BBC Newsnight’s editor, Peter Rippon, has posted a comment on Susan Watts’ blog attempting to explain the very strange ‘sound bite’ used in their report on President Obama’s inaugural speech which was discussed here.

33. At 4:44pm on 24 Jan 2009, PeterRipponEd wrote:
Hello All,

Re the opening of Susan’s piece. We did edit sections of the speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to Science. The aim was to give people an impression or montage of what Obama said about science in his inauguration speech. This was signposted to audiences with fades between each point. It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the
President was saying. You can look for yourself above.

Apologies for not responding sooner. I thought I had. BBC Editors find this blogging software frustrating at times too.

Peter Rippon
Editor, Newsnight

Comment #33, here

If the reaction in the dozen or more comments that have already been posted in response are anything to go by, then he has failed to convince his readers.

I do not think that any viewer outside the Newsnight editing suite would recognise that the ‘sound bite’ was a montage, or that the extracts from the speech were separated by fades. And he also needs to explain why the extracts were arranged in a different order from the one in which they appear in the speech if this was intended as a montage.

Then there is the matter of Susan Watts opening remarks:

President Obama couldn’t have been clearer today. And for most scientists his vote of confidence would not have come a moment too soon.

In the eight years of the Bush presidency, the world saw Arctic ice caps shrink to a record summer low, the relentless rise of greenhouse gas emissions, and warnings from scientists shift from urgent to panicky.

How can this be explained if viewers were not intended to understand the ‘sound bite’ as two complete and consecutive sentences? Her opening remarks only make sense if the ‘sound bite’ is perceived in this way.

I sent a formal and detailed complaint to the BBC Trustees on Thursday, specifically asking for confirmation of receipt. So far I have heard nothing, but perhaps the trustees’ office have the same kind of trouble with electronic mail that Newsnight editors have with blogging software.

The BBC Trustees are responsible for ensuring that the corporation’s news and current affairs reporting is accurate and impartial, as their charter requires. This is a matter that must be dealt with by them. It is far too important to be settled by a cheery comment from Peter Rippon on a blog.

Natalie Solent has an excellent post about this at Biased BBC.

Climate-Resistance also has a very thoughtful post which covers other aspects to Susan Watts’ report too.

5 Responses to “Warming up Obama at the BBC – what Newsnight’s editor has to say”

  1. After a second email to the BBC Trustees this morning, I finally recieved confirmation that they had recieved the complaint that I sent them on Thursday.

    I can confirm that we have received your email, and will respond within
    10 working days.
    Yours sincerely

    I make that Thursday 5th February latest.

    If anyone else wants to write in, the address is: Trust.Enquiries@bbc.co.uk

  2. Thanks for bringing this to general attention, and thanks for keeping us informed.

    I think there is a real problem here that needs to be addressed, Glad to see you have an acknowledgement, looking forward to your report on what they say:)
    I noticed that Susan Watts own blog site has many people with many poignant comments and assessments about the flaws of her non-climate related science contributions.

    To be brutal, in my conclusion, it is clear that Susan Watts is not very good at what she does, assuming that she is the author of everything that I saw in this, she is the science editor of Newsnight isn’t she?.

    I agree with the Editors of Climate Resistance (where I first saw the link to here), this was a pretty facile piece of almost student level agitprop adoration of Obama.
    A simple damnation of Bush and a hagiography of Obama was all this was . Whatever you think of Bush I feel sure that scientific development was not just frozen while he was in power. However that was the only impression you would have got from this piece of hers. It didnt seem a very rational or useful assessment of what had gone on before, or what could happen in the future.

    In these situations where where people take a stance, apparently from the lofty position of scientific purity, it seems science’ is used to justify political manoeuvring,

    I don’t see any earth shattering resonance to the BBC out of this (such as when happened when some real traditions like Blue Peters integrity was traduced :-))

    but it will be nice to have it on record.

  3. Thanks for doing this research, Tony.

    I listened to the audio clip and it just sounded like continuous speech to me. I did not hear any of these “fades”. I’m not even sure what a fade would sound like.

    Its more usual in a “montage” to have a narrator speaking between the clips.

  4. StuartR, #2: When I saw the first line in this press release from the BBC, it did seem as though President Obama’s inaugural speech had made a very deep impression.

    Jack Hughes, #3: There is an excellent article and some shrewd observations on the ethics of editing here.

  5. Excellent work. I now begin to write the BBC logo in lower case as they seem unable to stay out of the ratings war despite our licence fees!
    What i found most biased about the bbc coverage was the constant amazement of the narrator as he interviewed expectedly ecstatic black people in the crowd (almost exclusively) with the implication that the “coming of Obama” event heralded the sudden end of the blight of racism and the suggestion that America had led the way in this modernisation of their community.
    I didn’t see a single indigenous native indian interviewed?

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