The crisis at the BBC has been a long time coming and it will take far more than the resignation of George Entwistle to resolve it. That is because there is much more wrong at the BBC than just the problems highlighted by the Newsnight failings.
Those failings have caused many people to wonder if they can trust the BBC, an organisation that once was a byword for integrity and honest reporting. The reality is however that for a long time now, its integrity and truthfulness have been in doubt.
Throughout the 1980s it became apparent that the BBC was not just reporting the news in the impartial manner that its Charter required; rather it had begun “spinning” stories, slanting them to reflect the leftist viewpoint that was becoming the dominant force throughout the organisation. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the BBC was becoming the broadcasting wing of the Guardian, the left of centre newspaper that is now virtually required reading if you wanted to get ahead.
For me, the moment that proved that the BBC had lost all moral authority, was the infamous Question Time programme broadcast on 13th September 2001, two days after the 9/11 attacks.
For an hour, a former US ambassador had to endure an astonishing outpouring of vitriol from an audience that insisted that America had it coming and had got its just desserts. I know I was not alone in being reduced to tears of shame at what I was witnessing on my television screen that night.
One might have thought that after that debacle, the BBC would have taken a long, cold, hard look at itself to assess where it went wrong. But that would have been expecting too much. Such is the arrogance of the organisation and so in thrall to the leftist world view had it become, that no-one working there could see any need for change. Indeed, in the years since, that view has become even more entrenched along with the assumption that it is too big and too important for any outside body to interfere with how it is run.
But with an annual income, forcibly extracted from every household in the land of £3.6 billion, the need for greater accountability has never been clearer. The new Charter, which came into force in 2007 and which created the BBC Trust to replace the former Board of Governors, was supposed to have provided that, but so far, with little visible success. The obsession with political correctness, the left of centre viewpoint still dominate the Corporation’s output; and not just the news but can be seen in drama and entertainment programmes too.
And as time goes by, the BBC becomes ever bolder in the way it pushes its agenda. At times I feel it does not even try to pretend any more that it is even-handed. Some BBC people even admit it. Thus, Andrew Marr. “The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities, and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.” What Marr does not say of course, is that as the Corporation has grown, the staffing profile he has highlighted becomes self-perpetuating, as not unnaturally, newcomers reflect the preferences of those employing them. Walk into a job interview carrying a copy of the Daily Telegraph and you will be out of the door in 5 minutes. If on the other hand you are carrying the Guardian, sign here please.
Today, the BBC’s position can be summed up as follows. It is pro Labour, Pro Europe, pro Green and obsessively politically correct. It is Anti Tory, Anti America, (except Obama of course,) anti Markets and above all, anti Israel. Indeed such is its hostility to Israel that to date it has spent in excess of £300,000 of licence fee income to prevent the publication of the Balen report which looked into its anti-Israel bias in the reporting of the Middle East conflict. If they had nothing to hide, why go to such extremes to keep the report under wraps? Even as I am writing this blog, I can see numerous examples of that bias in its reporting of the current crisis in Israel/Gaza.
There is a unique opportunity now, as several new enquiries get underway following the Newsnight disasters, for a complete overhaul of the organisation. If these enquiries concentrate just on those programmes’ failings, that would be a tragic waste. What needs to happen is that no aspect of the way the BBC is run should fail to be put under the microscope. Its funding. Is there a place in the 21st century for a broadcaster funded by a mandatory levy on the public? Its vastly overblown management structure. How is that going to be reduced as it must be when budgets everywhere are being cut. The services it provides – is there for instance still a need for Radio 1 when commercial broadcasters provide exactly the same service? Should it concentrate mainly on providing the cultural, educational programming as envisioned in its Charter? How is it to deal with the impartiality issue so essential to regaining the public’s trust? These, and no doubt there are others I have left out, are the issues that have to be considered.
I have been severely critical of the BBC for a number of years, primarily because of its blatant bias. However, at the same time, I recognise that there is much that it is quite superb at doing. Its coverage of the recent Olympics springs immediately to mind. I want to see it continuing to do those good things, but at the same time, I want to see it stop doing the very bad things. That will only happen if we fully grasp the opportunity that is now upon us.