BBC in ‘deep trouble’

BBC in ‘deep trouble’
: The Guardian reports:

The BBC is in “deep trouble” and faces a tough battle to get its licence fee renewed in the wake of the Hutton inquiry, the head of the independent television commission warned today.

And the head of one of Britain’s biggest independent TV companies declared that the “game is up” for the board of governors because of the hasty way they handled the row over Andrew Gilligan’s controversial Today programme report.

One bad reporter can help bring down an institution. But, of cousre, the institution helps.

I hope, for the sake of the business, that media executives have learned from the Jayson Blair and Andrew Gilligan scandals. It’s critical that we remember credibility is Job 1.

The Times took drastic action to protect its credibility.

The BBC blindly defended itself rather than its credibility.

Of course, the BBC is a big and easy target — because of ideology, because of its government support, and also because of its hubris. But that’s all the more reason why it must be careful to protect its credibity.

For credibility is the only asset we have.

: Elsewhere in the Guardian, its editor, Alan Rusbridger defends the BBC or, more accurately, attacks those who attack it. I respect Rusbridger — he’s a nice guy and a helluvan editor — but his column sounds like a kid on a playground stomping his feet and shouting, “not fair, not fair!” after legitimately losing a point.

“It is open season on the BBC,” he writes, “and the age of irony is surely dead.”

Graydon Carter declared irony dead because of 9.11. Rusbridger writes irony’s obit because those who are attacking the BBC are not above attack themselves.

“Sack the hack,” demands the Sun, labelling Andrew Gilligan “a second-rate journalist who cannot be trusted”. Savour that for a moment. Roll it around your tongue and then thumb through the most recent research on who the public most trusts to tell the truth.

Funnily enough, the BBC knocks the Sun out of the park. BBC1 scores 92%, the Sun 11%. Bend over backwards to be fair to Rupert Murdoch and exclude all but the Sun’s own readers. Even then, it can barely scrape together a feeble 21%.

But, Alan, it’s not the Sun that’s on trial here. It’s not the Sun that tried to bring down the government (well, at least not this time). It’s not the Sun whose actions led to a suicide. It’s not the Sun that stubbornly defended bad reporting from a reporter known for bad reporting. It’s not the sun that is supported by its audience and is now in danger of losing that support.

Watch Oz,Alan: Just because one murderer accuses another murderer of murder, it doesn’t make the victim any less dead.

When he was in New York for the New York Magazine/Guardian conference on media and the war, Rusbridger said that if the BBC were cleared in journalistic and judicial inquiry into Gilligan’s and the government’s actions, then it would be important to come to the BBC’s defense for the sake of the business. And give the Guardian points: It has reported on the story with impressive impartiality and depth.

But clearly, it hasn’t turned out the way Rusbridger hoped. Gilligan screwed up bigtime and the BBC screwed up defending him, deaf to the substance of the criticism.

So, Alan, it’s equally important, finding out that the BBC violated its trust, to castigate the BBC. We must police our own, lest we be policed.

Rusbridger sees some hope in the hiring of ombudsmen at news organizations. I don’t. That compartmentalizes the most important job of editors themselves: safeguarding the credibility of their institutions and, with that, the instutition of journalism. It further separates editors from their audience.

Rusbridger says the BBC should appoint an ombudsman.

No, first, the BBC should do what the Times did and finally — even if it is too late — take seriously the serious criticism of its work and its management. It should come clean and clean house, getting rid of Gilligan and the top managers who attacked others first before examing themselves.

And then, instead of hiring an ombudsman, just have your top news executives read the weblogs and forums that attack them (no, you don’t have to read the Sun) and recognize that sometimes, the audience knows better than you do. The audience is the best ombudsman you’ll ever find.