On 11 November 1953 the curtain went up on the BBC’s brand-new current affairs show, Panorama. In the seven decades since, this series has explored complex stories, brought injustice to light, held power to account, and above all, pursued the truth. As Richard Dimbleby, one of Panorama’s first presenters put it – ‘Panorama is called the window on the world’.
To mark this important moment, we’ve launched a new interactive timeline highlighting just a few of our films accompanied by an illuminating editorial from Jamie Medhurst, Professor of Media and Communication at Aberystwyth University. He takes us right back to the early days when Richard Dimbleby fronted the programme to today’s investigations with a new generation of journalists.
In those decades, Panorama has covered key moments in world history including America in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, the Vietnam War, peace efforts in the Middle East, as well as issues closer to home such as the Brixton riots, the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the UK’s first referendum on EEC membership.
Today we continue to shine a light into the darkest and sometimes forgotten corners of our world. In the last few weeks, we have reported on the conviction of Lucy Letby, the spectacular collapse of a cryptocurrency empire and on the conflict in the Middle East.
It’s been a collaborative enterprise too – working not just with our own journalists and training new talent in the rigours of undercover and investigative work, but with many independent production companies right around the UK. This supports ambitious journalism and creative industries in our regions in line with the BBC’s Across the UK Strategy and helps up to tap into topics of local, national and global importance. This is just one reason why it’s so important that Panorama thrives.
During my time with Panorama, there have been many films that have stood out for me personally, and more importantly, films that made a real impact on wider society. The investigation into the abuse of patients with learning disabilities and autism at Winterbourne View hospital near Bristol gave a direct voice to those behind closed doors. As a result, eleven people were convicted and the hospital was shut down. Our undercover film inside the Brook House immigration detention centre resulted in a public inquiry which reported in September this year, recommending that the law be changed to limit detention in such centres to 28 days. Panorama investigations made a real difference here, and our journalists were fearlessly intent on getting to the truth of the matter.
And bringing the Panorama story right up to date, today we reveal the findings of our undercover investigation into fast fashion firm Boohoo, which shows that it has broken promises to make clothes more fairly and ethically. An undercover reporter witnessed staff pressuring suppliers to drive prices down, even after deals had been agreed. It comes after the company pledged to overhaul its practices in 2020. Boohoo said it hasn’t shied away from the problems of the past and has driven positive changes in its business. The full investigation – Boohoo’s Broken Promises – can be seen on iPlayer.
As Panorama’s 70-year history shows us, the series has always flexed and adapted – moving in sync with technology and the new ways younger audiences want to watch, listen to or read our content. Now we regularly deliver our films to iPlayer at 6am ahead of our evening broadcast on BBC One, bringing our investigations to a wider and younger audience and making them available when and where audiences choose to view. Our recent film about the trial of Lucy Letby attracted an iPlayer audience of more than one million in the month following its TV broadcast – bringing the total viewing figures to around 3.5m.
We are also using new and different formats to showcase our investigations – collaborating with our podcast teams on investigations such as I’m Not A Monster and The Abercrombie Guys on BBC Sounds. Plus we work with our social teams to make TikTok cuts and bring news audiences back to our long-form content – recent cuts for our investigations into vaping and ballet schools did particularly well on social media and with young audiences.
Whether playing out on primetime BBC1, on iPlayer, or in bursts on TikTok, Panorama investigations are built on the dogged pursuit of truth. We have been doing that for 70 years, and we aim to continue into the next – in the belief that truth matters, possibly now more than ever.