Removing the heads of the BBC is a Herculean task akin to fighting the Lernean Hydra.

The events leading up to the resignation of director general George Entwistle show the strengths and weaknesses of the BBC.

The shoddy journalism of the Newsnight team exemplified a woeful  lack of quality controls before running with a potentially sensational story.

By all accounts, they relied on the testimony of one man (Steve Messham) without doing the most basic of checks to verify its accuracy. Lord McAlpine, the politician at the heart of the fake scandal was given no opportunity to defend accusations that he was responsible for sexual abuse.

I’m not normally given to defending Conservative Peers but this goes beyond the pale. Although not mentioned by name in the broadcast, the journalists at the BBC must have known that his identity would be revealed on the web. As John Ware wrote in an excellent article in The Guardian “The dogs in the street would have known that, in the febrile post-Savile climate, the moment the BBC flagged up the words “paedophile” and “senior Conservative politician from the Thatcher era” tweets identifying him would have sounded off like a large flock of squawking starlings”. 

John Humphrys – acceptable face of the BBC.

The manner in which the DG’s inept management was exposed by John Humphrys on the BBC’s Today programme illustrates that the Corporation do have reporters with the balls and intelligence to cut through the soundbites and bullshit to find the truth.

Humphrys was courteous but tenacious throughout and had Entwistle squirming to defend the indefensible. You might forgive him for not checking Twitter regularly but being totally oblivious to the events leading up to the Newsnight item beggar belief.

The transcript  is worth reading as an example of how to conduct an effective interview. This exchange is particularly damning:

Entwistle: ……… when something is referred to me and brought to my attention I engage with it.
Humphrys: So you’ve no natural curiosity .. .. you wait for somebody to come along to you and say “Excuse me Director General but this is happening and you may be interested”? You don’t look for yourself? You don’t do what everybody else in the country does – read newspapers, listen to everything that’s going on and say what’s happening here?
Entwistle: The, the, the second this was brought to my attention last night I immediately started ..
Humphrys: Brought to your attention! Do you not read the papers? Do you not look? Do you not listen to the output?
Entwistle: Well this, I saw this break on the web John, that’s where I saw this.

All things must pass and this scandal will soon fade as others come to take its place. What this story illustrates is that , in the age of the internet, corporations like the BBC cannot hope to draw a veil over ineptitude and like all institutions they have to be transparent and answerable to public opinion. It could take a while!

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