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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