Kim Darrah on a visit by City students to lecture by Tony Hall

Tony Hall’s Lecture attended by City Students
By Kim Darrah

Financial journalism students at City University of London, including recipients of this year’s Marjorie Deane scholarships, were invited to attend the BBC director-general Tony Hall’s address to the media industry on Monday night.

Lord Hall discussed several of the big issues facing journalists today including fake news, the shifting legal landscape on privacy, commercial upheaval and dangerous political forces in a well-attended inaugural Satchwell lecture at the Society of Editors event in London’s Stationer’s Hall.

In a speech which centred on the role of the BBC at a time when freedom of expression is under pressure, Lord Hall took the opportunity to give his own interpretation to George Orwell’s famous definition of freedom of expression as the “right to tell people what they don’t want to know”. For journalists, Lord Hall said, this means “telling people what those in power would prefer them not to know.”

Lord Hall raised concerns over the financial pressures on the BBC as it finds itself in competition with the big online rivals. Putting these funding issues into perspective, he highlighted that Amazon’s plan to serialise The Lord of the Rings is expected to cost a quarter of the BBC’s entire annual budget for every channel, radio station, and online service across the globe. “The cracks are beginning to show,” he said.

On the topic of fake news, a term which he said had “given street cred to mass disbelief”, he called on those in the news media to “re-commit” themselves to discovering and telling the truth as far as they could. “We must hold our collective nerve and keep doing what’s right,” he said.

Turning to the BBC’s role in the fight against fake news, he said he would extend the work of the BBC’s dedicated Reality Check teams. He also issued a plea for the term not to be bandied about unthinkingly, saying that those in the industry should refrain from using the phrase about any serious journalistic endeavour.

After the speech, the students were given the were the opportunity to ask questions and discuss some of these issues with Lord Hall.

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