BBC TV's Panorama, conflict coverage and the 'Westminster consensus'.
This source preferred by David McQueen
Authors: McQueen, D.
The BBC's 'flagship' current affairs series Panorama, occupies a central place in Britain's television history and yet, surprisingly, it is relatively neglected in academic studies of the medium. Much that has been written focuses on Panorama's coverage of armed conflicts (notably Suez, Northern Ireland and the Falklands) and deals, primarily, with programmes which met with Government disapproval and censure. However, little has been written on Panorama's less controversial, more routine war reporting, or on the programme's more recent history, its evolving journalistic practices and place within the current affairs form. This thesis explores these areas and examines the framing of war narratives within Panorama's coverage of the Gulf conflicts of 1991 and 2003.' One accusation in studies looking beyond Panorama's more contentious episodes is that the series has, traditionally, (over)represented 'establishment' or elite perspectives in its reporting. This charge has been made by media scholars (Williams 1968; Hall et al. 1981; Born, 2004), champions ofrival current affairs programmes (see Goddard et al.
2007) and even by a number ofsenior figures within the BBC and Panorama itself (Day 1990; Dyke 2004a). This thesis tests that view in relation to an archive ofPanorama programmes made between 1987 and 2004, with particular reference to its coverage of the First and Second Gulf Wars. The study aims to establish if Panorama has, in fact, patrolled the 'limits ofdebate', largely confined itself to 'elite views' and predominantly reflected the 'Westminster consensus' in its coverage of conflict.
The thesis is supported by interviews with current and former Panorama staff and contains discussion of working practices at Panorama, particularly as they relate to reporting conflicts involving British armed forces. There is an assessment of the BBC's journalistic culture and developments within the News and Current Affairs directorate in the period under discussion; the legal and institutional constraints under which the series operated; challenges and threats to the current affairs tradition; wider concerns relating to television's coverage ofwar in general, and the two wars against Iraq specifically. Questions of indexing and framing are foregrounded in textual and content analysis of forty-two episodes dealing with the Gulf Wars to assess whether Panorama's coverage was overdetermined by official sources and elite perspectives or if it gave adequate space to a diversity of opinions and explanations for the conflicts and thereby fulfilled its legal obligations and Public Service role.