BBC puts Peston on a pedestal over Hester RBS scoop

Jan 30, 2012
Jonathan Harwood

As BBC celebrates breaking the Hester story, is business editor getting too big for his scoops?

ONE of the most notable aspects of the BBC coverage of the Stephen Hester bonus story has been the corporation's emphasis on the fact that the story was broken by its business editor, Robert Peston.

Peston was on hand on Sunday night to explain to TV viewers and radio listeners what had happened and why, as the Beeb made it clear who had got the story first. Its breaking news Twitter feed announced: "RBS chief executive Stephen Hester has turned down his controversial bonus, BBC's Robert Peston says". He was still getting a namecheck in news bulletins on Monday morning.

It is by no means the first big financial scoop Peston has come up with. He rocketed to fame when he reported on the collapse of Northern Rock in 2007 (or, according to some, helped precipitate it) and won accolades for revealing that Lloyds TSB was about to take over HBOS (a story that prompted complaints to the Serious Fraud Office).

Coincidentally, the latest Peston scoop came on the same day he was named as one of the "new masters of the media universe" by The Observer, along with other financial journalists including BBC colleague Paul Mason, his predecessor as business editor Jeff Randall and his ITN rival Laura Kuenssberg.

It appears that the financial crisis of recent years has turned "finance geeks" into celebrities and in the Observer article Peston recounts how he was doorstepped by a journalist from a local news agency asking if he dyed his hair. "This is the sort of weird thing that happens now but I can't say I object," he said.

Last year he had an on-air spat with Eddie Mair on the afternoon news show PM, after he took umbrage when Mair failed to give him enough credit for a story about bankers' bonuses. Mair mentioned that the papers were reporting the government's decision not to cap bankers' bonuses. A wounded Peston pointed out that he had reported on that story the previous week and suggested that Mair only believed it because "it's in the newspapers".

However, there are those who are growing tired with Peston's high profile and what they see as self-promotion. There was disquiet on Twitter on Sunday that the BBC seemed to think Peston was as integral to the RBS bonus story as Hester himself.

One user, Phil Hopkins aka philhop, tweeted: "Someone pls tell the BBC's news editors that Robert Peston isn't the headline in this RBS story. The gratuitous bylining is embarrassing."

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