By Jessica Morgan
The Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, James Harding, has suggested that Brexit is not the biggest issue facing the UK, as MPs attacked the BBC for being overly gloomy about Britain’s EU withdrawal.
Giving the annual Stationers’ Company lecture on Monday evening, Harding asked “Why should we think Brexit really is the biggest issue facing [Britain], when technology, life expectancy, identity, may be having much bigger impacts on real lives and the future shape of this country?”
Harding was speaking as 70 MPs wrote to BBC director-general Lord Hall to complain that the corporation’s “pessimistic and skewed” coverage of Brexit risked making the negotiations over EU withdrawal more difficult.
The former editor of The Times, who cut his journalistic teeth at the FT, gave a wide-ranging address covering topics including media regulation and methods of news consumption.
Harding said that journalism had become increasingly unpredictable in the era of Brexit and a Trump Presidency. The nature of news had changed considerably, he added. He described “fake news” as “part of a taxonomy of bad news”, and defined it as material that was “deliberately false” and published either to generate revenue or to sway personal and political reputations.
While Harding argued that “fake news” is in some senses a problem specific to the digital age, it is a “fixable” one.
He added that television news remains a tool for authoritarian governments to disseminate propaganda. Even democratic governments offer up a mix of truths, half-truths and untruths – or what Kellyanne Conway would call “alternative facts”, he said. This approach poses challenges to reporters.
However, Harding said he was optimistic that the media could rise successfully to new challenges by embracing a spirit of innovation and the technological advances of the digital era. He praised media start-ups including Business Insider, Vice and Politico, that he said had become “highly valued”.
There remains a place for traditional news brands online, he added, describing MailOnline as “mighty”.
The key to successful news reporting is still the ability to deliver “quality, factually correct, and engaging content”, providing readers with “the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’”, said Harding.