The BBC – Auntie’s turn in the barrel

by Stephen Arnell

With the publication of the Dyson Report, the Corporation has entered its darkest period since Savile and the David Kelly ‘sexed up dossier’ affair.

All three debacles stemmed from common flaws inherent in the BBC: a penchant for covering up mistakes, lousy senior management, institutional arrogance and (incongruously for a broadcaster) terrible messaging.

It’s also ironic that this government, not exactly known for truthfulness and regard for the welfare of others, now has the perfect opportunity to emasculate the BBC.

The words of John Lennon in 1966 have always reminded me of the BBC, which in itself is a fine idea, but one marred in actualité by the generally abysmal calibre of the ruling cadre

“Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

The gall of Tony Hall to return to the BBC as DG after his whitewash inquiry of the Bashir interview should be shocking, but knowing from experience the immense self-regard of the upper ranks of the Corporation, it’s actually predictable.

One wonders whether the Bashir interview was brought up when Hall first applied (and failed) to become DG in 1999.

Lord Hall’s lack of self-awareness is typical of many BBC grandees, not least the DG at the time of the interviews, John Birt, who, with the exception of a brief ‘not me guv’ arse-covering statement appears to have gone to ground.

Birt’s self-righteous prating about journalistic integrity and the ‘Mission to Explain’ ring distinctly hollow in the knowledge of self-confessed involvement in l’affaire Bashir.

I guess the chance of stripping Messrs Hall and Birt of their life peerages and knighthoods is slim, but such an action would really hit the pair where it hurts in terms of their social standing.

At the least, Tony Hall should be swiftly ejected from his current cushy gig as chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery. And maybe Eutelsat will think it is time for Birt to do the decent thing and retire as Non-Executive Independent Vice Chairman.

Don’t hold your breath though.

If JB can escape the ceiling falling in on him when he served as Tony Blair’s very own Gríma Wormtongue in 2005, he, in the fashion of a post-Armageddon cockroach, will probably survive the Dyson Report.

As with many prestigious organisations, the ‘kiss up, kick down’ culture at the BBC is entrenched, with some senior managers regarding their decades-long tenures as a right, many “dug in like an Alabama tick” to quote the movie Predator (1987).

An example of BBC’s wrongheadedness in terms of higher management was the decision to recruit Channel 4’s Shane Allen as Head of Comedy back in 2012. I have little time for Ch4’s then creative head Jay Hunt, but Allen’s dickish behaviour at his ‘End the Hunt’ leaving bash should have disqualified him from the BBC gig.

Or at least until he took some time out to reflect on his douchery and learned to conduct himself as an adult.

The BBC are fortunate (if that’s the word) in that with DG Tim Davie and chairman Richard Sharp the organisation is headed by figures who the Tory government regards as ‘on side’. Not that this won’t prevent Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden taking a metaphorical pair of rusty bacon scissors to caponize the Corporation.

And tragically (for some) it will all be the fault of the BBC itself, as ever the author of its own misfortunes – in this case the deceit which possibly contributed to the tragic events leading to the death of Princess Diana.

Stephen Arnell

By Stephen Arnell