12 November, 2012


The Political Editor, Nick Robinson, has said this isn't the worst ever crisis for the BBC. It is hard to share his optimism.

Here is the story so far. Jimmy Savile, who died last year, is found to be a serial paedophile. He worked for the BBC for decades and committed some of his illegal acts on BBC premises with children invited on to BBC shows. Newsnight, BBC News' investigative arm, was going to produce, towards the end of last year, a programme detailing accusations against Savile but it was pulled and instead tribute programmes were broadcast. This revelation was succeeded by scores of celebrities saying that everyone knew Savile was a paedophile.

Subsequently, the BBC went into a frenzy of paedophile revelations, and all but accused, although not in name, Lord McAlpine, a former Treasurer of the Conservative Party from the Thatcher years. The internet did the rest, in particular with 'tweets' from the Guardian columnist and leftie environmentalist George Monbiot and the Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow. It seems that the 'investigative' journalists only showed the accuser a photo of McAlpine after the programme went out and he said no, that wasn't the man.

The Director General of the BBC said that the programme should not have gone out (a penetrating analysis, weakened only by the fact that he was Editor in Chief) and resigned on Saturday night. He was given a year's salary on top of his substantial pension as a thank you from the taxpayer.

This morning we learn that Helen Boaden, the Head of News and her deputy Steve Mitchell have 'stepped aside'. This is an interesting term for language students like myself. To 'step up' is commonly used for 'to take responsibility' (not much sign of that anywhere); to 'step down' is to dismiss oneself but to step aside? We shall see. It sounds like avoiding a bullet.

Finally the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, has said that the BBC needs root and branch reform.

Well, he's probably right, but in what way? Entwhistle, who was taken on by Patten, seemed extraordinarily unimpressive. His performance in front of a Commons Committee was terrible. He seemed to duck responsibility, passing the buck to juniors. Interestingly his predecessor, during a previous crisis, had said he was on holiday. In the real world above about £75,000 a year you don't get holidays as such, you are on call 24/7 and have to come back in a crisis. And you have to take responsibility for your patch. Again, in this second fiasco Entwhistle seemed to think it was an excuse that he didn't know anything about it. Patten said he knew about it but didn't tell Entwhistle because to do so would be 'absurd'. It was only in his resignation statement that Entwhistle seemed to grasp that if you are in charge you take responsibility. Patten still doesn't grasp that.

There is more about the BBC culture that needs to be thrashed out. I am quite certain that one of the defining causes of this disaster has been that McAlpine was a senior Conservative in the Thatcher years. The BBC's leftie culture demonises Mrs Thatcher, and, I believe, wouldn't feel it so necessary to investigate carefully: such a person would be obviously guilty and they would have reported this with glee. The BBC has other biases, in particular in favour of the European Union and, interestingly, Patten and McAlpine have hated each other for years over just this subject. The organisation doesn't think much of the monarchy and failed to produce decent reporting of the diamond jubilee because it just didn't think that sort of thing was too relevant. Unfortunately it is to the large majority of the population.

It must be clear to even the most blinkered BBC fan that there is a serious problem and that Patten isn't the man to sort it out. He is a comforting duvet of a man, warm and fitting round any shape that's in the bed. He has worked for the Tories, he has worked for Tony Blair, he has worked in Europe; he is at home in the guilt evading soft left arrogance of the Corporation and for this reason must step aside (preferably in a downward direction).

The BBC is too large, particularly for the management it has had so far, and seems to be accountable only to itself. We should sell off more than half of it and put someone decent in charge of what's left.

No comments: