MacIntyre bites back
Posted on December 09, 2004 by
Comment: There is an inbuilt cynicism in the media towards other journalists. It is such a competitive arena with lots of ambitious bunnies that rivalries run deep. In the BBC the head of news and current affairs had to apologise to me for some of the venomous comments made anonymously by my colleagues about my work in the media. We all knew who they were . It goes with the territory but it is exhausting sometimes and yes sometimes it hurts. it doesn’t have to be so - we should be able to rise above the fray and celebrate our competitors work - and not in default mode just criticise it.
The demise of investigative journalism has been prophesied with great regularity and predictability. For more than 40 years, commentators have said that the sky is falling in on serious journalism and documentaries.
Just as such claims have always been predictable and inaccurate, so today’s journalistic Chicken Lickens are wrong when they claim that current affairs is dead and buried, and it is surprising to find that I’m the one being accused of killing it off.
Since my new series started, I’ve come under critical assault for daring to be different, for taking the risk of pursuing popularity, and for committing the journalistic sin of trying to bring important issues to the largest number of people.
I feel no guilt and make no apology for committing those sins. We succeeded on all counts in the last run of the series. All
broadcasters and journalists are finding new ways to tell the familiar stories. There is no longer an intellectual arrogance that insists that the traditional formats are the only way to do it.
At the heart of our approach to making investigative programmes is the desire to show real events unfolding, which differs from making films that build a story using past events to show that someone is up to no good. Both approaches are
Our report on the sex-slave trade in London and abuse by the Albanian mafia was harrowing. It could also be argued that it was a difficult watch, with subtitles and faces obscured to protect victims. Yet, against strong opposition from other channels - including the drama Bad Girls;
Football Stories: the history of England vs Argentina; and Jordan’s assets on BBC2, as well as all the digital channels - we more than held our own for BBC 1, taking a 20 per cent share of the peak-time 9pm audience. Despite the disturbing nature of the story, we did substantially better than traditional current-affairs programmes have recently done in that slot.
The week before, we succeeded in bringing to BBC 1 what was essentially a foreign story, about the Burmese government’s involvement in drug production and trafficking, and again we held our audience in the face of strong opposition.
Our first programme on mugging was part of a unique crime night for BBC 1, in the context of the Damilola trial’s conclusion and the Prime Minister’s statement that street crime was his priority. Lorraine Heggessey, BBC 1’s controller, chose to run Panorama’s report on the Damilola case and our report back-to-back in the prime-time 8-10pm slot. The Damilola
documentary, brilliantly reported by Fergal Keane, pulled in 2.7 million viewers at 8pm.
We inherited that audience at 9pm and built it up, with viewers increasing every 15 minutes to 4.7 million.
So the claims that MacIntyre Investigates has been a ratings disaster are as inaccurate as the misspelling of my name and the inaccurate naming of the first series.
Nearly every single journalist who reported on the series called it "MacIntyre Uncovered". So it’s certainly not a great surprise that they couldn’t get the figures right.
I don’t mind taking criticism, but I would at least prefer it to be amusing - the saving grace of Private
Eye, for instance.
Never before has there been such a range and diversity in the field of investigative journalism - from Mark Thomas to Dispatches on Channel 4, from Panorama to Correspondent on BBC 1.
The standards and quality continue to improve, year on year. Reflecting on apparent golden ages of journalism
is easy in retrospect. But when you review the material of past decades, it is clear that the current produce, from newsgathering to current affairs and documentaries, is holding its own and, in many cases, surpassing the
produce of yesteryear.
21 May 2002