Fifty four days is not a long time. not in the cosmic scheme of things. It’s an especially short time to spend as Director General of the BBC, as George Entwhistle found this weekend. It’s unfortunate to be sure, but to listen to the BBC’s coverage of its own internal strife, you’d think the third world war had broken out, or that some major international political event was in train.
No. Someone (and we don’t know quite who that is yet) had allowed a pretty poor piece of journalism to go out on Newsnight, upsetting Lord McAlpine in the process. And Entwhistle had taken his eye off the ball. Well, one thing is clear. McAlpine was not implicated in the events in the children’s home in North Wales: even the subject of abuse has said so. And, of course, the Newsnight report didn’t even mention who it was in the first place. Apparently, however, “everyone” knew it was McAlpine who was being talked about, though clearly this is a definition of the word “everyone” with which I am currently unacquainted.
And don’t get me started on Philip Schofield. As much as I dislike Cameron, what is someone supposed to do when a TV presenter hands you a piece of paper on live TV containing the names of “abusers”, which is basically a collection of names he’s found on the Internet? Notice that these are just names bandied around as gossip, and are not connected to anything as uncomfortable as actual evidence. If we’re talking about heads roiling, I personally think Schofield should be feeling his collar nervously because that was horribly unprofessional and sensationalist thing to do.
As it is, the BBC is looking for a new DG, and Entwhistle has walked away with a year’s salary, according to the BBC’s own website. Downing Street was obviously eager to jump on a bandwagon and divert attention from the train wreck of the coalition. They piled in to say this payout was unacceptable. Possibly, though maybe not as unacceptable as the 4 million that Rebekah Brooks shovelled up when she was forced to resign. But then George isn’t a chum of the PM, is he? Given the previous behaviour of some of those more vocal critics, I’d think about keeping my mouth shut; there are too many stinking hypocrites buzzing around the Westminister midden for the moral high ground to be taken there.
The BBC have also taken some blows from other quarters of the press, rubbing their hands in collective glee at Auntie’s feet of clay. This is like manna from heaven for NewsCorp and the Daily Mail, who are not exactly friends with the Beeb anyway, but who find themselves in the umbra of Leveson, waiting for the results of the most wide-ranging report into the behaviour of the British press there has ever been. It’s interesting that, during this process, these papers haven’t exactly indulged in an orgy of self-examination in the same way that pretty much every BBC outlet has been doing over the recent weeks. If anything, the wagons have circled and they have all tried to say as little as possible, in the hope that it might all go away. Especially if a bomb goes off under the BBC.
That’s exactly why the BBC are disappointing me so, right now. The levels of self-examination going on are bordering on solipsism. There is more going on in the world than the management processes of the BBC. Ask a Syrian rebel. This means that the BBC should get back to its work, and should stop behaving like a Tibetan protester, dowsing themselves in petrol and striking the match ready to self-immolate.
Much has been said about what this means about trust in the BBC. for me, very little. I know people who work for the BBC. And they’re proud to. They try to uphold the highest standards of integrity and practice. That’s what the BBC is like. It is not the management: no organisation’s culture is defined purely in terms of its management, however much some of them might like to think it is. I still trust the BBC because I trust the motives and the behaviour of those working on its front line.
Yes, there were mistakes. Yes, they should be fixed. No, you shouldn’t be parading the minutiae of your management processes to us all because, difficult as it may be to understand, what most of the public care about is that abuse took place in a children’s home in Wales, and that is being conveniently forgotten in the midst of this panic. And that’s before we even start talking about Jimmy bloody Savile. You should be helping to find out what went on. Properly.
So shut up, stop navel-gazing and get on with it.