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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 09:39 GMT
Grade sets out purpose for News
By Matt Holder
BBC NewsWatch

Michael Grade
News is critical for supporting informed citizenship, says Mr Grade

BBC News must maintain its "gold standard" in the multi-channel and digital world, chairman Michael Grade has said.

He said that in an increasingly competitive market, the BBC should never soften its news agenda or hype stories in an attempt to boost audiences.

"The BBC has a duty to set the gold standard in news reporting - in accuracy, in impartiality, in creating better understanding," he said.

"That means an agenda driven by significance, not sensation."

Digital universe

Mr Grade set out his goals as he delivered the inaugural Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communications on Monday evening.

Cudlipp, a former editor-in-chief of the Mirror Group, was a key figure in British journalism between the thirties and the eighties.

Mr Grade said that in the digital universe, news providers were beset with increased competition and declining audiences.

It is a counsel of despair to believe that serious journalism is incapable of being popular journalism
Michael Grade

That meant "serious news values" were coming under increasing strain - something which the BBC may have "unwittingly contributed to" with its emphasis on audience accessibility in news in recent years, said Mr Grade.

He explained: "This may have created a tension: On the one hand the expectation that editors should deliver the traditional, serious BBC news agenda.

"And on the other, a perceived pressure on editors to win audiences - with the result that a certain confusion may have taken root about which was the right road to follow."

But Mr Grade said it was not simply a battle between serious journalism and serious ratings.

"It is a counsel of despair to believe that serious journalism is incapable of being popular journalism.

"One of the key challenges for BBC journalists is how to engage the audience in stories that matter. One of the stated aspirations of BBC News is 'making the important interesting'."

Mistakes and complaints

Mr Grade said that BBC News had changed its culture since the Hutton Inquiry, demonstrated by its swifter and more transparent reaction to mistakes and complaints - such as NewsWatch.

And he reinforced the BBC's commitment to impartiality, an aspect of BBC News in which the Governors have stepped up their monitoring role - with the next report, on Europe, soon to be discussed.

Summing up, Mr Grade said: "The ambition for BBC journalism must be to scale the commanding heights. That means an agenda driven by significance not sensation; by scepticism not cynicism.

"It means a passion for accuracy of fact, and precision of language... and an understanding that properly reflecting the complexity of the world back to Britain is as important as properly covering domestic events."


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