11 Nov 2012

Patten: BBC needs to get itself back on track

To Broadcasting House this morning – or New Broadcasting House as the splendid new building sprouting east from the splendid old building must be termed. And I went there feeling increasingly uncomfortable that  – important though the BBC story is – there’s obvious danger of it eclipsing the real issue of children having appalling crimes committed against them. I guess after last night that’s inevitable for a while, but let us hope that while is short.

In that sense it is to be hoped surely, that the BBC under Chris Patten and an acting director general get the New Broadcasting House in order and fast.

Why? Because Lord Patten is probably right in saying British broadcasting is only as good as it is because of the benchmark set by the BBC, current issues on one programme not withstanding.

Even that programme Newsnight, has a splendid record of journalism down the years and even latterly under its award-winning editor one George Entwistle.

He said on camera if we lose this we are into the kind of news broadcasting you get in France, Italy and the USA – to use his examples.

On the way out of the interview room he added grimly – “you can add Fox News into that lot”.

‘BBC bashing a sport’

It’s an analysis many should ponder and many have their own agendas which make BBC-bashing a near-perennial  bloodsport in the UK.

I was struck therefore that Chris Patten was markedly more barbed in his interview with Sky News than his demeanour with myself and ITV News.

There were a number of oblique and not-so-oblique comments about Mr Murdoch, his papers and some testy jibes when Sky briefly lost sound on their video link.

You sense his sympathy with those who see Murdochian vultures circling New BH on this crisp, clear autumn Sunday.

That said, the most defensive moments in my interview were, curiously, rebutting the notion that some people see the BBC as a public-sector haven in which it is almost impossible to be sacked.

True or false that feeling exists and one has to put it to the man who leads the Trust.

A tad haggard

When it comes to whether or not he should resign he’s pretty sanguine, if looking understandably a tad haggard after the recent days.

It’s clear that terrible word “assume” plays a part in Lord Patten’s story as it did in the erstwhile DG.

Lord Patten saw the fateful tweet but took no action. It was only the next day he became involved. He “assumed” people had informed Mr Entwistle that HMS Corporation was potentially steaming towards a large sea-mine.

My sense is that the pride and affection millions have for the BBC and yes – trust – will not be as apocalyptically damaged as some (mostly with agendas) would wish us to believe.

Institutions weather storms and this is a flat-out hurricane, but plainly the BBC amounts to more than Newsnight just as that fine programme amounts to more than the car-crash of recent weeks.

But things are shaky in Corporation Street and it comes out in all manner of bizarre ways. Last night’s message to me that the Trust chairman would be giving interviews seemed to take staff there this morning almost by surprise.

Nobody knew where the interviews should be conducted. We were offered the busy, echo-filled public space of the reception area in the old Broadcasting House.

I found myself saying to staff:

“We need to ask your chairman if he’s considered resigning – this is hardly fair in a public place. Please, give the man some dignity.  Can we please find a room? ”

” Yes, OK, “” came the reply, “Will you need chairs?”

 “Yes, I said, “We need to sit down. We will need chairs.”

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11 reader comments

  1. R Rawson says:

    I really don’t get the logic of the head of BBC’s resignation…is there something I’m missing??

    Surely he can’t be signing off every single story to be aired- he wouldn’t have enough time to sleep in the day? And if whether a story could be aired or not could be decided by just him- would that not be less democratic? And surely, if a victim made a legitimate claim about abuse, even if the events were checked with the perpetrator as the BBC are saying should have happened, the perpetrator would deny it- as in Jimmy Saville’s case?

    Doesn’t the fault lie with the police for giving the victim the wrong name to go with the photograph he identified!??

  2. Philip says:

    If anyone should go it’s Patten. he chose Entwistle, after all & sat on his hands as much as Entwistle did. But as he’s a politicians, he won’t do the honourable thing.
    I’m glad you’ve mentioned the comparison with News International. Entwistle didn’t know about programmes that shouldn’t’ve been broadcast and did the honourable thing & resigned. james Murdoch also “knew nothing” about phone hacking going on over a much longer period (including getting an email about it himself) – but did he feel the need to resign? Of course not – unlike the BBC which is publicly accountable, JM is just accountable to Daddy – who despite being an ex-pat, feels free to meddle in the public affairs of this country to his heart’s content, pushing his own agenda, accountable to no-one.

  3. Andrew Dundas says:

    Good interview with Patten. You asked pertinent questions. Especially why he hadn’t followed up the tweet that claimed Newsnight was about to accuse McAlpine of child sex offences.
    Patten told us that in effect, having been a senior Conservative Minister, disqualified from asking whether Newsnight/BBC had verified their accusation?
    Which makes me – and I hope others – wonder whether making ANY former politician the BBC’s Chair of Governors is safe? After all, a great deal of the controversies in news broadcasting is about public policies.
    No human is perfect and each of us needs someone to ask pertinent questions. I believe that’s part of what the Chair of Governors does.
    Except that Patten claims he cannot ask pertinent questions.

  4. Philip Edwards says:


    Patten is a tory, which means I have little or no time for him. Nye Bevan was right about them.

    So imagine my surprise when I found myself agreeing with one of Britain’s Last Colonialists. I have to concede he is spot on in this matter.

    Nor do I have any illusions about the BBC, which is, all said and done, an arm of the establishment. It has been as guilty as anyone else in mostly ignoring the cultural decline of this country during the last generation. For instance, like everybody else it did next to nothing in the matter of the Hillsborough disaster and has frequently been little more than a trumpet for the gang of spivs who own and run this country. I always take the Beeb with a very large pinch of salt.

    Nevertheless, it IS well worth the licence fee and it DOES try to maintain standards in the face of neocon horror. But typically it took this “crisis” for Patten to speak out about the cultural horrors promoted by the Murdoch gang and its media Mafia. How right Tom Watson MP was!

    Needless to say, the rest of the bought-and-paid-for media boot boys – the Mail, the Express, the Telegraph, the Times etc.- will join in Beeb bashing: they want to see it privatised and sporting advertisements, thus controlling content.

    Meanwhile, of course, they hope other much more serious matters will drift off into nothingness. It is, after all, the usual tactic.

    I hope C4 News has more integrity than the rest.

  5. C.E says:

    I note that as usual on of the harshest critic of George Entwistle was a professional MP who has never held a position of responsibility in the real world having spent his whole career in politics John Whitingdale has no concept of having dozens if not hundreds of people reporting to him. His subordinates have let him down and they should be let go however the fact that he does not tweet or read the Guardian must mean that Georgevwas out of touch

  6. S. Johnston says:

    Increasingly becoming angry/disappointed/disillusioned by the transparent “glee” and at the entirely ridiculous overkill at which CH4 News – a programme I both follow and respect – is currently enjoying spending twisting the journalistic knife into the BBC. Yes, the BBC did wrong. Yes, it was shockingly bad. And yes, the people responsible should be held exactly as that – responsible. But when the attention being paid by your programme today (12/11/12) – and that means 3 out of the first 4 stories – plus a lengthy debate ostensibley about ALL media facets but relentlessly brought back to the BBC story by the normally excellent Matt Frei makes me shudder. So I find myself genuinely questioning your current agenda at whether, and to quote you from above “there’s obvious danger of it (the BBC story) eclipsing the real issue of children having appalling crimes committed against them”. This leads me to ask whether either the journalistic and/or editorial team at CH4 News are currently compromised in that they are missing or “forgetting” the REAL story and the REAL victims in the very worst and insulting way?

  7. Philip Denner says:

    I agree with the view that BBC is critical to the level of broadcasting and news journalism in the UK and perhaps beyond: I agree that it is bureaucratic and overblown with management. What concerns me most about it is that it is not as free of political control as it should be. The Chairman of the Trust and its members are selected not with bolstering independence but having a safe pair of political hands to control the BBC. The context for managers who want promotion is not to produce fearless journalism but to have or develop the political antennae to not make trouble. This everyday control gets bolstered periodically, as with the Gilligan affair, by heavy handed political interference to remind actors that they owe their careers and the funding of the BBC to politicians. We need desperately for the BBC and its journalism to find a way of getting truly independent figures on to the Trust and particularly into its Chair. The failure of almost all enquiries by judges and others parts of the establishment seemingly aimed at getting to the truth are as often as not designed to cover the matter up. The skill of senior politicians or civil servants is to know whose personal beliefs and biasses are appropriate to that task!

  8. adil says:

    I have to admit that when I have time I watch 2 programmes on weekdays: Channel 4 news at 7 and BBC Newsnight at 10:30 (and the This Week on Thursday evenings). I used to watch the BBC news at 9 now 10, and at 6, but less and less as it seems to have become more interested in capturing ratings. For me it would be good to see the BBC argue that news programmes are important. Too important to be measured by ratings. It shouldn’t be measured by scoops, but perhaps more by accurate stories.
    I think that Mr Patton was correct not to intervene this time and to try to let the system work. There is a problem, not just at the BBC, of first to print which can lead to inaccuracies.
    I know of a small number of things going on at the BBC that must make many of the talented employees feel pretty low. As a license payer I support the BBC and it would be wise for the Government to remind others what a valuable organisation the BBC is and that it should be something that is worth funding.

  9. Henry Clarson says:

    The last time that I remember the BBC being forced on to the back foot by the Establishment was when Andrew Gilligan asserted that the government’s alarms about weapons of mass destruction were exaggerated and “sexed up”. Gilligan was right, the BBC was right and the government was wrong. However, the Establishment cover-up (aka the Hutton inquiry) condemned the journalists for not getting every single detail exactly right and failed to condemn the government’s dishonesty.
    Here we go again.

    There is an overpowering stink coming from the centre of the Establishment. We know that there’s a dreadfully serious issue of organised child abuse. The BBC, for all of its faults, is at least trying to get to the heart of the matter. It is coming under attack, not so much for the way that it has been going about its investigation but because the guilty parties have so much to lose that they will stop at nothing to protect their backs.

    Yes, the Beeb will have made a few mistakes in the way that it has pursued the story but those errors pale into absolute insignificance in comparison to the gravity of the evil which its better journalists are trying to expose. And it is significant that Murdoch’s media outlets are seizing every opportunity to exacerbate the problems with “Blundering Beeb in Crisis” headlines.

    There will be plenty of time in the future to address the BBC’s deficiencies, including those elements within it which allowed the likes of Savile to prosper. But now is the moment to support it and concentrate on exposing the appalling wickedness at the very heart of our power structures. There is a greater public interest to be served by keeping the main target in our sights and refusing to be distracted by decoys.

    1. Sadie says:

      The like/dislike not activated but wanted to say Henry that you are very right. As are most here. Let’s hope the necessary are listening/reading!

  10. Sadie says:

    Why do you have ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ if they not activated? Is it just to look good as if interested in the many that used to click these to enlarge interest and contribution … or it still, since redesign of site, you don’t care to have the addition?

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