Lumina rounded off September with a poignant look back at one of the true giants of the UK broadcast industry – Steve Hewlett – who died earlier this year after a very public battle with cancer.
The lecture hall at the University of Westminster was packed with both senior media executives who had worked alongside Steve, and young professionals and students eager to learn more about this most impressive figure.
Few knew the man better than the BBC’s Nick Robinson, a close friend and colleague, who delivered a rousing lecture to further celebrate Steve’s life and career. Nick described his friend as a man of great integrity, and with outstanding editorial probing skills.
He described the ongoing challenges facing even-handed news reporting, highlighting the rise of so-called ‘fake news’; the increasing habits of audiences consuming information through social media and smartphones; and the startling recent survey in which the public deemed Wikipedia entries as more trustworthy than the BBC. He commented that “attacks on the media are now part of a guerrilla war being fought on social media day after day, hour after hour.”
However, he assured the audience that even-handed news outlets would endure. In particular reference to the BBC, he explained that it has been accused of bias since Churchill attacked it for its coverage of the 1926 General Strike. He felt that, far from succumbing to pressure on all sides to silence divisive figures, the BBC absolutely should interview the likes of Clegg, Farage and Nigel Lawson – that “they should be challenged and if they get their facts wrong we should say so. But they should not be silenced”.
And, championing the idea to reach out to those who don’t currently make the BBC their first choice for news, and to translate BBC language into ‘fluent human’ that can be more easily shared on social media, Nick once again channelled Steve. He reminisced that Steve introduced him to the “my mum test”- a means of assessing “whether our news would seem relevant to our mums or anyone who isn’t a news junky”, a method he deemed more relevant now than ever before.
A rapturous applause concluded a passionate lecture in defence of unbiased news and even-handed journalism – at which Steve Hewlett was so adept and finely-tuned.
The evening ended with the reminder that the Royal Television Society and The Media Society have come together to establish The Steve Hewlett Memorial Fund – a charity, supported by a number of broadcasters, to annually allow a recipient from a lower income family to study an undergraduate broadcast journalism course in the UK.
A poignant speech from Steve’s sons followed a gentle recording of his final interviews, reminding the audience once more of just how significant a figure he was, how sorely he will be missed throughout the industry, and how great his legacy will continue to be.