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Karen Fowler–Watt on BBC Radio Solent

24 October 2012

Karen Fowler–Watt, associate dean of journalism and communication at Bournemouth University was part of a phone–in on BBC Radio Solent, looking at public trust in the BBC after the Jimmy Savile scandal.

She said it was important not to lose sight of the good work that the BBC does, but that the organisation needed to communicate effectively with audiences in the wake of the scandal.

"So much good journalism goes on and it is important to remember that," she said, during the mid–morning phone–in.

"You have to show as a news organisation that you have a grip and what you have to do is communicate that to the public, which perhaps the BBC has not done.

"As a news organisation you need to show audiences that you are not imperious, that you are not removed from them and you need to deal with them on a level. You have to try and engage them in what you are doing."

She added that the BBC needed to share the fact that they did not yet know everything with their audiences, which would help to build trust.

"If there is some uncertainty, you need to share that with your audience, which builds confidence – not say one thing and change the next day," she said.

"You need to be confident about the fact that not all the facts are there, and share that."

Karen was asked by presenter Alex Dyke whether – with BBC news outlets reporting on other BBC news outlets – the organisation could be accused of naval gazing.

"It is a problem that the corporation has faced before and criticism that is very easy to level against it," she said.

"But they need to say: ‘This is what people are talking about around their dinner table, so let’s look at it.’"

She said that previously, with incidents such as the riots, the BBC had used tools like social media "responsibly, showing that they didn’t always have all the facts at their fingertips."

"It is about engaging an audience who often have a large amount of information at their fingertips, often in very quick bites."

She also said that BBC Director General George Entwistle – who was questioned by MPs in the culture, media and sport select committee – needed to be "open" about the fact that there is uncertainty, "without being vague."

"It is really important to show that you can be open about uncertainty and show a confidence.

"Perhaps going to the other extreme, there is a danger of looking risk averse and vague."

The front page of The Guardian newspaper on the day of the phone–in also looked at the Jimmy Savile story and the BBC’s chairman Lord Patten defending the corporation in the wake of George Entwistle’s appearance in the House of Commons

The story had a joint by–line for Sandra Laville, who is the Guardian’s Crime Correspondent, and has also joined Bournemouth University as a Practitioner in Residence in Investigative Journalism.

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