A FEW days ago I was called by Radio 4's The World Tonight and asked if I would like to be interviewed about the BBC's predicament following the Newsnight/Savile controversy.
This was on the grounds that I was a former senior BBC News editor, who left the corporation six years ago after my post of Network News Editor, Scotland, was made redundant. I declined on the basis that any contribution of mine would hardly assist the BBC in limiting the damage done.
On Saturday morning I listened to the Today programme on Radio 4 as the Director-General, George Entwistle, made a cogent case for why he had to step down from the post. But as another former BBC employee, Labour's Ben Bradshaw, has pointed out vociferously, George Entwistle must not be allowed to be the fall guy. Why was he not properly briefed in advance of the Newsnight child abuse report by the Director of News? Was she aware of what was being planned? I fear the BBC is now in an even worse mess after the Director-General's departure.
Senior BBC managers are now trying to crisis-manage and they need to reflect long and hard on the way in which they conduct their journalism.
Journalism is a craft. It does not stand alongside the grand professions of law, science, medicine and divinity. One of the big mistakes I believe the BBC has made in the last 25 years is to kid itself that journalism is on the same shelf as constitutional law, particle physics or genetics.
The BBC filled its senior editorial ranks with studious career-minded men and women devoted to economics, politics and international relations. Fresh from their university degrees and BBC graduate training courses, they soaked up the post-Birt "mission to explain". Never send a journalist out on assignment until you know what the story is, was one of the strange mantras that used to baffle me. Is it not the reporter's job to find out?
It's great having academically brilliant people in journalism- but they have to do "boot camp" and they have to understand the basic craft skills.
The best newsgathering advice I could give any newcomer to journalism, including broadcast journalism, was: "How do you know this to be true? Can it be corroborated?" It is that simple. But it takes a lot of experience, hard knocks and indeed some hopefully-minor mistakes to develop that craft instinct to ask the right questions of the right people and to know when something smells right- and when it stinks.
The vastly experienced John Humphrys had to point out to George Entwistle that the BBC's journalism – for all its editorial guidelines, its serried ranks of editorial policy advisers and specialist bureaux and training modules – is now horribly damaged in reputation.
The situation has been compounded by necessary budget cuts, but in all the wrong places. They have maintained layer after layer of middle managers, while placing inexperienced journalists under dreadful, day-to-day pressure to "multi-task", churning out TV, radio and online material by the hour. The BBC has a large body of really first-rate journalists. But it has also produced a generation of information processors who often cannot be recognised as journalists any more than the criminals who were hacking private cell phones.
What does the BBC have to do? I believe that Newsnight is now a damaged brand, as damaged and toxic as was the News of the World. Newsnight accused an elderly man, not in the best of health, of being a paedophile. They have also, I suspect, done terrible harm to a man who has suffered for years after being abused as a child. Newsnight should come off the air and in time be replaced.
I fear that all the senior editorial figures involved must go, including the Director of News and Current Affairs, the Director of Editorial Policy and the acting, senior editors of Newsnight and anyone involved in the North Wales report. For Director of News and Current Affairs the BBC needs to find a senior, well-respected journalist who can start the long, slow, painful task of rebuilding a reputation.
It would be a better BBC if it remembered that the only thing that matters in journalism is being right and trying with everything you have got to be right all the time. That is what should set our BBC apart.
GEORGE Entwistle's decision to fall on his sword seems to have been generally greeted with relief at the BBC and by the Coalition Government, and admittedly it seems strange that with all the controversy already raging over Newsnight that Mr Entwistle should not have personally kept a tight grip on that programme ... or at least watched it. Certainly, Mr Entwistle's speedy resignation is an example to past beleaguered government ministers who have agonisingly strung out their departures by declaring that they will not resign until the inevitable exchange of letters between them and the Prime Minister.
However, here we have a decent, principled and honest man who has been lost to the BBC only a few weeks after taking office, hard on the heels of which came a baptism of fire with the Jimmy Savile revelations. Mr Entwistle may have been guilty of not getting a grip, but his dithering should be viewed in context of the behaviour of certain politicians over recent years. After all, Mr Entwistle hasn't started an illegal war, reneged on tuition fees promises, or diddled his expenses. Mr Entwistle should have been supported, encouraged to stay at his desk, and given a fair chance to try to sort out an institution which has brought upon itself a grave crisis and an unholy mess.
99 Grampian Road,
FOLLOWING George Entwistle's resignation over the shoddy journalism that the BBC has been accused of, will the Government withdraw the right of the BBC to extract licence fees from the public?
The BBC has for many years given coverage biased against certain political parties it does not agree with, and the public has been conned into thinking that the truth is extolled by the Beeb.
It is time to dismantle the empires that have been built within this establishment and make the corporation work for its own money by having it compete with the other numerous independent stations.
63a Pittenweem Road,
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