On Saturday evening George Entwistle resigned as BBC Director General as a direct result of Newsnight falsely, and indirectly, accusing Lord McAlpine of child abuse earlier in November. Entwistle stated that “in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film broadcast on Friday 2 November”, he must resign. The Corporation was still trying to cope with the fallout surrounding Newsnight shelving an investigation into Jimmy Saville, when this crisis struck.
In George’s Entwistle 56 days on the job, Newsnight has managed to make the inner workings of the BBC the main news item, rather than the story it was originally supposed to be investigating. All Newsnight future investigations have been suspended and the BBC has apologised “unreservedly” for airing the false allegations about Lord McAlpine.
I am not sure which is worse in my mind: covering up a legitimate story or running a highly damaging and false story. But, what ever the answer, there can be no doubt that BBC reporting needs to be re-evaluated, in particular that of Newsnight.
Should Newsnight be axed?
BBC Executive Tim Davie has replaced Entwistle as acting director general, he has vowed to “get a grip” and set up a “clear line of command”, but I don't think this means that Newsnight should be axed. The cutting of Newsnight will simply result in a rebranding exercise and a similar programme emerging. What needs to be investigated is the actual practices of those involved in the journalism and production. This needs to be done alongside a reform of the Corporation’s approach to media; the BBC needs to return to better days of investigative journalism.
Lord Patten, the BBC Trust Chairman, says the Corporation “needs a thorough, structural, radical overhaul.” Perhaps if you followed this line then the Trust Chairman may also need reforming. There has been pressure on the government from within the Commons and outside to reform the BBC. Robert Murdoch tweeted recently “BBC mess gives Cameron golden opportunity to properly reorganise the great public broadcaster.” However, as with all comments this needs to be assessed with regards to its origin!
Return to Trust
In order to retain credibility I feel the government needs to allow the BBC to put its own house in order. “Continued pressure under the guise of public interest risks turning into political interference.” (Richard Sambrook) The BBC needs to be seen to be able to sort its own mess out whilst also distancing itself from both Corporation style management and politics.
Tim Loughton, former conservative Children’s Minister, very importantly stated that the current crisis at the BBC should not overshadow the child abuse allegations which sparked it. “We really mustn’t forget this is about child abuse.”
The BBC needs to return to its previously strong position of investigative media and continue, where evidence is provided, to assist the police in reporting child abuse allegations. Alongside this, if the crisis and leadership is managed correctly, future credible investigations will return credibility and trust to the BBC. Perhaps it’s not necessarily Goodnight to Newsnight for good.