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Monday 29 October 2012

Winterbourne – Where Was The Press?

Those responsible for a reign of terror at the Winterbourne View care home near Bristol have now faced justice, with some being jailed. It is a vindication of an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama strand, which started in earnest back at the end of May 2011 with the programme’s broadcast. The arrests began almost immediately. The home was soon closed down.

That Panorama became interested is not surprising when it is realised that concerns had already been raised about the centre: there had been nineteen times in a five year period where South Gloucestershire council had been notified. Council officials were told of concerns about the safeguarding of vulnerable adults five times in just two months beforehand. People were clearly concerned, and talking about it.

So what of the popular press as all of this was unfolding? Where were they directing the resources of that press that can only be free when they are judge and jury on whether they are behaving themselves correctly? Well, at first the Daily Mail relayed the facts as they were known, but this can never be enough for the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, and so a Government bashing angle was found.

This held that the failings to pick up on the abuse of those in care was all down to “box-ticking bureaucrats”, and in support of this the Mail had a “whistleblower” who dumped on the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for reducing the number of inspections made of the premises. As is usual, the CQC response only appeared at the very end, after all the dirt had stuck.

But what is clear from a read through the copy generated by the paper that is the BBC’s most vitriolic critic is that, despite all those concerns being raised and all those notifications being made, it was not the print media that took action, but the broadcast one. That is, it was the part of the media governed by Ofcom and underpinned by a statutory framework (Leveson bashers take note).

And what is also clear is that, as with so much else that appears in the tabloids and their websites, the BBC’s effort has been used as a way of generating cheap content. That’s as true of Panorama as it is of Strictly Come Dancing (the output of ITV is equally subject to journalistic “leverage”, of course, especially X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent). This leads to one inescapable conclusion.

The amount of available content, or content opportunities (like slagging off the Beeb for moving to Media City) that the broadcasters provide for the papers would not be available if those broadcasters were not there. And it’s there in the form that suits the papers very well, thank you, significantly because of how the broadcast model works in the UK – with, yes, the BBC funded by the license fee.

And that’s why the press needs the BBC to survive, but cannot admit it.

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