the clip, why wasn't it to be shown to the public? If someone did know there was something wrong with the clip, why was it allowed to remain in circulation for months? The only reasonable inference to draw here is that someone knew that the clip was wrong, yet did not repair it, which does rather imply that it was edited that way deliberately in the first place.

This is backed up elsewhere:

Producers are keen to catch the eye of the BBC and win commissions. They show editors the best clips they can find and give a hard sell. In this case, the pitch might have been given too much 'topspin'.

In other words, this was done deliberately, but perhaps the people behind it overdid it a bit.

A senior editor in the BBC's factual division [said]: 'At the BBC the people who make trails don't just do factual, they do all sorts of programmes. Their ambition is to drive as many people to the programme as possible. I'm always asked to approve trails and I've often knocked them back because the last thing you want is to have people saying you promised one thing and this is something else. I've never heard of anyone at the BBC talk about a deception as great as this. People here are shocked and horrified.'

In other words, this was done deliberately, and it's done often, but usually on a smaller scale.

Michael Grade, the chief executive of ITV and former BBC chairman, [said]: 'We are in an age today where there has been a huge influx of young talent into the industry as it expands. They have not been trained properly; they don't understand that you do not lie to audiences at any time, in any show - whether it's news or whether it's a quiz show.'

In other words, this was done deliberately, by people who have been employed to do it.

To recap: someone deliberately edited the footage in the wrong sequence in order to make it look more exciting and controversial, other people knew this had been done and deliberately took the decision to allow it, the libellous clip was deliberately passed by RDF to the BBC, who eventually deliberately showed it to the media. And all this, apparently, was entirely accidental.

Or maybe not. Damning enough though that is, it still assumes the BBC's version of events: that they showed a clip that RDF had edited. As the Biased BBC blog points out (and it'll come as no surprise to you to learn that they're all over this like a rash), it looks like RDF are poised to deny this:

The independent production company at the heart of the row over the royal photoshoot accused the BBC last night of ignoring repeated requests to show it the controversial footage before it was made public.

Sources at RDF, which filmed the monarch sitting for Annie Leibovitz as part of A Year with the Queen, say it asked to see the promotional tape "several times" before it was shown to journalists.

If RDF had made the tape and knew what was on it, why would they be so keen on checking it before it went public? Well, this could cut either way: maybe they had provided the BBC with something libellous and didn't trust them not to show it to the public out of sheer incompetence; or maybe they didn't trust the BBC not to have re-edited the perfectly safe footage they had been given — which in turn would imply that RDF had been stung by the BBC in this way before. Considering the controversy, I'm sure the latter case is the story RDF will try to sell. And, in a case of their word against the BBC's, they shouldn't have too much trouble looking like the more credible party in the light of the BBC's having pulled exactly the same stunt on Gordon Brown — and not in a trailer this time, but on Newsnight, rendering all the above excuses used in the Queen's case unusable. The Head of State and her Prime Minister inside a month? You certainly couldn't accuse the BBC of a lack of ambition.

On a different tack, look at this:

Producers complain of being under pressure to come up with the most dramatic way of putting across their message to win the increasingly competitive ratings war.

As I've whinged before, the entire point of the BBC is that it is immune to commercial pressure. This exempts them from the hassle of ratings battles. That the BBC is even involved in a ratings war in the first place, let alone that it is becoming increasingly competitive, can only be the result of a deliberate decision taken by BBC management. Again, any results of that deliberate decision are, apparently, accidental.

Finally, I must say I'm surprised by this detail:

A Year with the Queen, unfinished but still due to go out in the autumn ...

The Queen hasn't vetoed this yet? What the hell must be going on behind the scenes? Of course, this does rather imply that she trusts the people making the documentary, RDF. Which, again, implies that it's the BBC at fault here.

I wonder what odds William Hill are offering on Peter Fincham keeping his job?

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