Wed, Oct 17, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Jimmy Savile saga reveals the chaos at the heart of the BBC

By Peter Preston  /  The Observer, LONDON

Now, Patten is one of the most experienced and intelligent ex-politicians around. Though his old Tory allegiances may have been no great handicap when British Prime Minister David Cameron chose him, he was respected enough to leave many BBC insiders sighing with relief. He will fight all the necessary corners as the nightmare of charter renewal and survival comes nearer. However, in a way, the perception that he is probably the right man at the right time only makes the current desuetude worse.

There are reasons for not clambering on to the soap boxes of sanctimony too swiftly. The surge of Savile instant moralizing needs to subside a little. However, when something as damnable for the BBC seems to go wrong, then clear problems of leadership follow.

The most urgent questions for the BBC today are not, in fact, about the ethos of the 1970s, the groping hands of dead DJs, the silence of the molested damned. Hospitals and prisons as well as broadcasting establishments will have to address those. No; the first, most insistent media question asks whether Newsnight’s 12 minutes got junked because of sticky bureaucratic fingers higher up the decision-making chain? It is a demand that, in a commonsense way, almost answers itself. No bureaucratic blanket could stifle this story in the end. It was beyond suppression and therefore beyond any sentient move to wish it away.

However, it was not — and is not — no-go territory for the Trust. These allegations of double-dealing are just as damaging as allegations of poll faking on the children’s TV show Blue Peter. Why should anyone but Patten call an inquiry here? Why should Entwistle be left to blink alone in a spotlight he does not deserve? Where are the six outside members of the executive board when they are needed to speak out (as well as superintend proliferating inquiries)? How do they interlock with Patten’s trusties?

“The BBC exists above all on trust and the relationship between the wider public and the BBC itself,” according to one of Patten’s panegyrics last week. “And when the BBC is at its best, it’s not only because it’s providing terrific, creative, challenging TV and radio, but because the public think they own it and can identify with it.”

Well, if the public truly thinks that, it may wonder why the BBC could not even put up a spokesman to debate the Newsnight shambles on Newsnight itself on Thursday. People may wonder why the Trust that supposedly exists at arm’s length to call the corporation to account appears to have one arm tied behind its back. And they must worry deeply about a self-made crisis that, yet again, lands the public service broadcaster we need in a mire of its own making.

Call for Lord Justice Leveson? No, anything but that. However do, long before charter renewal starts in earnest, begin to create the leaner, fitter management structure that, to be fair, both Entwistle and Patten say they want. One that knows what is happening in the department next door, let alone down the corridor. And one that, as time unpicks so many costly convolutions of the former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown managerial era, asks what was really so wrong with the old board of governors? What has this Trust contrivance got to offer, apart from confusion?

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