Red tape and risk-aversion issues rumble on and the BBC needs to listen.
This week’s leaked report from the International Broadcasting Trust confirms what many of our readers have been telling us, both anecdotally and through last year’s Broadcast Producers’ Perspective survey: that a culture of fear, particularly at the BBC, is stifling creativity.
Respondents are unanimous in their view that the output that erupted into national scandals - Hutton, Queengate, the Ross/Brand affair - has put the Editorial Policy Unit and its compliance procedures centre-stage. While there is wide support for compliance, many believe it has become overcautious, inconsistent and heavyhanded. It has seen its role shift from advisory to almost dictatorial, say some, its decisions as “non-negotiable” as if they were legally binding.
All of which, the report concludes, makes it harder to produce programmes around difficult or sensitive subjects. There are alarming examples, including one producer who was asked to provide written proof that the opinions of the contributors expressed on film were accurate. If such requests were to become routine, they would “stop campaigning journalism in its tracks”.
The BBC urges indies to get in touch so that they can address the issues, but it is pointless to seek specifics from producers. They have gone as far as they dare and to reveal more, they suspect, would be career suicide - hence the bulk of the IBT report’s respondents being anonymous.
Instead of waiting for people to come forward, the BBC needs to accept that there are genuine concerns, highlighted by Broadcast, by doc maker Brian Woods in the dossier he compiled for acting head of Vision George Entwistle, and by this report, and to thoroughly scrutinise the role and effectiveness of the EPU. No matter how many times it tries to sweep it under the carpet, the big red tape issue refuses to go away.
The good thing about interrogating a system is that it should be easy to find concrete flaws, and to correct them. What’s much harder to fix is commissioners’ risk-aversion prompting many programme-makers to give up on taking their most challenging ideas to the BBC. It’s impossible to know what potentially ground-breaking, award-winning or insightful ideas have been held back, but what’s certain is that the BBC, the creative community and audiences are all losing out.
The only way to remedy the situation is to stop talking about risk-taking and show more evidence of it on screen. When these programmes are made, the BBC needs to shout about them. It should be a case of ‘bring on the Daily Mail, we’ve got all the evidence to back this up’ rather than, as one respondent claims, a fear of anything appearing in the Mail at all.
Only then will the creative community accept that the BBC is in the market for some of the bravest shows, and from there the ideas will flow.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast