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In a statement, Mason said he was leaving because he wanted the freedom to write books without submitting them to the BBC's censors. I snorted when I learned that the BBC editors claimed the right not only to tell reporters what they can say on air but to vet their books too (in case, I suppose, the Telegraph or another Tory paper found signs of bias in the manuscript.)

No author with any integrity would put up with that in any age. But consider how creaking the BBC's prohibitions now seem. We live in a time of outsiders because the internet makes everyone a journalist. All can have their say, and all do to the point of exhaustion. The BBC's rules are relics, designed to police a tightly defined group in a culture its managers could hope to control. One reason why Channel 4 wants Mason is that he understands better than his former employers that, just as anyone can publish what they write on the web, so anyone can get a camera and produce reportage. Whether they are professional journalists is a petty detail. With YouTube and Vimeo, they don't even need to persuade professional broadcasters to show their work, although Channel 4 clearly wants to.

Michael Crick, Newsnight's former political editor, could not be more different from Mason. There's not a trace of the intellectual about him. But he too is an outsider. Crick adheres instead to the honourable belief that the job of the reporter is to create as much trouble as possible. He lives by his creed by bringing in scoop after scoop. You might have thought the BBC would have been grateful. But its managers made clear that they wanted an insider as Newsnight's political editor, who could ingratiate himself or herself with the powerful, and announce, "Senior sources have told me X" or "I am assured that the Prime Minister will tomorrow say Y."

Ideally, any news organisation has insiders and outsiders. But for the BBC to undermine one of the best news reporters in Westminster and drive him into the arms of its rivals was not just idiotic, but as against the spirit of the times as its censoring of Mason.  

I want to be optimistic, and say all institutions like the BBC need to do is loosen up, get with the 21st century and welcome outsiders reporting and investigating without fear of the consequences. When good people leave, you should always wonder about  those they leave behind. In the case of the BBC, they may be journalists who like rules and find obedience to managers' demands comforts rather than impositions. Given that the BBC dominates journalism, their servility will stifle both the corporation and British culture.

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George Peel
September 7th, 2013
6:09 AM
That, in a nutshell, is why I enjoy your own writing so much, Nick. You're contrary to an, increasingly, anodine mainstream journalism. Raising questions - forcing me to think. In case I'm sounding too fawning, I don't always agree with you. Leveson, for instance. What really annoys me, are the commenters - mainly on The Observer threads - who seem to, simply, take your writing at face-value and, rather than take a moment to think about what they've just read, simply start growling, in reply. Perhaps it's something to do with their conditioning by today's media?

bored bored bored
September 6th, 2013
10:09 PM
"Journalists like nothing better than writing about each other": Indeed. But why should anyone else bother reading what they write? A review of Whitechaphel or a preview of The Walking Dead would have more relevance and might be more entertaining.

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