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David Keighley

New BBC Chairman – A New Broom?

New BBC Chairman – A New Broom?

It seems that, barring major left-field interventions, Rona Fairhead, former boss of the Financial Times group, is in line to become next chairman of the BBC, in succession to the disastrous Lord Patten.

What’s clear about Ms Fairhead, the government’s official ‘preferred candidate’, according  to the weekend press,   is that she is a career manager – previous posts included spells at ICI – and very much keeps herself to herself. The only interview of her that shows up on Google was in 1998 for the Independent.

The BBC’s preferred media pundit, Steve Hewlett, suggests that her undoubted sharpness, lack of media enemies, and proven independence of spirit could qualify her for the job, despite the apparent lack of directly relevant experience in the broadcast field.

A rather more worrying insight is provided by this feature in which she is mentioned. It seems that Fairhead lives on the Highclere estate and is part of the cosy, and totally unaccountable, Cameron inner-circle. Oh dear.

One of the first tasks facing Ms Fairhead will be the continued fall-out from the Savile affair. Dame Janet Smith’s report on the extent to which the BBC was aware of his abuse is scheduled to be published in the weeks after the second trial of Dave Lee Travis, due to start this month. Smith delayed her report because it was feared her findings  might prejudice the trial.

In Plain Sight, Dan Davis’s book on Savile, puiblished in July, brings into sharp relief that Savile’s abuse of young girls was an almost daily  feature of his entire adult life, so it is highly likely that abuse was happening on BBC premises on a much bigger scale than has hitherto been acknowledged.

Davis’s forensic analysis of the axing of the Newsnight inquiry into Savile – which was the subject of the Pollard report – also puts into much sharper relief than ever before that the BBC’s reaction to criticism from the outside world is a bloody-minded, almost crooked  determination to cover up internal shortcomings.

Some of those who were involved in  the Savile fiasco, such as Helen Boaden, now director of radio, then director of news, are still in post and are still making the executive board decisions that shape the corporation’s future.

A primary issue for Rona Fairhead is how to deal with this culture of obfuscation, cover-up and deceit, and to make the BBC genuinely accountable, rather than operating on its own, self-protecting, we-know-best  terms.

Photo by claudeprecourt

So That’s Alright Then, says Tony Hall

Tony Hall, the BBC director general, says he has investigated the BBC’s conduct in the reporting of the searching of Cliff Richard’s home in connection with an alleged sexual offence.

Sir Michael Parkinson and Geoffrey Robertson (the latter not known for affinities with the Liberal-Left) are both deeply experienced in the practise and ethics of journalism. Both say the decision by the Corporation to treat the search as a major news event complete with helicopter aerial shots was at best seriously over the top and at worst could be seen as a witch-hunt against the star.

Also seriously concerned are the Commons Home Affairs select committee who have ordered Lord Hall and the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire  (who directed the search) to appear before it to explain their behaviour.

Before that, however, Lord Hall Lord Hall has written to Keith Vaz, the chairman of the select committee, stating, in effect, that there is nothing to investigate. He declares:

“I believe that BBC journalists have acted appropriately in pursuing this story. As you rightly say, the media has a right to report on matters of public interest.

“Sir Cliff Richard is one of the most successful British entertainers of all time and has been a prominent public figure for several decades. Investigations into historic sex abuse cases have – and will continue to have – a profound impact on the lives of well-known individuals and the standing of public institutions.

“The disclosure of a sex abuse allegation against Sir Cliff Richard and the police search of his property was clearly a significant story and the BBC was not alone in providing extensive coverage.

“The protection of sources is a key principle for all journalism – from broadcasters to newspapers – and for that reason the BBC will not be providing details about the source. This makes it difficult to answer some of your questions specifically; however, following speculation about this story, we did confirm that South Yorkshire Police were not our original source regarding the investigation into Sir Cliff Richard.”

So, in the BBC’s book – in other words – that’s alright then. Move along there, nothing to see. We decide how we act, what’s in the public interest and that’s that. Not only that, there won’t be any further explanation because we don’t believe it is necessary.

This would be marginally more acceptable if the BBC was properly accountable and subject to genuinely independent control and sanction by a body that took its responsibilities seriously.  The reality is that the only check on BBC journalism is through the BBC Trustees – and, as has been repeatedly shown on this site, they defend the conduct of the BBC rather than act as a watchdog.

The Hall response is par for the course. In effect, he is hiding behind the mock shield of the integrity of BBC journalism to justify what experts clearly believe amounted to a massive breach of ethics and conduct.

Peston: ‘BBC is Biased Towards the Daily Mail Agenda’

Peston: ‘BBC is Biased Towards the Daily Mail Agenda’

The Guardian has been running a series of features which claim to give an overview of the BBC’s state of health.  They are emerging as text book examples in biased, vacuous analysis.

Latest up by Clare Higgins is an overview of the BBC’s journalism – an purported audit of the health of its journalism.

The Guardian, of course, is the most-bought newspaper by the BBC (more than 200 copies a day!)  – in effect, according to some, its ‘house organ’.

The verdict of Ms Higgins?  Rather predictably, she decides the Corporation’s biggest problem is not ‘institutional bias to the left’.  The possibility is dismissed in a single sentence.

She provides no analytical evidence to back this up. Her sources for deciding are figures such as two former senior BBC news executives, Richard Sambrook – now a professor of journalism at Cardiff University (which receives project money from the BBC) – and Mark Damazer, now an Oxford don, along with correspondents such as Jeremy Bowen and Robert Peston.

Sambrook sums up their approach to Higgins’ questions: ‘It is a wonderful news organisation. It does fantastic journalism every day.’ So that’s OK, then. With 5,000 staff in the field and £1bn of funding, who would expect anything less?

Peston complains about the pressures that correspondents are put under by editors pursuing the agendas of newspapers, and claims that if anything, the bias in BBC output is towards the Daily Mail.

He reveals only that he, the Guardian and his BBC colleagues – present and past –  are totally trapped inside an illusion of their own making.   Oh, and that the journalism of he and his Guardian colleagues is risible.

Photo by malias

BBC in ‘Conspiracy to Injure Cliff Richard’ Says Top Rights Lawyer

BBC in ‘Conspiracy to Injure Cliff Richard’ Says Top Rights Lawyer

The BBC’s role in the searching of Cliff Richard’s home in connection with an alleged sexual crime is ‘a witch-hunt’, according to a veteran BBC broadcaster, and has also been strongly attacked as a ‘conspiracy to injure’ Mr Richard by one of the UK’s leading human rights lawyers.

The conduct of the search by the police – in apparently agreeing with the BBC that they could witness it – is also under fire. But it is the Corporation’s decision to film the search using a helicopter, and then to name Mr Richard, and also to quickly ban the playing of all his records on any part of the BBC output that has led to major questions being asked.

On ITV news, chat show host Michael Parkinson suggested that there was some kind of witch-hunt going on against Mr Richard, and that BBC had acted wrongly and too hastily by naming someone who had not been charged.

And in the Guardian, rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said the BBC had abused public trust. He said that the case called into question both the ethics of the BBC and the legality of the search warrant on Richard’s house, particularly if it had been granted by the courts after a deal had been struck between the BBC and the police.

He was quoted:

“The BBC should have been covering the raid because this was important news but it can be criticised for suppressing the more important news that its coverage was a collaboration with the police. It is the police misbehaviour in orchestrating this public spectacle which deserves to be condemned and the BBC, by keeping their deal a secret, failed in its duty as a public interest broadcaster. By keeping this news a secret the BBC betrayed its public trust and involved itself in a conspiracy to injure Cliff Richard.

“The real question, which goes to the heart of our civil liberties, is how and why this warrant was issued in the first place. The police were under a legal duty to disclose the deal with the BBC to the magistrate – did they do so? How were they able to show a ‘reasonable belief’ that evidence of ‘substantial value’ was on the premises, in relation to an alleged assault 25 years ago? How did they convince a judge presiding they could not contact Mr Richard? There must be a real possibility that this warrant was not properly obtained.”

He added: “I think what the police are doing are trying to pin the blame on the BBC as a pre-emptive strike. How long did the hearing at Sheffield magistrates court take? Was there a careful examination of the application or was it rubber-stamped?”

Mr Robertson and Mr Parkinson both therefore allege the Corporation has not acted according to due process in criminal proceedings, and thereby has seriously damaged the reputation of Mr Richard.  Would they have acted so precipitately against someone who was not Christian and on their books?  Jonathan Ross or Russell Brand, say?

Photo by Music News Australia

BBC Jonathan Ross Return: Why?

BBC Jonathan Ross Return: Why?

Could the new BBC motto be: “we don’t give a damn”?

Their decision to allow the return of Jonathan Ross to front programmes on BBC Radio 2 certainly shows they are prepared to ride massively roughshod over people’s feelings.

Make no mistake, what Jonathan Ross said in 2008 on his Radio 2 show about the actor Andrew Sachs’s daughter, and the way he treated the Sachs himself was thoroughly unpleasant, to the extent that it caused a national outcry and led to a £150,000 fine from Ofcom for breaches of broadcasting rules.

He and his sidekick, Russell Brand, decided it would be good fun to taunt in expletive-filled phone calls the gentle septuagenarian with news that Brand had had sex with the Fawlty Towers star’s grand- daughter.

That such a nasty attack was allowed on its airwaves showed graphically that the BBC bar for what is acceptable behaviour is set very low indeed.

However you look at the incident, and in whatever light you cast it, this showed Ross and Brand to be both sexist and appalling in their manners. And, at the same time, that they plainly did not give a damn either about the sensibilities of the old or about what impact their revelations might have on the Sachs family.

The impact, as Ross must have known (if he did not, then he is also an idiot), was designed to be and bound to be poisonous. If newspaper interviews are to be believed, they achieved the desired effect. It wrought havoc on the family dynamics, and the repercussions are still reverberating now.  Ross caused incalculable pain that probably will never be forgotten.

Back in 2008, it was only after revulsion at the incident reached fever-pitch that the BBC took action. Eventually they removed him from the show but the way they did it showed that every part of the process was deeply resented.  It looked from the outside that they believed that what Ross did was ‘artistic freedom’, was a jolly good jape, and should be defended as much as possible. .

And now, there’s clear proof that the boys and girls in Broadcasting House don’t give a damn about how much they hurt an old man.  They have given Ross a stand-in contract to return and, according to the Daily Mail are paying him £4,000 to present three shows in the Steve Wright slot back on Radio 2.

Ross has never apologised for the Sachs incident and clearly still thinks what he did was funny, so on that front nothing has changed.

So why have the BBC allowed it?  It defies belief that they could think Ross’s conduct has been forgiven, because Andrew Sachs has clearly said in interviews that it hasn’t.

According to the Daily Mail, a BBC spokesman said: ‘Jonathan is an experienced and talented broadcaster … [who] is returning for this one-off stint of holiday cover for Steve Wright. There are no plans to bring him back permanently.

That’s clearly alright then. He is an experienced and talented broadcaster and that, in the Corporation’s rulebook, clearly justifies everything.

But hang on. There are dozens of stand-in presenters in the Radio 2 stable who are just as talented and just as experienced. Why not them?

The reality is that someone, somewhere in the BBC hierarchy still thinks this is a matter of ‘artistic freedom’. They want Ross to return so the point can be made, regardless of the impact on the Sachs family.

Who could this be? Well of course, from the outside, it’s difficult to know. What’s certain is that the contract with Ross would not have been allowed to go ahead without the say so of the overall Director of BBC Radio, Helen Boaden.

Ms Boaden, it will be recalled, was the Corporation’s Director of News during the Savile affair – it was she on her watch, that the nasty libel of Lord McAlpine on Newsnight was broadcast.  She was subsequently removed from her post, but in true BBC fashion, allowed by director general Tony Hall to continue in another-almost-as-senior role. We are now seeing the consequences.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Linwood Sacking: Classic NuLabour Spin?

The 66-page employment tribunal ruling on the illegal sacking by the BBC executive board of is former chief technology officer John Linwood is an astonishing read.

It makes forensically clear that due process was completely disregarded and Linwood was disgracefully and ridiculously made a scapegoat for systemic, multiple management failures within the upper echelons of BBC management.  That a Corporation funded by £3.5bn of public money, and run by senior executives almost all on salaries in excess of £250,000 a year, could act with such serial incompetence defies belief.

What’s equally clear is the James Purnell, the former Labour minister appointed by director general Tony Hall as his strategy director shortly before the sacking, played a pivotal role in the botched execution. It has Nu Labour-style fingerprints all over it.

The sacking decision was taken at a meeting of the executive board in May 13 2013 shortly after Tony Hall took over as director general.  What actually happened will never be known, because, incredibly, it was not properly minuted. Those present gave the employment tribunal sharply different accounts.

But it seems that the blue touch paper towards the firing was lit by Purnell on April 24 when he wrote to Linwood and other senior managers  that Tony Hall wanted to make a speech in June or July in which ‘he could clear out any problems’ he had inherited. He added: “This wasn’t specifically about technology but if there any technology problems that we are worried about, this would be a good opportunity to abandon and move on”.

Weasel words: what he must surely have known was that was the death warrant for DMI; the employment tribunal records show that what he set in train was panic reaction from all those responsible for the project, culminating in the removal of  Linwood.

It’s surely inconceivable that Purnell wrote the note without the full authority of Tony Hall.

Purnell’s name enters the frame again on May 19 after the deed had been done. He wrote another email saying he needed ‘a clear line on Linwood, whether he was resigning, or being fired and why’.

Actually, it was a a prime reason that the Corporation’s attempt to blame Linwood for his own demise failed, because it showed graphically that Purnell and others at the meeting on May 13 were not following  due process.

But in other words, writ large – the cardinal approach of Nu Labour: never mind the substance, concentrate on the spin.

And the final piece of evidence about Purnell’s role is that, according to Linwood, John Tate, Purnell’s deputy, admitted privately to Linwood on June 3 that ‘of course it was a stitch up’. There is only Linwood’s word for that, but who could now doubt the veracity?

Clarkson – Yes, Immigration – No

Clarkson – Yes, Immigration – No

The BBC – as News-watch posted yesterday here and here  – doesn’t give a hoot about complaints about imbalance in its programmes when they relate to important issues such as immigration control.

But if something to do with potential racist name-calling, well, no expense is spared and inquiries are launched, as is reported here in the BBC’s house journal, The Guardian.

News-watch holds no candle for Jeremy Clarkson or his programmes, and nor has it ever investigated his approach to issues of race.

But it’s clear that his alleged use of the N-word has led to major alarm bells ringing inside the Corporation and a full-scale report has been commissioned. What’s clear is that this whole area has been elevated to a major matter relating to the BBC’s approach and image.

Would that the same happened when data is presented to the Trustees that shows beyond doubt that Today presenters regularly skew the debate about EU withdrawal, and, in effect, call those who don’t support the free movement of peoples principle as racist.  In reality, the Corporation ignores it.

Photo by tonylanciabeta

BBC ‘Hung chief technology officer out to dry’

BBC ‘Hung chief technology officer out to dry’

The botched sacking by the BBC of its chief technology officer John Linwood last week raises very serious questions about the integrity of the Corporation and its decision-making processes.

News-watch has repeatedly highlighted  problems with the BBC’s  editorial integrity and how biased its coverage is in certain crucial respects. The removal of Linwood raises major questions about the whole management ethos. The full, sorry saga, is here. It could become a textbook on how not to manage.

An employment tribunal in this unpleasant episode ruled that Linwood – who was in charge of the BBC’s failed £125m Digital Media Initiative (DMI) – was subjected to a campaign of vilification, given only days to prepare his case,  and treated with ‘cavalier disregard” by the senior management who fired him.

There isn’t the space here to detail in full the bad practice involved; suffice it to say that there is absolutely no doubt from the 66-page ruling that the BBC acted disgracefully. Reports can be found here, here and here.

Let’s not mince words – this was a kangaroo court. Once it was decided in May 2013 that he was to blame for the DMI fiasco, Linwood, paid £280,000 a year, was bad-mouthed from the rooftops by his former colleagues, cut loose and hung out to dry.

And let’s also be clear. This was not a hole-in-the-corner exercise. Linwood’s execution was carried out in the full light of day by the Corporation’s most senior management body, the BBC executive board, responsible to the Trustees for every aspect of BBC operations.

It’s also the case that the man who directed proceedings that day – unlike his hapless predecessor, George Entwhistle, who ignominiously resigned over the handling of the Jimmy Savile affair – hasn’t left the corporation, isn’t in disgrace and is still in full charge. It’s the current director general, Tony Hall, Lord Hall of Birkenhead.

And with him at the board meeting when he made the decisions were a raft of his most senior BBC staff  who are still there: Danny Cohen the director television, Helen Boaden, director radio, Fran Unsworth, deputy director of news (on the day, she was acting head because Helen Boaden had been removed from the post) , and Tony Purnell, the former Labour minister drafted in by Lord Hall to be his director of strategy.

It seems likely, too, that the board was acting with the full blessing of the BBC Trustees and maybe at their behest, because by this stage the DMI was an increasingly high-profile embarrassment that was haemorrhaging cash.

DMI had been conceived in 2008-9 to create a ‘seamless’ BBC archive operation, but quickly ran into problems. In 2011, the National Audit Office was hired by the Trustees to investigate. Their report sounded serious warning bells about how the project was being managed, and also pointed out that a scheme that was designed to save the corporation money was already costing millions.

Lord Hall took over as director general in the spring of 2013 and the DMI bombshell well and truly exploded in his face – during Margaret Thatcher’s funeral coverage, it emerged that DMI was actually, in effect  blocking access to existing archives so that thousands were being spent on ferrying tapes around London .

It also emerged that all in, DMI was likely to cost the Corporation £125m.  Linwood was the man chosen to carry the can and that was why he was immediately hung out to dry. At the same meeting, the whole project was cancelled and Hall and his board admitted that it would cost the licence-fee payers almost £100m.

This was mismanagement on a colossal scale, as subsequent inquiries by the Commons public accounts committee found.  They branded the whole scheme a ‘complete failure’, and they pointed out this was not the fault of one man, but a collective responsibility.

So what does this whole sorry saga reveal about the BBC as it enters the negotiations for the renewal of the licence fee?

This was reckless disregard for due process, and  as the Employment Tribunal makes clear, glaring incompetence – despite all the millions of our money the BBC  spends on management ‘know how’, training and salaries.

More worrying, Lord Hall’s BBC seems to intend to carry on undaunted. The BBC’s formal response to the tribunal was reported on the BBC website as follows:

In a statement, the BBC said the failure of the project had been “a very difficult set of circumstances” and expressed disappointment over the tribunal’s decision.

“We had a major failure of a significant project, and we had lost confidence – as the tribunal acknowledges – in John Linwood.

“At the time we believed we acted appropriately,” the corporation continued. “The tribunal has taken a different view.

Photo by Yuri Yu. Samoilov

Bland Leading the Bland

Bland Leading the Bland

Sir Christopher Bland, who chaired the BBC from 1996-2001 – when the hated John ’dalek’  Birt was director general – has waded into the discussion about who should become new Chairman of the BBC trustees. .

According to the Guardian, he suggests that the current problem in finding a successor to Lord Patten, who was forced to resign as chairman for health reasons, is rooted in the structure of the Trustees. The reason?  Because under the last set  of BBC reforms back in 2006-7, the newly formed Trustees, who succeeded the former Governors, were put at arm’s length from the senior BBC management in order to be ‘independent’.

He says being BBC chairman before the reforms was a much more important job: more directly involved in the management of the Corporation, and he argues that high calibre names are not on the shortlist for the current job because it’s a role not worth taking.

Sir Christopher thus appears to be arguing for the clock to be put back. But surely he misses the main point? The governors were abolished because all too often they took the side of BBC management rather than acting in true public interest.

The problem with the last reforms is rather that they did not go far enough. The current  batch of Trustees – as News-watch has repeatedly shown – are from a liberal left background and mindset that mostly echoes that of BBC management, and means that the Corporation is blind to criticism of the bias in its output.

What’s needed now is not a return to those bad old days of Birt and Bland , but a radical restructuring which sees genuinely independent Trustees that ensure that the BBC is properly in touch with public opinion rather than the gilded Metropolitan elite of which Sir Christopher and his ilk are card-carrying members.

Photo by Tim Loudon

BBC ‘ignores key immigration reports’

BBC ‘ignores key immigration reports’

The BBC keeps telling of us that its coverage of the immigration debate is getting better and fairer.

Remember, for example, when, back in January, political editor Nick Robinson uttered a solemn and very public apology and swore that Auntie was mending her ways? No longer, he suggested, should opponents of the EU’s ‘free movement of peoples’ directive be branded as xenophobic or racist

He also wrote:

“My own organisation, the BBC, has admitted that in the past we made mistakes. We were too slow to recognise and reflect the concern, dislocation and anger felt by many.”

Six months or so on, how is Auntie doing?  Well…

Exhibit A is from the think tank Civitas, which published a few days ago a very important contribution to the topic by respected Cambridge economist Bob Rowthorn.  This former ‘leftist’ (as the Daily Mail gleefully described him)  pointed out that on current trends immigration would lead to a population growth of 20m in the next fifty years, and would create massive strains on the country’s infrastructure while at the same time having few discernible economic benefits and only minimal improvement in GDP per capita.

This is a meticulous 83-page survey by a master of economic theory, a cool-headed, objective look at the immigration debate.  It received widespread coverage in newspapers, including the Independent as well as the Daily Mail and Telegraph.

So what did the new, immigration-aware BBC make of it?

Well nothing.  The BBC website has not mention of it,  and David Green, the director of Civitas, says his office has not received a single call from any of the corporation’s serried ranks of 5,000 or so journalists.

Importantly, Professor Rowthorn’s paper debunks a report by Christian Dustmann, a University College, London, immigration ‘expert’, who argued back in November in a paper for the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration that immigrants, especially those from Eastern Europe, were having a strongly positive impact on the UK economy through the increased taxes they paid.

The Dustmann report – unlike Professor Rowthorn’s – did receive widespread coverage on the BBC, those massed ranks of newshounds went to town with items in the bulletins and a string of features, including on Radio 4’s Today.  Breathlessly, the bulletins declared:

“A report says recent immigrants have paid substantially more into the public purse in taxes than they have taken out in benefits.  The study, by University College London says migrants from European countries have made a particularly positive contribution.”

Professor Dustmann’s views, it is true, were ‘balanced’ in the Today feature with commentary by Sir Andrew Green of the Migration Watch think tank, who questioned the statistical techniques employed by professor Dustmann. But there was also commentary from BBC correspondent Danny Shaw, who said that the report was ‘the most thorough of its kind’. No partisanship there, then.

Back in March Migration Watch itself published a comprehensive report rebutting Professor Dustmann’s arguments.  The BBC’s reaction?  Well, they completely ignored it.

Exhibit B is that News-watch is now well advanced in the he process of completing analysis of more than 300 transcripts across eight of the major BBC news programmes in the month leading up to European elections, which took place in May.

The clear headline is that throughout, Nigel Farage and UKIP were treated as aberrant, venal incompetents pursuing racist, nasty-party policies focused on immigration. Throughout the coverage there were frequent references to claims by others that the party’s approach was racist.

By contrast, those who favoured the EU’s free movement policies and indulged in the ‘racist’ name-calling, such as the Labour MP Mike Gapes, received a much fairer hearing. Of which, more when the research is complete.

The BBC, as I have already pointed out in a separate posting, have already declared this News-watch analysis to be wrong, without having read or considered it. Their view is that the coverage of the European election campaign was perfectly fair and balanced.

Which leads where? The BBC tells us they are being fair on immigration and indeed, they allow one of the chief correspondents to shout it from the rooftops. But meanwhile, when hard evidence is produced to show that this is not the case, they either ignore it altogether – or say it’s wrong. How very, very Animal Farm.

Photo by ukhomeoffice