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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 16:17 GMT
Is NewsWatch hitting the mark?
By Ray Snoddy
NewsWatch presenter and media commentator

It's almost four months since NewsWatch launched. We asked Ray Snoddy for his thoughts on how the TV show is meeting its remit and, below, we want to know what you think about the whole initiative.

US marine in Falluja
Falluja was a common concern

To one viewer at least, the NewsWatch programme appeared to be a very powerful vehicle for influencing the content of BBC television news and current affairs.

John Wheatley Price had gone into the BBC Birmingham studio to raise, in cogent terms, an issue that concerned many viewers - why was there no news coming out of the Iraqi city of Falluja? Falluja - gone but not forgotten

There had been news and pictures aplenty when the Americans had laid siege to the city - but then nothing.

However, just over an hour after NewsWatch was broadcast on News 24 there it was - a full report from Falluja.

Then a few weeks later, the same thing happened again when we looked at the BBC's tsunami coverage.

Ameera Gunasekaram came into the studio to complain that BBC reporting of the effects of the disaster in Sri Lanka had concentrated on the south of the island and had given little coverage to the even greater suffering in the Tamil north.

Once again, the NewsWatch programme coincided with a full report from the Tamil heartland.

Of course, it's probable that these events were coincidences. But even so, there is clearly a lot to be said for viewer power and the dawn of a new age of accountability at the BBC.

Unique conduit

What NewsWatch can claim since the programme launched in October is that a unique conduit has been opened up between viewers and television news executives.

Ray Snoddy
The days of patronising, tongue-in-cheek dismissals are a thing of the past
Ray Snoddy

In place of a list of complaints on the duty log, television editors and news executives now regularly come face-to-face in the studio with real viewers who are often both articulate and persistent and unwilling to be fobbed off with the usual official answer.

Why were what appeared to be hundreds of BBC journalists dispatched to cover the US presidential elections when there is so little coverage from many parts of Europe or indeed the rest of the world? Was election coverage overkill?

Why use "loaded" terms such as insurgent to describe Iraqis who were defending their land against foreign invasion? Reporting the conflict in Iraq

Surely there was too much chatter about Prince Harry and his Nazi outfit. Harry, the BBC and tabloid issues

Why is there so little coverage on the local news from Bedford? Why is the Scottish segment of Newsnight a "pale shadow" of the London version?

In most cases, unsurprisingly, the BBC executives tend to stick to their guns - although many promise to think again about some of the issues raised.

The important thing is that a new, harder-edged dialogue has been opened up between the audience and the bosses of BBC News.

Patronising dismissals

When viewers have specific issues to complain about or discuss, their views are taken seriously and the days of patronising, tongue-in-cheek dismissals have become a thing of the past.

No relevant topics are off the agenda for NewsWatch and so far an appropriate person from the BBC, including some of the most senior in the news division, has always come into the studio to be accountable to viewers.

The only limits imposed come from the very nature of the complaints received.

We can do little about those who simply denounce the BBC in the most general terms for dumbing down, being biased or unfair.

It is usually only possible when the complaints are backed up by observations about specific news items or programmes - "I thought the item on last night's Ten O'Clock News was biased because...".

NewsWatch is just one example of a new determination at the BBC to be more accountable to its viewers and we hope it has already established itself as a valuable one.

In an interview for the first programme, Mark Byford, the BBC deputy director-general, insisted that in a dramatic break from past attitudes, complaints against the BBC would in future be treated as if they were correct - until demonstrated otherwise. Welcome to NewsWatch

He said NewsWatch could come back in a year to see whether he had carried out what he had promised.

On behalf of John Wheatley Price, Ameera Gunasekaram and all the other viewers who have taken part in NewsWatch, we intend to take Mr Byford up on his offer.

We asked whether you thought NewsWatch was working and these are a selection of your views...

I so badly wish that the American networks had the courage to do what the BBC is doing with its accountability program.
Chase Erwin, Arlington, TX USA

I don't watch the programme, but I always check the website. You are to be commended on an unique resource that attempts to explain the thinking behind the often murky, difficult and passionate world of journalism. It merely reinforces for me the excellent standard of journalism at the BBC and confirms why it remains the world's fairest and most accurate news service.
Mike Molcher, Leeds

It would be much better if you got BBC bigwigs to climb down occasionally rather than just defend their actions. Have they ever admitted they got anything wrong?
Dave, Manchester

Ray Snoddy's great. He really goes after the BBC people when he thinks they're not answering the point.
Peter, Scotland

NewsWatch is okay but why hide it late on Fridays and early on Saturdays. If you really wanted to be accountable, you would show it primetime after the news.
Danny, Portsmouth

As always, the BBC puts our TV news here to shame; CNN doing something similar? I doubt it!
Tina, Fla, US

You should have more things explaining why the BBC makes the everyday choices it does about topics like terrorism, racism, crime etc. Good site, though.
Brian, Colchester

You need more forums for public discussion - it's all well and good hearing what the management says regarding complaints but I'd like to read more about what other people think!
Sheila, London


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