In defence of the Beeb...
The top of the corporation may be ablaze but its roots are still solid, says Lisa Campbell.
So intense is the media storm surrounding the BBC, and so exaggerated the picture of a corporation on the brink of destruction, that you’d be forgiven for turning on the TV and expecting a blank screen and the message: Crisis in Progress. Normal Service Suspended.
The fact is that while managers flounder, fight and frenziedly pass the buck, the remaining 97% of the BBC’s workforce continue to do their jobs, and do them well – talented people producing some of the best programming in the world.
They are the reason the BBC survives every crisis, why it will survive this one, and why it will survive the next. Because we can say with certainty that whatever systems are about to be put in place, there will be another.
That is simply the nature of the beast: an organisation so large, producing so much output, and now with the added complication of social media, that mistakes are inevitable. As with previous crises such as Hutton, what critics are trying to suggest is that individual errors represent the totality of BBC journalism.
But “shoddy journalism” is not endemic across the BBC. We’re not talking about systemic failure as we were with phone-hacking.
The top of the corporation may be ablaze but its roots are still solid. It wasn’t “shoddy journalism” that led Panorama to expose the flaws at the heart of Newsnight or put care home abusers in jail, and it wasn’t “shoddy journalism” when millions tuned in to BBC news outlets for news about BBC scandals.
Neither was it “shoddy journalism” when John Humphrys forced the director general to confront his failings, prompting him, just hours later, to do the right thing. It’s a mark of the man that Entwistle took the honourable step and the move suggests he possessed qualities that meant he would have served the corporation well, had he survived.
While, laudably, it is business as usual for many BBC staff, the gaping hole at the top means these are grim times.
BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten must act swiftly to find someone who, in future, will seize control rather than crumble under pressure, but looking at how a “decent man” was demonised in the press post-Leveson, with headlines such as ‘Bye Bye Chump’, it’s hardly surprising that many are asking “who will want to accept this poisoned chalice?”.
Lessons will be learned and the right individual will be found, but the crisis should not kick-start a panicky overhaul of the system.
Splitting the DG role may create further problems – the lack of one clear leader, for example – and a better option may be to reinstate a deputy DG, a role previously held by Mark Byford, who had direct responsibility for content and news.
That would make it easier to appoint an external candidate – the drawbacks of a BBC lifer are now self-evident – and someone who, above all, knows how to fight their way out of this mess.