'It's the death of news,' says ex-reporter Martin Bell on the BBC's 'waste' of public money covering McCann caseLast updated at 10:52 16 January 2008
Former BBC reporter Martin Bell today accused the corporation of wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in their coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance.
Mr Bell was particularly scathing of the BBC's decision to send presenter Huw Edwards to Portugal to anchor a news bulletin there and to pay for a helicopter to follow Kate and Gerry McCann's car as they drove home from East Midlands airport in September.
"I am calling it the death of news," he said.
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Hitting-out: Former BBC reporter Martin Bell has slammed the corporation for wasting money on the Madeleine McCann story"It is the stupidification of the news agenda. It is pretty obvious television news has lost its way not just with the McCann case but that has been extreme."
Read more...Mr Bell was today speaking in a debate at BBC Television Centre held behind closed doors as part of the corporation's annual News and Sports Festival. Non-BBC journalists were banned.
Mr Bell, who quit the BBC to stand as an independent MP fighting Tory sleaze, said: "I don't think they would be having a debate about the McCann coverage if they were entirely happy about the way they had done it."
In secret correspondence sent out by the BBC, the corporation asks staff: "Did we get sucked into the media circus?"
A BBC spokesman today described Mr Bell's comments as "far too simplistic". He added:
"The McCann story was of enormous interest to a large part of the audience. Our role was to balance that interest with regards to the rest of the news agenda, and on the whole, we felt we got it right."
Meanwhile, the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson has called on the corporation to make the first move in restoring trust in public life.
In a speech last night, he pledged to make changes to "repair the damage" after a string of viewer deceptions last year.
Mr Thompson said: "Until last year Britain's broadcasters might have been tempted to think that trust was somebody else's problem... Since last spring the BBC, ITV, GMTV, Channel 4 and 5 have all had salutary lessons to learn on trust."
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