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Discussion > Is the BBC approaching a tipping point?


The BBC like the government has a habit of ignoring problems until long after the damage is done and the truth is no longer relevant. The recent glimpses of some change in its climate change coverage could be a welcome exception.

Oct 15, 2012 at 11:50 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Uncle Mac was nonce too.

More rumblings by licence fee payers. Take a look at the "best rated" comments on the article.

Oct 17, 2012 at 5:43 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Fascinating (and disgusting) story from John Simpson (who I note is not prepared to comment on it now lest he help the hated Daily Mail), thanks Martin. And thanks for starting this thread. I agree that something is up.

For me this has been strongly connected with the Hillsborough revelations. In fact, two weeks ago, on 3rd October, I made a note in my personal wiki under the title "Things Uncovered", giving myself three stories to follow and think about, with rough dates that each broke (for me anyhow):

13 Sep Hillsborough Disaster
2 Oct Paolo Gabriele and the Vatican
3 Oct Jimmy Savile's cesspit

Cesspit being the word Chris Patten (chairman of the BBC Trust, for non-UK readers) used that day of the Savile situation. The two UK-based revelations of things hidden for such a long time have I think the power to change things deeply in this country. It's vital not to be either too defeatist or too Panglossian in such areas and that is far from easy after so many years of deception winning the day. Thus Phillip Bradby wrote in passing of Hillsborough here on 13th:

Just like Hillsborough, those responsible will get away with it and escape prosecution.

And I at once came back with:

Too much too soon about Hillsborough today surely Phillip. I just bought a paper copy of the Sun as a treasured momento. I can't imagine there not being prosecutions after this dreadful plot involving police and a Tory MP was so clearly unveiled, to maximum publicity and a fullsome apology from a Conservative Prime Minister.

As it turns out, and as I thought right away, there are going to be prosecutions - or at least there is going to be a titanic effort to bring some of the culprits to book.

The police and the BBC are two pillars of the UK establishment. We need them to deal honestly with this gross wrongdoing. For some reason such injustices are ignored for years (Simpson's book was in 1998) then suddenly burst out in flame. That is a moment for cautious optimism and firm words of support for those that have suffered the most in the intervening years.

Oct 17, 2012 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I don't think there is any evidence of a tipping point to be honest.
The 'weird weather' article from Harrabin is pure flannel and doesn't really have a start a middle and an end and no point whatsover in fact on the surface. Other than to repeatedly say that it isn't climate change (subliminal message : oh yes it is).
The UK has experienced its "weirdest" weather on record in the past few months, scientists say.

Also isn't odd that the Science/Environment section is truncated to Sci/Environment when perhaps Science/Enviro would be a more logical truncation. Unless the science is secondary whereas the environment isn't to be messed with...

Oct 19, 2012 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterFarleyR

I passed by the Guardian in the supermarket earlier and the lead story has John SImpson saying it's the worst crisis the BBC has known in 50 years. I continue to think Martin had a point.

Oct 22, 2012 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

What I had in mind was a tipping point of external factors reaching a critical mass and sweeping away the BBC like an avalanche. The idea of the BBC suddenly seeing the light and reforming itself from within seems unlikely in the extreme.

The maladroit handling by the BBC management, who do not seem to have appreciated the enormity of the BBC's acquiesence over decades, in Savile's crimes, increases the probability of such an outcome.

The rumblings slowly get louder. Depraved old crone Auntie long overdue for euthanasia

Oct 22, 2012 at 8:15 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Good article by Warner Martin. I've also been thinking much about Nick Robinson's Winston Churchill's bitter battle with the BBC in the Telegraph eight days ago:

The way Churchill was handled is a powerful warning of the dangers of the BBC believing it is being balanced by excluding the voices of those who do not represent conventional wisdom.

I learned about that on some blog and assumed it was on this thread. But apparently not. Even Warner's good old days of Lord Reith probably weren't. A free market in ideas was desperately needed in the thirties, as I've been reminded by thinking back to communist Claud Cockburn, who pointed more than anyone to the links between our upper crust and Hitler's regime. It's time for radical change.

Oct 22, 2012 at 8:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

The Panorama programme just ended left a strong impression that Rippon, the Newsnight editor, came under pressure from the 'bosses' to drop the story on Savile at the end of last year (though not I think from the current director general, George Entwistle - that's my judgment having listened carefully to the programme but I sure don't know everything). The lady lawyer representing some of Savile's victims spoke of credible testimony of a paedophile ring within the BBC in Savile's day. Someone else told of three men working at Top of the Pops who would take underage girls away to parties off BBC premises where abuse would take place.

The passion and professionalism of Liz McKean, the Newsnight reporter who got some of those abused by Savile to open up for the first time, was a reminder of all that we like to think is best in our state broadcaster. She felt she'd let the victims down. Not any more.

Oct 22, 2012 at 11:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Just learned more about the emails Liz MacKean made available to Panorama, only one of which was allowed to be used by the programme's lawyers. This is from the Daily Mail, with help from Channel 4:

One potentially devastating email from Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean, who oversaw the doomed investigation for the BBC2 programme, discusses the reasons for the report being axed and names her editor, Peter Rippon. It was sent on or around November 30 – 24 hours after Mr Rippon had expressed his firm doubts about the show. In it, Miss MacKean talks about Mr Rippon’s ‘latest panic attack’ and recalls him saying: ‘Internally Liz, this is a very long political chain’, Channel 4 News reported ...

But a BBC source, speaking before last night’s Panorama was broadcast, said: ‘Some of the emails are not going in the programme because of lawyers. They refer to the political command structure that was micro-managing the whole decision making process.’ The source added there were concerns the email would ‘libel certain people in the BBC’. Another insider said the emails were from Miss MacKean and written around November or December last year. The insider confirmed lawyers on Panorama had pulled them from the show.

A third source claimed the contentious emails referred to a ‘chain’ going ‘right to the top’. Miss MacKean has declined to comment. Last night Panorama did report that Miss MacKean was left with the clear impression that Mr Rippon was ‘feeling under pressure’. On November 30, she emailed a friend documenting a conversation she had had with her editor, writing: ‘PR [Peter Rippon] says if the bosses aren’t happy... [he] can’t go to the wall on this one.’ All her emails will be submitted to the Pollard Review, one of three inquiries set up by the BBC, and headed by Nick Pollard, a former head of Sky News.

Mulling this over I now think there may be two pieces of misdirection going on. One is to try to scapegoat George Entwistle, then head of 'Vision'. Or make the whole what he failed to ask about the Newsnight investigation, when there were very good reasons of editorial independence for him not to ask. The key point is that Entwistle (as far as I understand it) didn't have any line management responsibility for Newsnight. What MacKean is reported as saying here implicates a chain of managers - and thus not Entwistle.

Very linked with this, the fact that the BBC in Entwistle's area at the time had decided to make two hagiographies of Savile for the Christmas season is highly embarrassing. But that's not necessarily the sole or even the main reason that the story was pulled. That may have more to do with the multiple people reported to have been involved in organised paedophilia in the BBC. It's even possible the Savile hagiographies arose because of some people's understanding of the need to head off investigative efforts after his death.

Obviously the last bit is highly speculative. But the more I think about it the less happy I am about George Entwistle carrying the can for this 'cesspit' as Lord Patten has already called it. Until more evidence comes to light. Martin's open question at the start of the thread about the whole institution gains more traction tonight.

Oct 23, 2012 at 2:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Could the BBC face criminal charges as a corporate body for aiding and abetting Savile? Enough managers seem to have been aware of the goings-on yet it continued for decades to arrange for audiences of young girls (and boys) to which Savile had free access.

Oct 23, 2012 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin

When my sons were youngish schoolboys, in the 70s, I remember them watching the programme called Crackerjack on Children's TV from time to time, as a change from Blue Peter. On one occasion Gary Glitter appeared, singing to an audience of perhaps 9-year old Brownies. The song selected was called "Do You Want to Touch Me". I was so appalled by this that I wrote to the BBC at the time to complain, and as far as I recall (not having still got the reply) they sent their usual bland brush-off.

Sorry, BH, I hope this isn't O/T for the blog, but I felt it was worth recording.

Oct 23, 2012 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

The accusation of most contributors to BH has been that the BBC has a deeply ingrained liberal left bias, it is also said that this is "the culture" of the BBC.
To me "liberal/left" means laissez faire (allow to do). I believe the culture of the BBC is such that this kind of problem is more likely to happen. Seeing George Entwistle being grilled today; it looked more like couldn't care less.

Oct 23, 2012 at 10:02 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Oh I hope it could mean a new broom at the BBC, but they'll only reveal what they have to, sweep under the carpet what they can, and it's drinks in the director's bar, jolly good job done.....

Oct 23, 2012 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames
Oct 24, 2012 at 8:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterBig Oil

At the end of Sky News: Thompson's Office 'Was Warned':

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told Sky News that the BBC should take it as a wake-up call to become more open.

"I think it's in all our interests for the BBC to be held in the highest esteem that it deserves and I think the problem at the heart of the BBC is that the organisation is too secretive," he told Sky's Dermot Murnaghan.

"I think it should think now that it should open itself up to Freedom of Information requests. I think it should look towards publishing a lot of its expenditure online... I don't think it can see itself away from the real world."

Oct 28, 2012 at 11:50 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Thoughts aplenty here. Journalists are exempt from FOI. Wouldn't that have been a help for someone like Olenka Frenkiel as she made a brilliant documentary for the Beeb in 2002 about the Belgian kidnapping, paedophilia and child murder horror. Yet Frenkiel shows that the Belgian French-speaking state broadcaster, RTBF, played an absolutely key role - a disgraceful one, based on privileged information very selectively used - in smearing witness X-1, Regina Louf, a crucial tactic in persuading the Belgian people "there is nothing to see here (apart from one monster acting alone), move on." Earlier, in 1996, after two survivors were found and the investigating magistrate who discovered them was suddenly sacked, 300,000 marched in Brussels convinced of a high-level cover-up and the place was said to be close to revolution.

Other parts of the BBC could do with a great deal of FOI. But we are in different territory in the UK right now. Our state broadcaster, in the form of Panorama and Liz MacKean, has struck a major blow for truth and for those that have suffered the most, even if that's to its own apparent detriment. What Tom Watson asked at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday was clearly intended to open up a great deal more, as was what Welsh Conservative Rod Richards said in the Mail on Friday. (And Richards was once a BBC newsreader too. I don't know if he's right to claim Sir Peter Morrison regularly visited certain Welsh care homes outside his own constituency, with another Tory grandee, but given what we now know was going on in those places the reasons must have been dire if so.)

I admit to some ambivalence here. Liz MacKean feels she must now resign from the BBC. Maybe the nation should do the same when Auntie comes up for renewal. But what Olenka Frenkiel produced ten years ago was of great worth. All I suggest for now is to follow both women on Twitter. And pray we handle the coming months better than Belgium.

Oct 29, 2012 at 3:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Martin, compare that fall from 62% to 45% from 2009 to 2012 with these much softer targets mentioned by The Economist last month, before ITV opened up the Savile cesspit:

Although the governing body which appointed Mr Entwistle stopped short of laying down concrete requirements for his tenure, Lord Patten, the BBC Trust's chairman, says he expects a rise in value for money and quality of 10-20% as the broadcaster prepares for charter renewal in 2016. These figures are of course reassuringly unquantifiable.

The key number throughout being 2016. Who's going to be in power to make the decision? Would the BBC perchance have interest and influence to affect the result? Will blogs like this play an increasing role in the argument? The last is the only question to which I'm sure of the answer. But who would have foreseen the current situation just a month ago? Three days ago Andrew O’Hagan in the LRB opened up on what's been going on since the War. Hat tip to Olenka Frenkiel on Twitter for that. Profound change cannot be ruled out.

Oct 30, 2012 at 12:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

I believe the cat is now among the pigeons ^.^
GWPF shows a letter written by Peter Lilley to the BBC referring to a Newsnight program he took part in on 5th September about low arctic summer sea ice. He slams the BBC for breaking agreements made as well as a totally biased presentation. Lord Lawson has also now written to the Beeb.
Interestingly Lilley makes the point that the BBC prevents anyone from claiming that the IPCC predictions are too alarmist. However the BBC is quite happy to give airtime to those who believe the IPCC reports are not alarmist enough. I look forward to them trying to find any wriggle room in that accusation!

Oct 30, 2012 at 4:02 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Don't be silly! The BBC would never stoop to anything as common as wriggling!
'Lofty disdain' is the way to play it and if there's one thing you can bet Fat Pang is good at, it's lofty disdain.

PS I've posted a follow-up to your Hitachi piece on Unthreaded. Link to the Torygraph.

Oct 30, 2012 at 5:35 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Mike: On Fat Pang and lofty disdain try this:

Patten continued to behave differently to his predecessors; although, unlike his predecesors for many generations, he did not speak either Mandarin or Cantonese, he used to go for informal strolls in the streets, chatting to people and pressing the flesh.

In fact, he was behaving like the seasoned democratic politician that he actually was. Trouble was, Hong Kong had never seen such an animal before.

As my Taipan remarked, "When will he stop kissing babies in Mong Kok? Doesn't he realise he doesn't have to get elected in this job?"

Patten also used to make political speeches at the drop of a hat - no mere cutter of ribbons with a few kind words, like earlier Governors, he would deliver a twenty minute oration and - people listened.

He became the first and last Governor to acquire a Chinese nickname - Fat Pang - 肥彭 (Chinese nicknames were sought after amongst the gweilo community because they were only bestowed (behind your back) if you deserved one, for good or ill, and it was usually very hard to find out what yours was.)

Legco debates became very different; long diligently televised, they started to be watched. The subject of debate moved away from the usual municipal trivia and started to take on a broader view. Patten was a veteran of the House of Commons; Hong Kong's political class watched and learned.

One could I think read this as saying that the nickname came about precisely because the habits of a democratic politician precluded lofty disdain.

A lot depends whether Patten really meant it when he said in the Mail on Sunday (and even the choice of outlet is surely highly significant there):

The independent inquiries are not smokescreens behind which we can hide. They must and will get to the truth of what happened. The BBC must tell the truth and face up to the truth about itself, however terrible.

I know the cynicism that surfaces the moment we hear the words 'independent inquiry'. But I don't remember anyone in UEA or the Royal Society making such strong statements in advance of the Oxburgh and Russell whitewashes. Patten's behaviour in Hong Kong broke the mould. Let's wait and see if the same can possibly be true here.

Oct 30, 2012 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake


I must disagree with you ^.^

Patten is not democratic and he is right behind the climate consensus. Patten is a Europhile through and through which rules out being democratic. Patten is no real Conservative (even in the current state of the party) he is (as was Heath and is Clarke) a true left winger.
It is possible that Patten will ensure justice is done over the Savile debacle but he will not bend in terms of the EU and climate change. I nearly wrote "he will not bend over" hehe Freudian slip perhaps?

Oct 30, 2012 at 7:27 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Dung, I'm not sure you have to disagree or that you've succeeded in doing so. For you say:

It is possible that Patten will ensure justice is done over the Savile debacle

That is exactly the point I was making, no more nor less. To widen the question slightly, is the combination of Patten and Entwistle (widely seen as the chairman's man) fit for this vital purpose:

The BBC must tell the truth and face up to the truth about itself, however terrible.

The question has practical importance right now for this reason: some are already arguing that Entwistle's inept performance, as they see it, in front of John Whittingdale's Culture Committee last Tuesday means he has to go right now. But on this I smell a rat. I think Patten and Entwistle abhor the culture that gave rise to Savile and other paedo-haters being protected (for the word we often use is so wrong in so many ways). Of course I could be wrong about that but I've learned to back my hunches, because that's the only way one can possible learn.

On Entwistle's performace a week ago I thought Simon Jenkins got it spot on in these two sentences:

This does not make the BBC's director general, George Entwistle, a manager of a paedophile ring, or an appeaser of sexual harassment, as implied by much of today's questioning by the Commons culture committee. His artlessness seemed honest and was plausible.

I wasn't so convinced by Jenkins' next point however:

What appeared a conspiracy over the cancelling of Newsnight was, on his evidence, a regretable [sic] cock-up.

I thought that Entwistle rightly put the blame firmly on the Newsnight editor at the time, Peter Rippon, and his blatantly inaccurate recent blog post. That leaves open the issue of others leaning on Rippon to shelve the project and the man who gave way not feeling able to reveal this pressure, for reasons unknown. A minor conspiracy perhaps - or perhaps one piece of evidence pointing to a far larger one.

As usual, we don't know much but we either choose to ridicule those currently in the top jobs (which may I admit sometimes be the right course) at a time that there is an active campaign for one or both of them to lose their jobs - or we say "this is as good as it's going to get - let's see what these relatively new boys can do with this dreadful pile of muck." Something tells me though that the pressure to get rid of both is not from those who want the BBC to "tell the truth and face up to the truth about itself, however terrible." The critics talk about trivial points and fail to spell out that vital aim.

Patten's views on Europe are irrelevant to this. Sir Peter Morrison pretended to be an ardent supporter of Margaret Thatcher. It doesn't for me rule out that he has a dark side in other areas. Let's jettison the tribalism and see the progress that will come from Auntie really coming out into the light.

Oct 30, 2012 at 8:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake


I responded in part to your statement:

One could I think read this as saying that the nickname came about precisely because the habits of a democratic politician precluded lofty disdain.
He is not democratic.
I believe he is forced to act on the basis of the evidence against Savile but I am convinced that no overall reform of the BBC will come from this man.

Oct 31, 2012 at 1:30 AM | Registered CommenterDung

The BBC is like any large bureaucratic organistion in that its first priority is to act for its own preservation. Any employee may be sacrificed in the cause of not making the BBC look bad. Any enquiry will end up picking a scapegoat. It may be a manager, an editor, the DG. Doesn't matter. What matters is that the organisation with its culture will survive any enquiry intact. The enquiries will be as fair and independent as any other in the political world. That is, not.

The BBC will never change unless change is imposed from outside in a way not readily imaginable in current UK politics. Its policies of what to report and what side to take on any issue won't be changed either, and when the chairman of the trust believes in the EU, CAGW, all the bien pensant causes there is no way at all he will be able to see the bias that manifests itself to the rest of us.

Oct 31, 2012 at 8:58 AM | Registered Commenterrhoda