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Television idents down the years - compiled by Darren Meldrum
The BBC, affectionately known in its golden age as 'Auntie', suffered what may well have been a fatal blow on Thursday 29th January 1987.
That was the day Alasdair Milne, the last Director General to take the corporation's public service remit seriously, was removed by Marmaduke Hussey, Thatcher's new chairman of the board. On the news Milne was announced to have 'resigned' but in reality he had been summarily sacked with a year still to run of his contract.
Conceived by Royal Charter in 1927, auntie has never been the same since. Hard-nosed business culture, combined with unparalleled cronyism has ripped out the heart of this once honest institution. The corporation that, for decades, led the world in top quality independent broadcast media, has been forced from the top to throw in the towel and toss away the public service ethic on which it built its reputation.
The British Broadcasting Corporation was first mooted in 1922 by the state owned and controlled Post Office. The initial broadcasting interest group group was made up of accredited wireless technology manufacturers. The corporation was set up under Royal Charter with a remit to serve the public.
Nevertheless there are aspects of the Royal Charter and Agreement [separate page] that even BBC staff seem unaware of. How many know, for example, that it guarantees public access to its archives or that in a 'state of emergency' the Secretary of State can order the take-over of all BBC premises, locking BBC staff out?
Democratic accountability was theoretically to be applied through appointments of the board of governors through the Postmaster General, later to become the Heritage Secretary.
But as post-war governments have been occupied by economic interests and the increasingly well focussed business lobby so the ethos of the British Broadcasting Corporation has changed from public service to serving the interests of business, and in a world of international competitiveness going out to fight it out in the global market-place. A role not compatible, even at odds, with that of serving the communication needs of the British public.
The Director General, General Manager of the Corporation, was intended to be a senior well-respected programme maker who had the confidence of Corporation staff and a proven track record in independent public service programming. Alasdair Milne was DG in the early 1980s. A veteran of classic satire That Was The Week That Was and daily current affairs programme Tonight, featuring writers such as Anthony Sampson, he took independence from government, including the Thatcher government, seriously.
Milne backed programmes that were as critical of her Conservatives as they were of the trades union movement that was taking on Thatchers friends at Wapping and in the coalfields during the miners' strike.
There were several programmes that Mrs Thatcher was particularly angry with, Maggies Militant Tendency, transmitted on 30th January 1984, by no means least. This Panorama documentary looked at extreme right-wing elements on the backbenches of the Tory party and showed two of her young darlings, Neil Hamilton MP and Gerald Howarth MP, attending extreme right meetings. It showed the press were not being even-handed in their aggressive anti-Labour Militant coverage. Legal proceedings by Hamilton and Howarth against the BBC came to court in October 1986.
There was Duncan Campbells Secret Society [available here] series that showed evidence that £500 million of unauthorised Military Intelligence spending on a Zircon spy satellite had been concealed from the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee. Legal threats were made by the MOD against the BBC using official secrets legislation. The Zircon film was eventually shown in a House of Commons hall packed with MPs on Thursday 22nd January 1987 under laws of parliamentary privilege but not to the public.
There was award-winning drama Edge of Darkness showing an unholy collaboration between rogue elements in government and the nuclear industry.
Thatcher appointed Marmaduke Hussey to chair the BBC Governors in mid November 1986. 'Duke' Hussey was former Chief Executive and Managing Director of Times Newspapers Ltd. where he had recently guided the business into a crippling strike which left The Times ripe for takeover by Rupert Murdock's News International. Since bowing out red-faced from The Times, Hussey had been in the doldrums, on the board of Bristol radio station GWR.
In his first weeks as chair of the BBC board of governors Hussey was unsure of his power. He recounts a conversation with banker and head of the C.P.R.S. government 'think tank' Victor Rothschild just after his appointment.
"Can you fire the Director General?" enquires Rothschild
A long pause from Hussey, "I think so".
"Well, that's all that needs to be said isn't it" Rothschild replies.
The fifth BBC Board of Governors meeting with Hussey as Chair was held at Television Centre. It was Thursday 29th January 1987. Milne was called into Hussey's office where he also found Joel Barnett, vice-chair, waiting. They demanded his resignation. Stunned, Milne was bounced into signing a pre-prepared statement, and was driven home.
I was told personally by Richard Ayre - while he was deputy head of BBC News and Current Affairs - that the meeting where Milne was sacked took place in Broadcasting House not Television Centre. Let's hope his lying is not pathological.
Milne's replacement as D.G., Michael Checkland, was not a programme maker but, setting an ominous precedent, an accountant. Hussey was sent to the House of Lords for his services to the public.
John Birt, who followed Checkland as DG, was a robotic commercial television manager. The latest D.G. appointment, Greg Dyke, proves the original idea that an independent-minded programme maker should occupy the operational helm of the Corporation has been entirely discarded. Dyke is a self-made millionaire.
Since Milne's Director Generalship, the BBC has become an institution weighed down by intrinsic hypocrisies. Commercial imperatives appear to be diametrically opposed to its 'public service' remit and many staff have become disillusioned, ill at ease. As one distinguished British broadcaster said, who wrote to Milne after his dismissal, 'What has happened to you is something that will stand high in the annals of broadcasting infamy'.
Michael Grade's departure from the BBC and his blistering attack on John Birt in his 1992 Edinburgh Television Festival MacTaggart lecture in many ways echoed Minne's sacking. Grade and Milne became magnets to those desperate to stop the public service ethic of the corporation draining away. Both attracted support from thousands of disgruntled staff, many of whom felt they had to remain anonymous. One of the BBC's best known TV presenters was biting in his support for Grade, 'I know scarcely anyone at the BBC who doesn't share your views. But how to organise the resistance when the leaders are all Quislings?'
Milne's sacking, for defending the BBC's editorial independence, has opened the way to a tyranny of the mediocre led by those Dennis Potter called the 'croak-voiced daleks', the BBC managers.
It was a cloak-and-dagger operation that still makes any broadcasting manager with a conscience shiver. But the tragic significance of the these events as a cultural death-knell to Britain is virtually unknown to the viewing and listening public.
Only by exposing Thatcher and Hussey's brand of cultural brute-behaviour and by focussing reforms around community access to broadcasting can we hope to see honest, fresh creativity flourish in Britain again. Until then, unfortunately, the 'croak-voiced daleks' are at the helm of British broadcasting disguised as Public Servants.
And the joke that "the modern-day BBC is run by aliens" doesn't isn't as far fetched as it used to be.
The British media claims it is committed to informing the public. The reality is that it frequently colludes with politicians to suppress stories. A classic example is the attempted suicide of Blair's daughter Kathryn in April 2004. Every single newspaper and broadcaster (including the BBC) has refused to use the story.
The BBC as a public service broadcaster has a special obligation to put anything of political interest before the public. Consequently, I have twice confronted its chairman Michael Grade with the failure of the BBC to run the story.
The first occasion was at the Viewers and Listeners Spring Conference in April 2005. Grade claimed not to know the story, but refused to discuss the matter. Later I wrote to him asking him to justify his failure to make the story public. Grade did not reply but I received a letter from the BBC's Head of communications Tina Stowell which ran "The question you raised at the VLV Seminar on 25 April relating to the Prime Minister's daughter is not one which the BBC Chairman will respond to in public or via correspondence."
The second occasion was at the Governors "AGM" at Television Centre on 19 July 2005. After the programme, The Governors rashly mingled with the audience. I managed to corner Grade for about five minutes and ask him in front of plenty of witnesses why he had censored the story of the Blair daughter's attempted suicide, especially after I had raised the matter with him in April 2005 at the Voice of the Viewer and Listeners Spring Conference. He tried to make a joke of it, but before he escaped I asked him the following question: Do you believe the story is true? He refused to answer. 'nuff said.
At the same meeting I lobbied four other Governors: Deborah Bull, Merfyn Jones, Fabian Monds, Ranjit Sondhi and Angela Sarkis. Without exception they all seemed painfully startled by the news. I got a promise from each to look into the matter if I sent them the full details. I wrote to them and the other Governors on 20 July 2005. None have replied. Instead, I again received a letter from Tina Stowell (22 July 2005). This ran "Thank you for your letter to the Board of Governors. The BBC's position remains the same as in my previous letter." I then submitted a formal complaint through the governors' website of 28 July 2005. No reply has been received after a month.
During the BBC R5 morning phone in programme of 3 May 2005, hosted by Victoria Derbyshire, I managed to bring up the attempted suicide of Kathryn Blair. I was cut off almost immediately.
After the R5 episode I wrote to Feedback, the programme which supposedly deals with listeners concerns with the BBC, asking them to investigate the censorship. They have failed to do so.
The BBC (and rest of the media) does not have any general trouble with reporting teenage attempted suicides, for example, Rebecca Ling, the girl who survived a suicide pact in 2004 received very full coverage.
see also - http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2004/06/293456.html
Robert Henderson <philip(at)anywhere.demon.co.uk>
Blair Scandal website: http://www.geocities.com/blairscandal/
Personal website: http://www.anywhere.demon.co.uk
By Greg Dyke - Published: 22 August 2005
At last, some good news for ITV. In what has been a disastrous summer for ratings on Britain's most-watched commercial television station, ITV News's exclusive story on the catalogue of failures that led to the police shooting of the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes has certainly put a grin back on some of the gloomy faces at the ITV network centre.
The story, a classic scoop of the type seldom found on TV news programmes, came as a result of good old-fashioned journalistic research. At ITN, the editorial team decided that the original account of the shooting didn't ring true so they decided to stay with the story. They first got a hint of their exclusive two days before they broadcast it, but they only got the leaked Independent Police Complaints Commission documents the day before. Nervous that the Met or Home Office might try to injunct them, ITN only told the police what they had at the very last moment.
The story was the sort of scoop normally only found in the newspapers or in the current-affairs programmes. One criticism that can be made of both TV and radio news programmes over the years is that they don't break enough original, exclusive stories, and instead rely too much on diary based stories. In this case ITV News' investigations resulted in a scoop that, after the broadcast on the ITN Evening News, made headlines everywhere.
The strangest reaction came three and a half hours later, from the Ten O'Clock News team on the BBC who, unlike Sky News, not only failed to mention that it was an ITV exclusive but turned the story on its head in a desperate attempt to make it look as though it hadn't been scooped. Instead of leading on the content of the leaked documents, the BBC ran a story about the fact that the documents had been leaked and how this had outraged people.
Given the importance of the real story, this was hardly in the best interests of the audience, as most of those watching were hearing about the story for the first time. This was a pathetic case of sour grapes from BBC News, and someone on high should ensure that whoever took this decision understands that it was a very serious mistake. BBC News' first responsibility must be to its audience, not to pretending that ITV News hasn't got a major scoop.
As on so many similar occasions, the importance of the story was not what actually happened but the attempted cover-up after the event. It wasn't that the police shot a man by mistake in exceptional circumstances - arguably, they could be forgiven for that - but that instead of coming clean, they tried to cover up the facts. All sorts of stories emerged about De Menezes running away, leaping barriers and wearing clothes that made him look like a suicide bomber, all of which we now know to be untrue, thanks to ITV News. At the very least, the Met did nothing to put the record straight when these stories were published, and there has to be a suspicion that journalists were wrongly briefed by police sources.
What the story showed most of all was the importance of good journalism to a national TV channel. After terrible headlines all summer, which had led some to believe ITV's decline was terminal, suddenly it was setting the news agenda. This isn't necessarily good news for the people at the top of ITV who have threatened to take the ITV News contract away from ITN and, after 2012, drop news from ITV's schedule altogether. Maybe last week's exclusive will help them understand that commercial broadcasting isn't only about cutting costs and boosting ad. Revenue, it is also about making an impact.
Row as BBC cuts Bafta speech
Monday April 18, 2005
The BBC has come under fire for cutting the acceptance speech of a BAFTA
winner who last night criticised the media's coverage of the threat posed
to Britain by terrorists.
Adam Curtis, who won the factual series award for BBC2's The Power of
Nightmares, used his speech to question newspaper and broadcast reports of
last week's ricin trial, which he said had sensationalised the threat of a
poison terror attack.
The acceptance speech was removed from BBC1's Bafta coverage when it aired
two hours later.
Mr Curtis said he suspected his comments had been cut because they "touched
Although he did not name the corporation in his speech, he had singled out
the BBC's coverage at another TV awards ceremony two days earlier.
"I wasn't really surprised. It could be because I was incredibly boring but
I suspect it touched a nerve because this issue has got to be addressed and
broadcasting organisations know this," he said.
"Reporting of the whole terrorist threat has either become exaggerated,
distorted or in some cases a complete fabrication and they are beginning to
realise this. They know they have to sort it out. It has touched a nerve
and the fact they cut it shows that."
He said the media had failed in its coverage of Kamel Bourgass, who was
jailed for 17 years last week for plotting to commit a public nuisance by
poisons and explosives. He was already serving a life sentence for the
murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake.
But the jury could not agree on a charge of conspiracy to murder, and eight
other men were cleared in trials relating to the Algerian.
Mr Curtis, a senior producer in the BBC's news and current affairs
department, said reports of an "al-Qaida plot to poison Britain" that could
have consequences "equal or greater to 9/ 11" were "massively exaggerated
or a complete fantasy".
But a BBC spokeswoman defended the decision to cut the speech. She denied
it was politically motivated, and said it was one of a number of edits made
to the awards because of timing.
"Any cuts to speeches were purely because of time constraints - this year
we had more awards than ever before. The nature of the show is that it is
broadcast with a short delay live in the evening - any decisions on cuts
were made purely on the basis of timing."
"It's a shame they cut that out," said Stephen Lambert, the director of
programmes at independent RDF, who executive produced The Power of Nightmares.
"I think someone who was editing the show thought 'this is politics, we
can't have that', and took it out. It's disappointing because Adam gave the
most interesting speech of the night," Mr Lambert added.
He said the BBC had failed to give the factual categories at last night's
awards the coverage they deserved.
"They were all lumped together and there were no clips from any of the shows.
"I can't believe that's what the BBC should be doing if it is trying to
celebrate the breadth and excellence of television. It was the same in the
news and current affairs categories. I know there is the view that people
want to see celebrities, and if it was on ITV then that might be an argument."
The Power of Nightmares, which was written, produced and directed by Mr
Curtis, won the best documentary series prize at the Broadcasting Press
Guild last Friday.
After accepting the BPG award, Mr Curtis said: "The extrapolation from the
very tiny bit of evidence that was reported in court to the reports we did
on the Six O'Clock News and other bulletins was not in any way justified.
"As someone who had been in the court room and watched the trial collapse,
I could not understand how you could take that very limited evidence and
extrapolate from that a story of a threat as ghastly as September 11. In
the post-Hutton era I think that raises very serious questions."
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or phone 020 7239 9857
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Antony Barnett, public affairs editor
Sunday October 3, 2004 - The Observer
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, a BBC governor, emerged as one of the main figures in the feud between the BBC and the government in the fallout of the Hutton inquiry into the death of weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, being blamed personally by former-director general Greg Dyke for his sacking.
Neville-Jones, a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, took an unusually active role in the Kelly affair, criticising Andrew Gilligan's reporting and also expressing unease about Kelly's expertise.
Now it has emerged that Neville-Jones chairs a company providing military equipment for US Humvees and Black Hawk helicopters, both of which are used in Iraq, leading to calls for her to reconsider her position as a governor.
Documents from Companies House reveal that Neville-Jones earned £133,000 last year as chairman of Qinetiq, the privatised research arm of the MoD.
The company recently bought two US defence firms that have intimate ties to the Pentagon and multi-million-dollar contracts supplying the US forces in Iraq.
The company's accounts also disclose that Neville-Jones owns £50,000 worth of shares in Qinetiq which are held through the controversial US fund the Carlyle Group.
The fund is known as the 'Ex-Presidents Club' because of the number of former world leaders it has employed, including President Bush's father and former Tory Prime Minister John Major.
Following Qinetiq's move into the US defence market, the company hopes to float on the stock market, a move that would probably see the value of Neville-Jones's shares rise.
Neville-Jones, who sits on the BBC's programme complaint committee, has always declared her chairmanship of Qinetiq, but backbench MPs are now calling on her to consider her position as governor.
Former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle said: 'The fact that she has such a financial interest in the armaments industry and firms involved in Iraq appears to be a real conflict of interest. She should have stepped aside when it came to discussing military issues.'
Labour MP Llew Smith, Labour MP said: 'It is completely inappropriate that someone so senior in the BBC should be leading a firm making huge profits from the misery caused by the invasion of Iraq.'
Neville-Jones was personally blamed by Dyke for leading the boardroom revolt against him after Hutton criticised the corporation for failing to correct its reporting over the WMD dossier.
It emerged in the Hutton inquiry that Neville-Jones sent BBC chairman Gavin Davies a note expressing her unease that Gilligan may have exaggerated the status of Kelly, who killed himself over the scandal.
Qinetiq was formed out of the part-privatisation of the MoD's military research arm. The MoD still owns 51 per cent of the company, which announced last month that it paid £160 million to buy US firms Foster-Miller and Westar.
Foster-Miller makes bomb-disposal equipment and armour for military vehicles and aircraft. This year it boasted record profits, thanks to a $7m contract with the US Marines to provide armour for Marine Humvees in Iraq .
Westar works closely with the Pentagon on many US military operations. It made components for US Black Hawk and Apache military helicopter that allowed them to fly through sandstorms in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Qinetiq admits its success in buying the US firms was helped by the British decision to stand by Bush. Qinetiq's chief executive Sir John Chisholm said: 'It is an undeniable fact the US and UK find themselves shoulder to shoulder in Iraq which creates a halo effect that is beneficial to UK companies seeking to enter the US market.'
It is not the first time that Neville-Jones has faced criticism over her commercial interests. After leaving the Foreign Office, she joined former Tory Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd at National Westminster. The bank's investment arm worked with Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic to privatise the country's telecoms industry. Both had meetings with Milosevic in Belgrade in 1996 on Serbia 's foreign debt and the privatisation of state assets.
Although there is no suggestion of wrongdoing in the deal, it was attacked for presenting Milosevic with a £625m windfall a year before his campaign to drive Kosovan Albanians from their homes. At the time, the Serbian leader was facing down huge protest demonstrations in Belgrade.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said: 'The board of governors is responsible for ensuring the BBC acts only in the public interest and is impartial in its news coverage. The board operates a well-established conflicts of interests process. It is a matter of public record that Pauline Neville-Jones is chairman of Qinetiq.'
She said governors only have to declare shareholdings in firms with which the BBC trades.
· Additional reporting: Solomon Hughes
* International Institute for Strategic Studies - what is it - http://www.iiss.org
The IISS is the vehicle for MI6-Tavistock black propaganda, and wet jobs (an intelligence over name denoting an operation where bloodshed is required), adverse nuclear incidents and terrorism, which goes to the world's press for dissemination, as well as to governments and military establishments.
Membership in the IISS includes representatives of 87 major wire services and press associations, as well as 138 senior editors and columnists....
The IISS is nothing more than a higher echelon opinion maker, as defined by Lippmann and Bernays. In the writing of books, and in newspapers, IISS was formed to be a coordinating centre for not only creating opinions, but to get those opinions and scenarios out much faster and to a far greater audience than could be reached by a book for example....
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power in our country...... We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of...." Edward Bernays
By Ben Russell and Ciar Byrne
30 August 2004
Downing Street and the BBC were yesterday trying to weather the storm as Greg Dyke, the corporation's former director general, unleashed a scathing attack on Tony Blair and the governors who forced him to quit in the wake of the Hutton report.
Neither Number 10 nor the BBC would comment after Mr Dyke called for the resignation of the six governors still on the board who voted for him to stand down, and accused Mr Blair of attempting to "bully" the BBC into supporting the war.
Mr Dyke was forced to resign from the BBC, along with the corporation's chairman, Gavyn Davies, after senior management was heavily criticised in the Hutton report on the death of government weapons expert David Kelly. Yesterday, his memoirs revealed that that Mr Blair wrote to him in the week of the invasion complaining of a "breakdown of the separation of news and comment" at the corporation.
Downing Street refused to make a detailed comment on Mr Dyke's claims. A spokesman said: "Mr Dyke is entitled to his opinion. It's not one we share, nor is it one shared by four exhaustive inquiries."
But Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary, said: "It is perfectly clear that the Government hopes Iraq as an issue will go away and stop bothering them. The fact they will not enter the debate is evidence of how little faith they have in their ability to win the argument."
Neither the BBC nor Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street director of communications, would enter the row. Mr Dyke savaged the BBC governors who failed to back him after the resignation of Mr Davies, describing them as "behaving like frightened rabbits caught in headlights".
He said: "I had worked flat out for four years to turn round a deeply unhappy and troubled organisation and was now being thrown out by the people I respected least, the Governments." He added: "The establishment figures had got rid of the upstart. It was, in many ways, a very British coup."
In his memoirs, Mr Dyke referred to Baroness Sarah Hogg and Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, two governors at the time, as "the posh ladies", saying the former "rarely seemed to leave her politics or prejudices at the door" and suspecting the latter "had not been as successful in life as she wished".
He defended the controversial Today programme report which sparked the bitter row between Number 10 and the BBC, which ended with David Kelly's suicide. He said: "The charge against Blair is damning.
"He was either incompetent and took Britain to war on a misunderstanding or he lied when he told the House he didn't know what the 45-minute claim meant.
"We were all duped. History will not be on Blair's side. It will not absolve him but will show the whole saga is a great political scandal."
He said Mr Blair "unleashed the dogs" at the BBC hierarchy after the publication of Lord Hutton's report, accusing the Prime Minister of reneging on an agreement not to call for resignations at the corporation.
According to the book, Mr Davies said: "Blair skilfully piled the pressure on and did nothing to discharge the promise there should be no resignations. I saw Campbell calling us liars and demanding heads should roll. I assumed that Blair had deliberately unleashed the dogs against us."
Mr Dyke also lambasted Mr Campbell. He accused him of "turning Downing Street into a place similar to Richard Nixon's White House" and branded him "a deranged, vindictive bastard" for demanding that heads should roll at the BBC.
He also claims that John Scarlett, the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, had doubts about the claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.
His book also attacks Lord Hutton. Mr Dyke said: "I read his conclusions in total disbelief. This man wasn't on the same planet as the rest of us."
Position: He is executive chairman of MJ Gleeson Group plc.
Time spent on the board: Appointed a BBC governor in November 2000 and reappointed for a further four years last month. His term of office now runs for another four years, to the end of October 2008.
Position: Chairman of Frontier Economics and 3i. Also a director of P&O Princess and appointed deputy chairman of GKN from 1 December 2003.
Time spent on the board: Appointed a BBC governor in February 2000, her term completed February 2004.
Position: A historian and broadcaster with posts at University of Wales and University of Liverpool, where he was director of continuing education.
Time spent on the board: BBC national governor for Wales from 1 January 2003 until the end of 2006.
Position: Professor Monds is chairman of Invest Northern Ireland, the economic development agency.
Time spent on the board: He becamenational governor for Northern Ireland in 1999. In June last year his term was extended to July 2007.
DAME PAULINE NEVILLE-JONES
Position: Chairs the BBC's audit committee and the governors' World Service Consultative Group.
Time spent on the board: She was appointed in January 1998 and her term of office has been extended to the end of next year.
LORD (RICHARD) RYDER OF WENSUM
Position: He became acting chairman on 28 January and resumed as vice-chairman on 17 May.
Time spent on the board:He became vice-chairman on 1 January for four years. His resignation from the board took effect in June.
SIR ROBERT SMITH
Position: He is chairman of the Weir Group, deputy chairman of Scottish and Southern Energy and holds several non-executive directorships.
Time spent on the board:He was appointed national governor for Scotland in August 1999. In 2003 his term of office was extended to July 2007. In July this year he said he would step down at the end of 2004.
Position: He is a senior lecturer at Birmingham University, where he co-ordinates a new degree in race and ethnic studies.
Time spent on the board: Appointed in August 1998, his term of office was renewed in 2002 and now finishes in October 2006.
Position: She had a 20-year career with the Royal Ballet until 2001, becoming principal dancer in 1992 and touring the world with the company.
Time spent on the board: She became a governor on 1 August 2003 for a four-year term.
Position: She is a trustee of the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation and a bencher of the Inner Temple, and holds an honorary doctorate from Strathclyde University.
Time spent on the board: Appointed in October 2002 for a four-year term.
Position: An independent consultant with a management interest. Member of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance and the Home Office's active community unit advisory panel.
Time spent on the board: Four-year term from 2002.
How two pillars of the establishment helped to engineer a very British coup at the BBC
Sunday August 29, 2004
The Observer http://observer.guardian.co.uk/focus/story/0,6903,1293003,00.html
Two BBC governors, Pauline Neville-Jones and Sarah Hogg, were far more vocal than the rest, and I nicknamed them 'the posh ladies'. It was clear neither liked me much and Sarah, I now know, actively disliked me. The feeling was mutual.
Pauline, a career civil servant at the Foreign Office and a former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was among a number of governors who opposed my appointment as director-general. She was a powerful voice on the board, worked hard and was very clever in a manipulative, FO sort of way.
But neither I nor the two BBC chairmen I worked with, Christopher Bland and Gavyn Davies, ever totally trusted Pauline. She had applied to be deputy chairman and was turned down. She was incredibly ambitious but I always suspected she had not been as successful in life as she had wished.
Although a big supporter of the BBC, Sarah Hogg never left her politics or prejudices at the door of governors' meetings. She was married to a land-owning Tory MP, Douglas Hogg, and lived in a political world.
When we tried to update our political coverage, Sarah led the opposition: we shouldn't upset the politicians. She was upset by the lack of coverage of the Countryside March in September 2002 (probably the only march she'd ever been on). She insisted the BBC was not covering rural affairs properly, and got a full investigation, costing thousands of pounds.
This struck me as a classic case of special pleading from a governor who lived on the family estate in rural Lincolnshire.
Her term as a governor was due to finish, and she didn't want it renewed. Neither did Gavyn or I. By the time Hutton published his report, Sarah's time was almost up.
The day it appeared the governors met from 5pm until the early hours. Gavyn and I left after 40 minutes when they began discussing what should happen to the management team. We had agreed with Pauline Neville-Jones the previous night that it would be impossible for Gavyn and I to resign at the same time.
However, Gavyn announced his resignation before the meeting. As we left, I reminded Simon Milner, the BBC secretary [for governance and accountability] of what Gavyn and I had told him of our talk. It was Milner's job to tell the governors that if I was to go on, I needed their public support.
Sarah Hogg had her last chance to settle old scores. I now know that she arrived determined to get rid of me.
I waited in my office for maybe an hour and a half before Milner came to say Pauline and the deputy chairman, Richard Ryder, wanted to see me.
Ryder was pretty blunt. He said the governors had decided I should go: if I stayed I'd be a lame-duck director-general. This was ridiculous: there was never a chance of me being a lame-duck anything.
I asked if this was the view of them all. Richard told me he hadn't expressed a view but was reporting the views of the rest. Pauline said nothing.
I hadn't seen it coming. I was completely shocked. I had no idea what to say. I pointed out I had a contract they would have to honour, but if they didn't want me I wouldn't stay.
I went back to my office and sat stunned. I had worked flat out for four years to turn round a deeply unhappy and troubled organisation, and I was now being thrown out by the people I respected least, the governors. My main emotion was disbelief.
Before Gavyn headed home at about 11 pm, he decided to say a final goodbye to his former colleagues, but when he walked into the room he found the atmosphere had changed completely. It was a very hostile environment, with the aggression mainly coming from Sarah, who, he said, 'was seething'.
I've since discovered that she told Gavyn the day before that he shouldn't resign, but I should. He told her there were no circumstances in which he'd let me go while he stayed, and I think that was one reason Gavyn resigned: if one of us should go it should be him, and that way he would protect me.
Others at that meeting say that when Gavyn walked in Sarah launched a ferocious attack, accusing him of 'cowardice under fire'.
It was three days before I began to realise that perhaps all was not as it had seemed. This idea came to me when someone at the BBC told me she believed some of the governors had been out to get me, regardless of Hutton. It got me thinking: did some of them have another agenda?
By then I knew that three of the 11 governors had supported me in the vote: the ballet dancer Deborah Bull, the Oxford academic Ruth Deech and voluntary sector consultant Angela Sarkis.
The 'posh ladies' had opposed me, led by Sarah Hogg.
I began to think about the conversation Gavyn, Pauline Neville-Jones, and I had the night before Hutton was published. If Pauline had said she thought it impossible for Gavyn and me to leave at the same time, shouldn't she have argued on my behalf, given that Gavyn had already gone? Yet she had not. I thought some more.
Pauline had always been a big supporter of Mark Byford. Like most BBC lifers, he was better [than me] at the politics of dealing with the governors.
It was a game I refused to play. I saw no reason to treat the governors differently from everyone else. I certainly wasn't going to regard the earth they walked on as holy ground.
After I had left the BBC one senior executive said to me that if I had been a bit more servile to them, I would still be there today. I have no doubt that's true. Certainly both chairmen in my time there suggested I ought to be more respectful and make fewer jokes at governors' meetings, but I was never going to do that. I have never respected position for its own sake and I was hardly likely to start in my fifties, particularly when dealing with a group of people, most of whom knew nothing about the media and who would have struggled to get a senior job at the BBC.
So why hadn't Pauline supported me? Again I thought back a few months. In early December 2003, Gavyn told me Pauline and Sarah had been to see him, demanding that Mark Byford be appointed my deputy and be put in charge of BBC News. I was then to have been told it was a fait accompli.
I objected, though in many ways the idea of Mark becoming my deputy was a good one. With Hutton pending, even someone as naturally combative as me recognised this was not a time for a bust-up with the governors. To appease them, I suggested we appoint Mark as my deputy, but with different powers from those they suggested.
The governors agreed, and he began work on 1 January last year. A month later I was gone and he was acting director-general. The establishment figures had seized their chance and got rid of the upstart. It was, in many ways, a very British coup.
The BBC has a good man as its new chairman in Michael Grade, but to do his job well he needs better, more knowledgeable governors to support him. I hope the six current governors who voted to get rid of me - Dermot Gleeson, Merfyn Jones, Fabian Monds, Neville-Jones, Robert Smith, and Ranjit Sondhi - will realise that what they did that January night was bow to pressure from a political thug called Alastair Campbell.
What happened to me is irrelevant. Director-generals come and go; but there is no greater betrayal of BBC principles than to fold under political pressure, particularly from the government of the day.
These governors got it seriously wrong and they should accept that. They should now resign. The BBC deserves better.
by Tim Llewellyn
Watching a peculiarly crass, inaccurate and condescending programme about the endangered historical sites of "Israel" - that is to say, the israeli-occupied palestinian territories - on BBC2 in early june 2003, (1) I determined to try to work out, as a former BBC middle east correspondent, why the corporation has in the past two and a half years been failing to report fairly the most central and lasting reason for the troubles of the region: the palestinians' struggle for freedom.
The approach of the programme - made by arts rather than news and current affairs - reflected the general run of BBC domestic coverage of the issue: the strained effort at "balance"; the failure to question the circumstances of the beleaguered historical sites (why are they beleaguered?); The acceptance of the "equivalence" of the two peoples fighting over this territory, the indigenous population and an occupying army; the assumption on which the whole programme was built: that in the then looming anglo-american invasion of iraq these historical and holy places might be damaged by missiles fired from iraq. Perhaps BBC arts was not aware before their team arrived that many ancient arab monuments had already been besieged, shelled, violated, ransacked, bulldozed, and in many cases closed to their worshippers and their inheritors by israel's occupying army.
A week earlier, in a BBC news documentary about the wall that israel is building between the israelis and the palestinians (2) - much of it encroaching on occupied palestinian land, destroying houses and olive groves and dividing families - it was again felt necessary to leaven the images of arab suffering with the "balance" of how awkward the wall would be for a handful of illegal jewish settlers. To explain this, a sympathetic irish woman settler told that side of the story in the vivid english of her people.
It was not that the BBC did not tell the palestinian story graphically and shockingly - but that "the other side" of the story had to be told as well, diluting the central and violent issue of the wall and all it symbolises of israel's fears, greed and brutal dismissal of its arab neighbours.
Since the beginning of the aqsa uprising, or second intifada, in september 2000 there have been countless examples throughout the BBC's news broadcasts, discussion programmes, features, documentaries and even online of this muddying of the clear waters of the israel-palestine crisis. Elsewhere in this book (tell me lies - propaganda and media distortion in the attack on iraq, david miller ed., Pluto press, 2003). Academics and analysts such as greg philo give a scientific, actuarial account of this carelessness with the public broadcaster's duty. Without the room to print my long litany of the BBC's sins of omission and commission, I can best highlight my findings this way: channel 4 news at 7pm is the only mainstream television news/current affairs bulletin that has tried consistently to do justice to this story, which sits at the centre of world affairs and the west's political engagement overseas.
Where carlton tv has shown john pilger's graphic palestine is still the issue (3) and channel 4 sandra jordan's death-defying story of the international solidarity movement (4) the BBC has made no effort to tell us truly - as did these two documentaries - how this occupation demeans and degrades people: not just the killing and the destruction, but the humiliation, the attempt to crush the human spirit and remove the identity; not just the bullet in the brain and the tank through the door, but the faeces israel's soldiers rub on the plundered ministry walls, the trashed kindergarten; the barriers to a people's work, prayers and hopes.
In the news reporting of the domestic BBC tv bulletins, "balance", the BBC's crudely applied device for avoiding trouble, means that israel's lethal modern army is one force, the palestinians, with their rifles and home-made bombs, the other "force": two sides equally strong and culpable in a difficult dispute, it is implied, that could easily be sorted out if extremists on both sides would see reason and the leaders do as instructed by washington.
In london, respectful BBC presenters talk calmly to articulate israeli politicians, spokesmen and apologists in suits in studios; from palestine comes the bad-quality, broken voice on a dusty wire from some wreckage of a town. It is true that BBC teams risk their lives in the midst of the violence, but soon they are back in their jewish jerusalem studios, finding the balance for their pieces, so that the rolling tragedy of occupation can somehow be ameliorated by the difficulties inside israel.
When suicide bombers attack inside israel the shock is palpable. The BBC rarely reports the context, however. Many of these acts of killing and martyrdom are reprisals for assassinations by israel's death squads, soldiers and agents who risk nothing as they shoot from helicopters or send death down a telephone line. I rarely see or hear any analysis of how many times the israelis have deliberately shattered a period of palestinian calm with an egregious attack or murder. "Quiet" periods mean no israelis died... It is rarely shown that during these "quiet" times palestinians continued to be killed by the score.
In south africa, the BBC made it clear that the platform from which it was reporting was one of abhorrence of the state crime of apartheid. No afrikaaner was ritually rushed into a studio to explain a storming of a township. There is no such platform of the BBC's in israel/ palestine, where the situation is as bad - apartheid, discrimination, racism, ethnic cleansing as rife as ever it was in the cape or the orange free state.
We are not reminded, continually and emphatically, that this strife comes about because of occupation. Occupation. Occupation. This should be a word never far from a reporter's lips, stated firmly and repeatedly as the permanent backdrop to and living reason for every act of violence on either side.
Much of the explanation of events the BBC offers from the scene reminds me of the "on-the-one-side-on-the-other-side" reporting that bedevilled so many years of BBC reporting from northern ireland. The performance in the london studios is little better. Presenters and reporters are, on the whole, not well briefed on the middle east. They are repeatedly bamboozled by israel's performers. Time and again, presented with an israeli or some inadequately flagged american or other apologist for israel, the presenter will accept the pro-israel version of the truth at face value, respectful of an american accent, a well-dressed politician or an ex-diplomat (who is often nothing like as disinterested as it would appear), (5) while pressing hard on the recalcitrant arab. (6)
the arab view is not properly heard. This is partly an arab problem, in that there are not enough articulate and willing arabs readily available to go to studios or answer the telephone. But this is only part of the problem: the BBC has been plied with lists of suitable people by organisations such as the council for the advancement of arab-british understanding, the arab league, individual embassies and private people, only for these lists to be ignored. Whether this is through inefficiency or deliberation, it is hard to say. I do know, for example, that the ambassador for the arab league had, between january 2003 and the end of the iraq war in early april, appeared once on BBC tv; a colleague of mine who is one of britain's most articulate and intelligent palestinian spokespersons is missing almost completely from mainstream BBC television and rarely heard on domestic radio. (7)
1. The road to armageddon, BBC2, 8pm, 7 june 2003.
2. "Behind the fence", correspondent, BBC2, 7.15pm, 25 may 2003.
3. Palestine is still the issue, carlton tv, 11.00pm, 16 september 2002.
4. "The killing zone", dispatches, channel 4, 8pm, 19 may 2003.
5. Two good examples of misrepresentation are those of Martin Indyk and, more especially Dennis Ross, both former US diplomats whom the BBC regularly trundles out to pontificate from apparently olympian, though expert, detached heights about the Israel-Palestine crisis. It is never pointed out that both men are Zionists and former members of the powerful American Jewish lobby organisation, AIPAC.
6. One outstanding example of this was the newsnight of 30 november 2001, BBC2, when Jeremy Paxman gave the former Israel prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, an astonishingly easy ride then bullied the British Palestinian barrister - Michel Massih - an inexperienced tv broadcaster - with repeated rapid-fire accusations about suicide bombs and terrorism. The BBC bosses reprimanded paxman. Paxman is not alone in this tendency to let israelis get away with it but treat arabs as if they are prisoners at the bar.
7. If three london palestinians - Dr. Ghada Karmi, Afif Safieh, the Palestinian ambassador-equivalent in london, and Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the arabic language daily Al Quds Al Arabi - were to fall under buses tomorrow, the Palestinian case would almost cease to exist as far as the BBC is concerned. It has to be said that they are all used far more sparingly than the importance of crisis demands.
8. When John Birt came into the BBC in the late 1980s, first as deputy director-general than as full DG, his main task was to bring into line a BBC the thatcher government saw as a rival centre of power. He did his job well. His successor, Greg Dyke, while not bucking government has developed the commercial nature of the corporation.
9. Martin Woollacott, the eminent guardian foreign affairs columnist, described this well at a media conference in dubai in april 2002, saying "the Israelis have captured the language".
10. "Reporting the world", a media conference at the Guardian/Observer building on 20 february 2003.
11. One excepts from this today's brilliant post-iraq war coverage - but this is essentially a domestic political story.
12. Sarah dunant is a regular presenter of BBC radio 3's night waves and has broadcast intelligently on, inter alia, palestinian cultural affairs. It must also be pointed out that no decent journalist would have any dealings with real anti-semitism - it is the false, blanket charge of anti- semitism and the obsessive fear of incurring it that actually devalues the currency of language and paradoxically assists real anti- semitism.
13. A profile of edward said, by charles glass, BBC4, 10pm, 9 june 2003.
14. "Israeli nuclear power exposed", by olenka frenkiel, correspondent, BBC2, 11.20pm, 17 march 2003.
15. Guardian, letters, 20 september 2002.
16. Itc ruling handed down on 17 january 2003.
16th january 2004
Why is the BBC so poor at covering israel/palestine (for the purposes of this chapter I am concentrating on the BBC's domestic output - BBC world service and to some extent BBC world tv could easily be the product of a different organisation)?
In the past dozen years or so, the BBC has become a vast, impersonal, extremely successful organisation - a corporation in a very modern sense, rich, powerful, crushing the opposition, riding high and expanding in many directions. It is on the verge of being a commercial organisation, with its diversity of interests. Certainly the spirit of its charter has been bent nearly to breaking point. It certainly behaves like a commercial company in its ruthless pursuit of ratings and the descent of its terrestrial tv channels down-market, proper current affairs programming being a significant victim of this process.
The difference between the BBC and other private concerns, however, is that in the BBC's case its only shareholder is the british government: it prospers or fails by its licence fee, which is fixed by the government. The more generous the government is to the BBC the more unwilling is the BBC to cross that government in any significant way. Why rock a comfortable boat? It is also true that the more one owns the more one loathes to lose it. This was not true of the BBC of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Since the advent as director general of john birt, (8) the blair government has smiled on the BBC. We thus have what might be termed a blairite tendency at the BBC, an unwillingness to cross new labour on matters close to its heart; and the middle east has been at the very centre - outside europe - of tony blair's foreign policy concern.
The blair vision of the middle east - that the americans have all the answers, but need a little gentle coaxing from whitehall, that the israelis are victims of terror, and "terror" is our main universal enemy, that the palestinians are their own worst enemies and must do what they are told - will have been sensed at the BBC and passed on down the line.
It is no secret that blair is very close to israel. His old crony and party financier, lord levy, has been rewarded with the post of special adviser on middle east matters. Lord levy is a peer who has close contacts with israel and a multi-million pound villa near tel aviv - his son daniel levy worked in the office of israel's former justice minister, yossi beilin. The first stress in any new labour comment on the palestine-israel crisis is always on israeli security or on "terror", that easy bête noir of the modern politician (the BBC has uncritically accepted "the war on terror" as a phrase with meaning).
Thus there is much for the BBC to be aware of as it peers out over the carnage in the occupied territories. The process of getting the boys in the front-line into line does not work by diktat from above but by hint and nudge and whispered word, almost, in such a very +english+ way, by extra-sensory perception - rather as until the mid-1960s a tory party leader would +emerge+ rather than be chosen.
Eager to help in this insidious process, squatting there in the gardens of kensington, is the israeli embassy, emanating influence and full of tricks, with many powerful friends and supporters. The first bloody month of the second intifada took the israelis by storm. Their responses were crude and ill-thought-out. They received a highly critical international press after ariel sharon stormed on to the haram al-sharif, the palestinians erupted and the israelis started their killing spree. The israeli machine recovered quickly, and immediately turned its attention to the BBC. One experienced reporter in the field told me how producers from the today programme would ring the office in jerusalem with story ideas launched by the israeli embassy; how the israeli version of events was so often received as the prevailing wisdom in london; how israel successfully amended the very language of reporting the crisis.
For a short while on BBC news, "occupied" territories became "disputed". We heard much of palestinian "claims" of occupation rather than of the 33-year-long fact of it. Illegal jewish settlements near jerusalem became "neighbourhoods". Palestinians +are+ killed (it happens); but +palestinians kill+ israelis (that is deliberate); dead israelis have a name and identity, dead arabs are - just, well, dead arabs. When palestinians die their bereaved vent "rage" at apparently riotous funerals; israeli survivors express shock. The list goes on. The news-speak of the crisis was adjusted to favour the israeli side. (9)
Then, unfortunately, the BBC's experienced team in jerusalem was removed at the beginning of this new upheaval in israeli-palestinian affairs - not through any zionist-inspired plot but because correspondents' and producers' contracts or tours of duty were expiring. I do not wish to malign the new reporters' professional expertise, as reporters, but it was a bad moment for an across-the-board reshuffle. The BBC should have staggered the changeovers and deployed people more experienced in middle east or even in similar crises - the balkans, for example.
London and its attendant israeli pressure teams were thus writing on blank sheets for a while. The worst excesses of that early period have ended and the use of language is more accurate - though phrases like "ceasefire", implying the existence of two armies, and "terrorist", too often used as a synonym for "resistance", underscore the already false projection of the conflict. Through it all, the policies of artificially striving for balance and equivalence remain, and the people on the ground have neither the skills nor strength to resist this policy or circumvent it with subtlety. To be fair to them, perhaps they would quickly be removed if they tried.
The matter is further complicated by the cornucopia of BBC news outlets that now exists. This phenomenon harms news coverage in many ways. As the head of BBC newsgathering, adrian van klaveren, told a media conference in london in february: "we [the viewers and listeners] are victims of the broadcasting culture where there is so much broadcasting that none of us, even an interested audience can hear any more than a fraction of what [the BBC] do." (10) this cuts many ways. Mainly, it means that the BBC can banish the awkward squads who might raise (or answer) real questions about the middle east to the watches that end the night. Critics who say the palestinian or arab view has not been aired can be referred to the world service at 3.00am, or news 24 at 6.00am, and so on.
Anyone who listens to the world tonight, on radio 4 at 10.00pm, will know that the level of programming and presenting is far more searching and alert to the twists and nuances of foreign affairs than today. A few hundred thousand may listen to radio at 10.00pm (in competition with the BBC's main tv news and its oversimplifications and star "brand" reporters), while millions tune in to today, which throws its heaviest weight into domestic matters and is inconsistent and often badly briefed on foreign affairs, particularly those in the israeli-occupied territories. (11)
The profile of the listening and viewing world is changing. Many people, especially the young, now listen to and watch all kinds of channels at all times of night and day. Stations like BBC asia network and radio five live are boisterous and irreverent, with well-informed callers, many of them from muslim, arab, asian and other ethnic groups. Britain's political leaders and israel's supporters, however, do not apply themselves to these people's forums. What they care about are the mainstream outlets, today, the world at one, pm, breakfast news, the one o'clock, six o'clock and ten o'clock television bulletins. The BBC, alert to this, shapes the tone of its correspondents' and reporters' coverage, and its presenters' and producers' attitudes accordingly: very cautiously, in lockstep as close as can be with the government and the policy- makers at no.10 downing street.
In fact, the coverage of the blair government and its personalities is often more critical than coverage of israel.
One reason for this may be the phrase that terrifies the managers of the corporation, though it is widely misused, abused and manipulated: this is anti-semitism. Anything critical of israel is liable to raise that spurious charge; spurious or not, BBC bosses do not want to hear it let alone try to answer it or argue against it intelligently. At a recent writers' festival in sydney, the palestinian author ghada karmi, who has good reason to know about this phenomenon - woman's hour apparently refused to consider her book in search of fatima: a palestinian story for serialisation or author-interview unless an item of "jewish balance" could be found - strongly criticised the BBC's nervousness about anti-semitism, which, she told a large and appreciative australian and international audience of writers and journalists, was seriously undermining the BBC's fairness in dealing with the complexities of the middle east.
The novelist and broadcaster sarah dunant publicly confirmed this view to the conference, saying that all european journalists were constrained in their reporting by this consciousness of avoiding anti-semitism. (12)
For example, lurid israeli stories of anti-semitism in the arab press are taken at face value, while similar abuse of arabs by israelis is rarely reported. Both phenomena exist but only one is belaboured.
As I write this chapter, in mid-june 2003, the BBC has consigned a profile of the palestinian intellectual, author and activist edward said, a giant mind of his time by any measure, to a late-night showing on BBC4, a minority channel. (13) it was not advertised; its time was changed from 8.30pm (a prime slot right after the BBC4 news bulletin) to 10.00pm at the last minute, again without publicity. Much of this kind of programming is shunted to the late hours or minority channels.
The only decent documentary the BBC has made about israel, a searching examination of the vanunu affair, was also postponed a day, from a prime time, and dismissed to a late-night showing. (14) (to be fair to the BBC, carlton also put john pilger's palestine programme out late at night. After it was shown, the chairman, michael green, excoriated the programme, saying it should never have gone out. (15) many other friends of israel joined green in complaining to the itc about bias, but the commission resoundingly endorsed and vindicated the programme. (16) at least the chairman of the BBC board of governors does not publicly revile his organisation's programmes hours after they have been transmitted.)
There are less easily avoidable reasons for the BBC's mishandling of the palestine-israel issue. Much of the seeming bias in the coverage - and not just at the BBC - is endemically and accidentally cultural. To a westerner sitting at a screen in london a dead or suffering arab in the rubble of a bazaar is more remote than a dead or suffering israeli in a shopping mall with a wal-mart in-shot; studios favour good english-speakers rather than men with heavy accents; producers like quality sound and vision. It is a presenter's inclination, in many cases, to take more seriously a representative of a state and an authority, a uniform or a dark suit, than a denizen of what is, after all, not quite a state but still a national revolutionary and resistance movement, a man perhaps in a keffiyeh or a militia uniform, speaking poor english or being translated or subtitled.
All this is true, but it is no excuse. The BBC has to work hard to counter this cultural drift. It has to strive for 'proper' balance between the state and the stateless. Conscious effort and caution has to be applied at all times, and it is not easy in busy, overworked, high-turnover newsrooms.
The BBC has to be courageous. It has to do more to understand and have presented properly the arab-palestinian case. It has to find those many palestinians and arabs, and their interlocutors and experts on the region, here and in the middle east, who can put and explain the palestinian case. It is, after all, not so different from the plight of the africans, indians, coloureds and liberal-minded whites who struggled for so long in south africa, and about whom the BBC reported with fairness and integrity.
The news chiefs should move more people out of west jerusalem. It should base a news team in the west bank - not just some luckless stringer but a senior, known correspondent who can force his or her way onto the main bulletins (what the BBC likes to call a "brand" reporter). Here the reporters will feel what daily life under occupation is like, live it and empathise with the people crushed under it, as news crews lived the invasion of baghdad or as we experienced the Israeli invasions and occupation of lebanon - from the inside, not just down there on a visit.
It seems, however, that the policy-makers at the BBC are not as brave as the reporters, producers and cameramen they send into the field. It is more troubling for a boss to field an angry phone call from the board of deputies of british jews or receive an abusive letter from golders green or to read a bilious article in the daily telegraph than it is for a camera crew and correspondent to venture down the road to nablus, past those trigger-happy roadblocks and into those dangerous alleyways, and still find their cut story watered down with the countervailing view from a balcony in west jerusalem.
Despite all this, the sheer imagery of the crisis - tank against stone, soldier against civilian - is making its weight felt. The british public are becoming more and more uneasily aware that the words do not quite match the pictures. The euphoria that greets each new peace plan - the "road map" is the latest - and is picked up so eagerly by a flag-waving, cheer- leading broadcast media no longer takes with it, I think, the average viewer.
The corporation's timidity about telling the truth from palestine is not about informing the viewer, however, but about keeping protectively in step with government and projecting its future into the twenty-first century.
8. When john birt came into the BBC in the late 1980s, first as deputy director-general than as full dg, his main task was to bring into line a BBC the thatcher government saw as a rival centre of power. He did his job well. His successor, greg dyke, while not bucking government has developed the commercial nature of the corporation.
9. Martin woollacott, the eminent guardian foreign affairs columnist, described this well at a media conference in dubai in april 2002, saying "the israelis have captured the language".
10. "Reporting the world", a media conference at the guardian/observer building on 20 february 2003.
11. One excepts from this today's brilliant post-iraq war coverage - but this is essentially a domestic political story.
12. Sarah dunant is a regular presenter of BBC radio 3's night waves and has broadcast intelligently on, inter alia, palestinian cultural affairs. It must also be pointed out that no decent journalist would have any dealings with real anti- semitism - it is the false, blanket charge of anti- semitism and the obsessive fear of incurring it that actually devalues the currency of language and paradoxically assists real anti-semitism.
13. A profile of edward said, by charles glass, BBC4, 10pm, 9 june 2003.
14. "Israeli nuclear power exposed", by olenka frenkiel, correspondent, BBC2, 11.20pm, 17 march 2003.
15. Guardian, letters, 20 september 2002.
16. Itc ruling handed down on 17 january 2003.
the goal of media lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Please send your comments to the BBC's director of news, richard sambrook:
22nd Jan 2004
by David Cromwell
"We aim to be balanced, fair and honest with our viewers on all matters we report on, both across our output and within individual reports." So says the BBCs director of news, Richard Sambrook, when challenged to explain BBC biases, omissions and distortions that routinely favour establishment viewpoints.
But Sambrooks response evaporates into the ether when set against the publics daily experience of BBC news bulletins, as well as major news programmes such as Panorama and Newsnight, which carry only the occasional dissenting voice from within a narrow, acceptable spectrum.
No wonder there is considerable public scepticism of "news values" and a turning away from mainstream political commentary. Ironically, Sambrook himself noted the problem in a speech two years ago to the Royal Television Society in London:
"There is a new political divide: no longer left and right; it's now us and them, with them being politicians, the establishment and the broadcasters and media."
Sambrook expressed concern at the prospect of losing large chunks of his audience:
"Some 40 per cent of the audience feel they are outside looking in, offered few real choices." (The Independent, December 5, 2001)
Politicians, too, are worried, fearing the loss of useful media mechanisms to influence and guide public opinion. Peter Hain, Leader of the House of Commons and Secretary of State for Wales, told The Independent on Sunday last year that he "had become increasingly frustrated about the truly appalling quality of what passes for political debate in Britain today. And discussing this with some editors and lobby journalists, I found a common acknowledgement that we do have a genuine crisis."
"There is a new political divide: no longer left and right; it's now us and them, with them being politicians, the establishment and the broadcasters and media." -- Richard Sambrook, BBC director
Hain continued in similar vein as the BBCs director of news: "Politicians, news broadcasters and journalists now form a political class which is in a frenzied world of its own, completely divorced from the people, and which is turning off viewers, listeners and readers from politics by the million." (Independent on Sunday, July 27, 2003)
Hains analysis has some merit - the media has become "completely divorced from the people" - but he (and Sambrook) stops short of raising a few pertinent questions. Why has the mainstream media become so divorced from the public? If not the publics interest, then whose interests do the media serve? And what does all this say about democratically-elected politicians who do not, in fact, serve their constituents?
Take the BBCs coverage of the so-called "war on terror," largely presented within a framework that takes at face value the stated aims of US-UK elite power to bring democracy to Iraq. A study by Cardiff University media analysts concluded that the BBC had "displayed the most pro-war agenda of any [British] broadcaster."
Viewers in Britain may recall that the BBCs own political editor, Andrew Marr, proclaimed Tony Blair had "been proved conclusively right" as Baghdad fell to the "coalition" forces last April. "It would be entirely ungracious", continued Marr, "not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result" (BBC 1, News At Ten, April 9, 2003). Gushing praise indeed for a warmonger.
In October, Roger Mosey, the BBCs head of television news, said in a newspaper interview that assumptions within the BBC are "something we need to be alert about all the time." He insisted he and all of his colleagues "recognise the need to make sure that our journalism tests all viewpoints." (The Independent, October 28, 2003)
These are pretty words that have no doubt been successfully internalised within the senior editors mindset. But then, dissenting journalists rarely, if ever, reach such rarefied and influential professional heights. Instead, they tend to be filtered out at an early career stage, or they subtly alter their prejudices to suit prevailing values, or they find employment elsewhere. As Noam Chomsky told Andrew Marr, then political editor of The Independent, in a 1996 BBC2 interview, "if you believed something different [in particular, that the mass media is a crucial component of state-corporate power], you wouldnt be sitting where youre sitting."
As BBC political editor, Marr no doubt believes he is scrupulously fair and balanced in his reporting. "When I joined the BBC", he wrote, "my Organs of Opinion were formally removed" (The Independent, January 13, 2001). The unintended irony is that his ideological world-view already matched the BBCs job requirements for such an important position.
Later this month, the BBC - and the Blair government - will discover the fall-out from Lord Huttons investigation into the apparent suicide last summer of British weapons expert Dr David Kelly. Dr Kelly had been a source for BBC journalist Andrew Gilligans attempt to reveal Blairs deceptions in portraying a supposed Iraqi "threat". The government - in particular, its now-departed head of communications, Alastair Campbell - responded with fury. This had the desired effect of generating a diversionary media war with the BBC, thanks to the shameful acquiescence of Britains other broadcasters and newspapers.
The larger picture, however, was the relentless echoing by the BBC, and other mainstream news outlets, of US and UK deceptions on Iraq. This propaganda service had stretched back many years over the period of "genocidal" UN sanctions, to quote Denis Halliday, the former UN humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad who resigned in protest in 1998. Halliday, and his successor Hans von Sponeck who similarly resigned 18 months later, were rarely granted coverage by the BBC, or even by The Independent and The Guardian, the two left-leaning daily newspapers. Nor was there much sign in the mainstream of former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter who could have explained authoritatively how and why Iraq had already been "fundamentally disarmed".
No wonder many people are so disappointed, bewildered and disgusted by mainstream medias abysmal performance that they are now seeking out alternative honest sources of news and comment.
Jason Deans - Media Guardian - Thursday May 8, 2003
Liddle: BBC suffers 'purblind political correctness' Former BBC Radio 4 Today editor Rod Liddle has accused BBC television news of "institutionalised political correctness" in its coverage of the Iraq war and last week's local elections.
Liddle claimed this political correctness led to certain assumptions becoming part of BBC TV's coverage of the war and reporting of the local election results - even when they were not backed up by the facts.
On local election results night, these unsubstantiated assumptions included the Conservatives doing very badly, when the party ended up the largest in local government in England; and that people voted for the BNP in Burnley for reasons other than simple racism, according to Liddle.
"The compelling thing about the BBC's election night programme was that almost every assumption made by its producers gave the wrong general impression or was irrelevant," he said, writing in the latest edition of the Spectator.
"The programme was written before the results came in. It was based on the assumption that the Conservatives were bloody useless and would perform badly. And it was insufficiently flexible to change when reality did not meet its expectations," Liddle added.
He said he did not think this was down to any conscious bias from the BBC's most senior on-screen journalists that night, political editor Andrew Marr and election results show host David Dimbleby.
"But in the choice of guests, in the pre-planned graphics, in the off-base inserts from reporters and correspondents and, most tellingly, in the assumptions behind the questions, there seemed a certain pre-disposition against the Conservative party," Liddle added.
"What bothers me more than this though, is the purblind political correctness. The inability to accept that the people who voted BNP might be racist; the refusal to acknowledge that the BNP did quite well; the repeated assertions that the Welsh national assembly is, really, adored by the people of Wales, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary," he said.
The BBC defended its TV coverage of the local election results, saying it had included many of the views expressed by Liddle in its programme that evening.
"We stand by our coverage of the results of the recent elections. It is the BBC's duty as a public service broadcaster to bring these results in full to the nation," a BBC spokeswoman said.
"Throughout the election campaign and on the night [of the results], we indicated that there were real concerns about the performance of the devolved legislature [in Wales and Scotland]. When the picture of Conservative gains became clear, the BBC gave proper prominence to those gains, both in regards to the share of the vote and the number of council seats that had been won," she added.
Liddle claimed the same "political correctness" could also be seen in the BBC's - and other broadcasters' - coverage of the war in Iraq.
"You could see it at work during the war on Iraq. Now, I was opposed to the war but I was aware that the military campaign was carried out with devastatingly brilliant precision and speed.
"And yet, watching television - Channel 4 or the BBC or, for that matter, Sky - there seemed a determination to present at every juncture the worst case scenario as if the war, because it was inherently 'immoral', could not therefore possibly be expedited with success," Liddle added.
He said there was a "terror of the truth" at the BBC, "arrogant in its assumptions because it believes 'ordinary' people cannot cope with the truth and need it either sweetened or altered entirely".
"This is the result of institutionalised political correctness; every bit as corrupting as institutionalised racism. It is the result of seminars and workshops (I remember them well) where journalists are instructed time and again that the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly are bloody important and don't you dare suggest that they aren't," Liddle added
Mar 11 2003
By Don Mackay
THE BBC axed the first edition of its new 7.30pm current affairs show last night minutes before it was due to be broadcast.
The decision left their highest-paid newsreader Fiona Bruce in the lurch.
Mum-of-two Fiona, 38, was meant to front Real Story's first exclusive about Britain's alleged refusal to extradite an Algerian terrorist suspect to France.
A BBC spokesman would only say: "On legal advice it was pulled at the 11th hour. People are still talking."
It is a huge embarrassment for the Corporation, determined to find a prime-time replacement for Panorama - exiled to late Sunday nights.
Real Story was replaced by a repeat of Nursing in Crisis, about staff shortages in the NHS.
By Benedict Brogan, Political Correspondent
The BBC was challenged yesterday to publish the findings of internal investigations into claims that Downing Street had hacked into the corporation's computers to monitor its news coverage.
Tony Blair's office dismissed as "utterly ridiculous" and "complete drivel" allegations by John Simpson, the BBC's World Affairs Editor, that Labour spin doctors had accessed the corporation's systems in 1997.
A number of BBC journalists were said to have passed on concerns about apparent breaches of computer security to senior editors, who were said to have investigated. Yesterday, the Tories called on Gavyn Davies, the BBC chairman, to publish the findings.
David Davis, the former party chairman who is in charge while Iain Duncan Smith is on holiday, wrote to the BBC chief, saying: "If Mr Simpson is right, there has been attempted interference in the BBC's news coverage using information that should not have been available to No 10 or the Labour Party.
"These are serious allegations. The charter requires the BBC to provide independent and impartial news coverage. The public needs to be reassured that the BBC has done all it can to ascertain whether any improper conduct has taken place."
Simpson said Downing Street officials had contacted BBC editors to discuss the contents of reports that had not been broadcast, but with which they seemed to be familiar.
In an extract from his new autobiography, published in The Telegraph, he suggests that ex-employees who went to work for Labour may have used their knowledge of passwords to access BBC computers.
"Several colleagues are morally certain that it has happened,"said Mr Simpson.
A BBC spokesman said: "No formal investigation took place. Although we do not discuss issues of security, if there was any abuse we would put a stop to it.
'There are a number of ways people could be aware of stories we were working on, such as talking to potential contributors. At all times our reporting remains impartial."
By Nigel Morris - Political Correspondent
12 August 2002
The Tories last night demanded an investigation by the head of the civil service into allegations by the BBC's senior foreign correspondent, John Simpson, that Downing Street had hacked into the Corporation's newsroom computers.
Simpson has claimed that government officials had contacted journalists asking them to tone down reports before they had even been broadcast. Downing Street dismissed the allegations as "utter drivel".
But David Davis, who shadows John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, called for Andrew Turnbull, the incoming Cabinet Secretary, to investigate the allegations when he takes up his post. He also wrote to the chairman of the BBC Board of Governors, Gavyn Davies, asking what steps had been taken to investigate the claims.
In a new book, Simpson writes that BBC managers ordered an inquiry after staff reported their concerns following Labour's 1997 general election victory.
The investigation was said to have centered on former BBC employees who may still have known passwords and may have been able to gain access to the system. Although no proof was found, the BBC newsroom switched to a more secure computer system shortly afterwards.
A BBC spokesman said last night there had not been any "formal" investigation into the claims. He added: "Although we don't discuss issues of security, if there was any abuse we would put a stop to it."
In his book, News from No Man's Land, Simpson also admitted he had fabricated a crowd scene in Saudi Arabia. When he arrived with a film crew with 90 minutes to shoot footage in Riyadh, its capital, he found the streets deserted.
Simpson said a translator helped him persuade drinkers in a teahouse to mill about outside. He said: "They were extraordinarily wooden ... None of this mattered to me these were real people; this was a real street."
The BBC have blocked access for their staff to the www.bilderberg.org website. A researcher at BBC Bristol attempted to access pages yesterday containing information for a forthcoming programme when he received error messages. After referring the matter to technical support he was told it was not a routine error but that the website had been permanently blocked to all BBC staff for no known reason.
The www.bilderberg.org website contains background pages on political manipulation of the BBC, specifically the Thatcher government's sacking of director general Alasdair Milne in 1986 as well as the text of playwright Dennis Potter's 1993 'Occupying Powers' speech to the Royal Television Society criticising the subsequent Birt regime at the corporation.
On the same page are also details of a recent £250,000 junket the current Director General Greg Dyke took to the USA which appeared in early editions of the Sunday Times of 10th March 2002. The article was removed from the newspaper at some stage in its print run. The article appears below.
The reason for the BBC's censorship of the site is being investigated.
Access to the site from BBC terminals had been restored by Tuesday 9th April 2002.
Greg Dyke, director-general of the BBC, can expect rumblings of discontent from staff who have to pay for their own tea and biscuits when he returns tomorrow suntanned and relaxed after a junket to America.
Dyke and 14 of his senior managers ran up a bill of £250,000 - equivalent to 2,200 licence fees - during the six-day training trip in Dallas and San Francisco.
His group stayed at the exclusive 'Mansion' in Turtle Creek hotel in Dallas where rooms cost up to £1,750 a night. The hotel is a favourite among celebrities including Mick Jagger, Sharon Stone and Richard Gere.
They then moved on to the 'W' Hotel in the heart of San Francisco where rooms cost between £210 and £412 a day.
During the trip they were "motivated" by guided visits to American companies with a "can do" attitude, such as the IT company Cisco Systems, Southwest airlines and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
The trip, for Dyke and members of his 'Make It Happen' management team, was organised by the London-based "creative and innovation" training company 'What If.' The junket was marketed under the title 'Top Dog'.
The group was accompanied by a handful of What If consultants and two company Chief Executives: Eric Peacock of Business Link in Hertfordshire, and Liam Black of the Furniture Resource Centre Group. Dan Proctor, of What If, is reported to have said that the group were stimulated and learnt about ideas that "you can't get out of a book".
Last night the BBC defended the trip, insisting the expense represented just a fraction of its £30m annual training budget. A spokesman said: "It is leadership training for people who are really going to effect culture change".
The BBC refused to confirm the total bill for the trip but a similar expedition last year by Alan Yentob, its director of drama and entertainment, and Jane Root, controller of BBC2, is believed to have cost £15,950 per person, excluding flights.
The cost of Dyke's trip will anger other employees at the corporation after his recent announcement that 750 jobs had to be cut. Last year he cut 50 of the 170 employees due to cover the prestigious Edinburgh festival, citing the need to reduce spending on expensive junkets.
When he joined the BBC last year Dyke vowed to cut management costs to free up money to make radio and television programmes. Last year the corporation was attacked for sending dozens of managers on workshops at a luxury hotel in order to improve their "emotional intelligence".
Dyke's cost-cutting has also not extended to his own salary. After just a year in charge he was rewarded with a bonus of £91,000 - on top of his £347,000 basic salary.
Guardian - Thursday September 20, 2001
Gavyn Davies is not exactly Mr Charisma. His rather mournful delivery and lugubrious manner go well with his image as chief international economist at the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, but they are not characteristic of the world of broadcasting. "He makes John Birt look like Michael Barrymore," said one media commentator.
Yet the appointment of the multi-millionaire was welcomed with relief by many at the BBC who see him as the safest possible pair of hands to steer the corporation through a gathering storm.
Before the corporation's charter comes up for renewal in 2006, the BBC faces a full-scale review in 2004; and earlier still, next year's communications bill will decide how far the corporation's independence from outside regulation should be curtailed. It needs someone with intellectual clout, and Mr Davies, 50, has that by the bucketload.
The problem is that the Tories' charge of cronyism following the appointment of Mr Davies as BBC chairman is not exactly without foundation: the economist enjoys a rock-solid position at the heart of New Labour. It is not simply that his wife, Sue Nye, is political secretary to the chancellor; Mr Davies's links with Labour go right back to the Wilson administration, when he joined the Downing Street policy unit.
He is both a friend of Gordon Brown, and has the ear of Tony Blair. It was at Mr Davies's home that Peter Mandelson and Mr Brown held their famous "ceasefire meeting" in 1999.
With the former Labour party donor Greg Dyke as director general, it puts the BBC in a politically sensitive position.
The candidature of Baroness Jay was regarded with horror by many within the BBC who feared she wanted the job simply for political reasons. Michael Grade - an unsuccessful candidate for director general two years ago - did not impress the independent panel that conducted interviews. David Dimbleby, whatever his credentials as a broadcaster, never had a chance. The panel realised that his lack of vision in the key area of digital television, and his general lack of administrative experience, made him an impossible choice.
Mr Davies, on the other hand, has been deputy chairman of the BBC's board of governors since the beginning of the year, and in 1999 chaired the review panel that examined how the BBC should be given extra cash to fund its expansion into digital television. In the end, his key recommendations were rejected; nevertheless, the review was thorough, and Mr Davies was credited with a deep understanding of the problems which are facing the BBC.
The economist, whose personal fortune is estimated at around £150m, is clearly not in it for the money. The four-day-a-week post at the BBC carries a salary of £77,590.
But for a man of his enormous wealth he is not known as a profligate. Perhaps the one attempt to fritter his cash away was made in a bid to buy his beloved Southampton FC.
He is described by many as a pragmatist. He doesn't smoke, rarely drinks and is regarded as a serious person. It is difficult to find anyone, other than Tory politicians, with a bad word to say about him.
Born in Zimbabwe to working-class parents, Mr Davies had worked for a number of finance houses before joining Goldman Sachs in 1986. He made much of his fortune from his stake in the business when it floated in 1999.
"He's very passionate about broadcasting," said one former colleague. "He's a very funny guy, but can be quite shy".
Multi-millionaire Gavyn Davies has an 'exclusive' country home on Baggy Point, North Devon. It overlooks the bay near the holiday village of Croyde. reference
"In a now famous statement, Mark Fowler, President Regans first appointee as head of the Federal Communications Commission (the main regulator of the American media industries) declared that as far as he could see Television is just another appliance. Its a toaster with pictures.
He spoke for all the men in suits who reach for a calculator whenever they hear the word culture They regard television first and last a business, and claim the rights to pursue profits with minimal interference from government or the viewing public.
Ranged against this, is a definition of broadcasting as a public service whose prime responsibility is to develop the cultural rights of modern citizenship. As the screenwriter, Dennis Potter insisted, in a fiery speech to the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 1993, broadcasting is not a business trying to distribute dosh to its shareholders but something held in trust in law for every citizen.
The contest between these two views is increasingly acrimonious........."
[Extract from: Behind The Screens - Money Talks: Broadcasting, Finance and Public Culture - Graham Murdock 1994]
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I am giving the melodramatic and not at all tuneful title Occupying Powers to this years James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture. The title has not been chosen simply to indulge yet again in the inevitable paranoia which so afflicts writers that work in television, although Ill give that a go too. No, I call this Occupying Powers so that I can reflect behind the barricade of metaphor about what it really feels like, for many others besides myself who sell their services and some of their passions to the strange new generations of broadcasting managements and their proprietors.
More than that, wider than that, I want to use the title to reach beyond our parochial concerns and grapple with a few thoughts about what it means to be a citizen (or do I mean a consumer) in the United Kingdom plc., where two-thirds of the population live on incomes below the national average of £250.00 a week, almost 5.75million exist on less than £100.00 a week, three million are unemployed, three million children live in poverty, one-fifth of the young are innumerate, the chasm between the highest and lowest paid is wider than at any time since 1886, and Dave Lee Travis has resigned from Radio 1. What is at the heart of such a distorted society?
Broadcasting is at the heart of British Society. The structure and the competition of the broadcasting industry, the purpose and motivation of broadcasters and the programmes and services they offer are vital factors in reflecting and shaping that society. I, too, would like a mirror that reflects and shapes, but these are the words of the BBC at its most ponderously anodyne as it responded to the Governments Green Paper on the future of the Corporation. The particular quotation is certainly one which James MacTaggart would have taken for granted with as little sense of astonishment as if someone on an outside consultancy contract had told him on three identical bits of thermal paper that a walk along the corridors of Television Centre will always bring you back shaken but not stirred to where you started.
Jimmy MacTaggart and his bushy-tailed acolytes used to sit around somewhere in the Fifth Circle talking with a younger conviction about the evident iniquities of the BBC management, the tapeworm length persistence of BBC cowardice and the insufferable perversities of the BBC threat to the very existence of the single play. You can imagine how much greater our indignation would have been had we known at the time that we were sitting slap in the middle of what later observers were to call the Golden Age of television drama.
Back in those good old days there was a bureaucrat in every cupboard and smugness waiting with a practised simper on the far side of every other door. I recall these things in order to offer up at least one small strip of sticking plaster for the suppurating wounds of the poor wretch who is the present Director General, the 12th and not actually the 13th to hold such an exulted (if fully taxable) position at the heart of British Society.
I havent made this long journey in order to be kind and gentle, but I think it is only fair to tell him that the fear and loathing now swirling jugular high around those same circular corridors does have some antecedents, and it always was possible to measure the distance between so-called management and the so-called creative by the time it took for a memo to go in one direction and a half-brick to come back in the other.
I have just this week finished a co-production with the BBC, a film called, perhaps prophetically enough, Midnight Movie. But it was during its making that I came to see just how deeply and how seriously the demoralisation, the bitterness and, yes, even the hatred had bitten into the working lives of so many hitherto reasonably contented and undoubtedly talented BBC staff.
But I tell you now, it is impossible not to wonder how on earth those currently, and I hope temporarily, in charge of the BBC could have brought such things to such a miserably demeaning condition. My impression was that there is now a one-way system of communication, and that the signals being sent down the narrowed track were so laden with costive, blurb and bubble-driven didacticism that they were more than half perceived as emanating in a squeak of static from someone or, rather, something alien and hostile. And you cannot make a pair of croak-voiced Daleks appear benevolent even if you dress one of them up in an Armani suit and call the other Marmaduke. [refers to BBC Director-General John Birt and Chairman of the Board of Governors Marmaduke Hussey]
It is a wretched thing to have to say, and certain not disinterested newspapers have made it more difficult to say, but it is a fact, known by my own experience and without the faintest possibility of doubt, that there are legions of troubled and embittered employees at the BBC who can scarcely understand any of the concepts of the new management culture which the present and so often so unfairly abused Director General tries to enunciate.
When watching and listening to what is going on at the BBC as it trims down its staff almost as fast as it loses its viewers, I was struck, and not for the first time, by how much the shifts and turns which seem particular to any one large institution can in themselves be seen as a model for the wider society in which all of us live. Any virulently new Management Culture can be studied as scrupulously as one might examine the bacteria proliferating around a wound. Both are the response to previous damage made worse by infection picked up from the outside world. The ideas in the unclean air, so to speak.
The glories of privatisation and the brutalities of the unshackled market as unleashed by Mrs. Thatcher and her successor ideologists were always likely to rattle a few of the professions, and sometimes rightly so. This genuine radicalism, rare in British politics can more or less positively hold up the battle banners of its occasionally healthy and often vicious indifference to the old, class-ridden, status-conscious cultures of Great Britain. This iconoclasm fractured many old attitudes, many old bonds, and even many whole communities.
The cry of Yuppie to Yuppie sounded in the land, as chilling as any call from the carnivores in swamp or forest. And the deep hatred of any other claim, any other way of seeing, of anything other than the forces of law and order in the public domain, was always going to be arrowed with poison-dipped barb at the slow, decent, stumbling and puzzled giant run from Broadcasting House.
And thus it is in model form that the turmoil, the distress, the dogma-driven rhetoric, the obtuseness and the spluttering aggressions at and around the BBC can also be picked up in similar shapes, cries, contortions and an almost identical bluster from both sides in so many other areas of our national life.
We have been at war with each other, and some of our fellow citizens have felt the bits of their very brain and fibres from their very soul are being crunched with the other, apparently all-important numbers in the computer. No wonder that, out there there is talk of Moral Panic, and a sense that our feet are scrambling about on loose scree.
At the time Rupert Murdoch was anxiously trying to guild if not renovate his image while lobbying to prevent his cable television company coming under the same rules and regulations that apply to other British television companies, he announced that his main company was going to fund a new Chair at Oxford University to the tune of £3 million. It was to be called - I do beg your pardon, but I cannot keep a straight face it was to be called the Murdoch Chair in Language Communications. But the announcement came with cack-handed timing on the very same day that the Press Council formally and of course ineffectively censured Murdochs Son for calling homosexuals poofters. Some language. Some communication.
Murdoch did not turn up for the ceremonial meal to mark the largesse at Oxford, always a place where the gap between the cup and the lip can be measured by more than an inch of the sardonic. But Rupert has a touch of pure cruelty in his make-up. He sent Kelvin MacKenzie, the sharp little weasel that edits that daily stink they call the Sun, and the maladroit fellow had to sit and chew and probably even dribble a bit between two professors.
I would not dispute for one wayward whistle or crackle that the BBC of my childhood was not paternalistic and often stuffily pompous. It saw itself in an almost priestly role. But at a crucial period of my life it threw open the magic casement on great sources of mind-scape at a time when books were hard to come by, and when I had never stepped in a theatre or a concert hall, and would have been scared to do so, even if given the chance.
Of course, the characteristic media ploy of separating the popular from the serious which often means the distinction between the Solemn and Lively and not just the truncheon-like measuring rod of class and educational status of course, yes, that process had already begun with the split between the Home Service and the Light Programme. But such a parting of the ways was nothing like a s rigidly mapped out as it is nowadays, where listeners are presumed to be walking about with one of the digits One to Five tattooed like cattle brands on their high, middling, low, lower and yet lower brows.
On the old Light Programme you could suddenly, maybe reluctantly, collide with a play or a discussion or an embryonic drama-documentary. The now totally pervasive assumptions of the marketplace, which have stiffened into something close to Natural Law, had not by then removed the chance of being surprised by something you didnt know or better still by something that you didnt know that you knew.
But the dangers of the older view of how to run radio and television are, unless faced and redefined, sufficiently troubling to leave enough space for someone such as Rupert Murdoch to drive a golden coach and a team of wild-eyed horses straight through the gap. His James MacTaggart lecture here a few years ago was little short of a masterpiece of apparently libertarian rhetoric. Indeed, it was the kind of peroration I would like to hear him deliver from the scaffold.
The insecurities and contradictions of the BBCs only half-digested and half-shamefaced self-definitions lay like rubble spread in inviting heaps in front of the supercharged, savage-toothed JCB of his unslaked appetite. The Corporation has already been driven onto the back foot by the ideology-driven malice of the ruling politicians, and its response has been to take several more steps backwards, with hands thrown up, and to whimper an alleged defence of all it has stood for in the very language and concepts of its opponents.
This palpable ambivalence and doubt, where you pretend to be the commercial business that you cannot be, has led to the present, near-fatal crisis where it seems to be thought that the wounds (often self-afflicted) can only be staunched by shuffling about word-processed words about a new Management Culture.
Management of what? Management for what? Management. Management.
Management. The word sticks in ones interface. Please excuse me if I dare to laugh, but I know that each age, even each decade, has its little cant word coiled up inside real discourse like a tiny grub in the middle of an apple. Each age, even each decade, is overly impressed for a little while by half-way bright youngish men on the make who adeptly manipulate the current terminology at precisely the right moment to make precisely the right impression on those who are a little older, a little less intelligent, and considerably less alert.
As a writer who needs to clutch his pen as though it were a lifebelt, I have to admit that I have nevertheless improved many a shining hour with a probably untransmittable little playlet about one of the more intriguing encounters of our time. I was not there when Fortnum met Mason, Laurel met Hardy, or Murdoch met Mephistopheles but I would have given my old Thesaurus or my new sequence of Readers Digest Prize Draw Numbers to have been a hornet on the wall at that surely entrancing fascination and maybe even comical occasion when dear old Marmaduke first met dear young John and each of them sort of half-discussed what was sort of half-wrong with the greatest broadcasting organisation the world has ever seen.
Where, I wonder, did they meet? Who was the first to smile lethally? Who said, um, structural walk-through as he ordered the mineral water? And did the waiter say Pardon? Was the table well laden and did it groan when the un-advertised post of the twelfth and not thirteenth Director Generalship was finally settled?
And were the Ageing Governors at the British Broadcasting Corporation waiting and twitching and nodding amongst themselves in some cramped little area decently set aside at the front of the room where you deposit your hats, coats, tightly furled umbrellas, and maybe, in the case of one of them, your spare Honk If You Love Jesus car stickers?
Only connect, said E. M. Forster, that great novelist who Murdochs nasty little rag would presumably dismiss as an artsy-fartsy old poofter. But, yes, what a good word: connect. The verb which far better than the merely technical transmit is, if not actually, certainly what should be the defining activity of all television, especially that threatened and peculiarly self-threatened section which has no need, and indeed no remit, to package up A, B or C defined groups of the allegedly passive on behalf of predatory advertisers.
The section of broadcasting which above all else, and quite separately from any temporarily dominant political language or so-called management culture, must continually remind itself that it is not a business trying to distribute dosh to its shareholders, not owned by its current administrators, no a company entitled to build Chinese Walls around its momentary practices, but something held in trust and in law for every citizen of this misgoverned and too long abused group of nations we for probably a few decades more call Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Television could scarcely resist calling itself a window on the world, as it did in its early days, even using the subtitle on Panorama. But windows have frames, and the frames are part of a structure that has already been built. So-called Naturalism is by far and away the dominant mode. But one of the troubles of supposedly showing things-as-they-really-are (the Window problem) is how difficult it then becomes not to make people feel deep in their souls that this is also more or less the way things have to be.
Hence the shock-horror-probe patterns, the inflated status of those bus conductors called News Readers, the odd and only temporarily effective splashes of sensational indignation, the random violence, the unmediated sexuality, and the presence of critics who almost uniformly perceive their function to be joke-makers and snide-mongers. Who can blame them?
Our television has been ripped apart and falteringly re-assembled by politicians who believe that value is a monetary term only, and that a cost-accountant is thereby the most suitable adjudicator of what we can and cannot see on our screens. And these accountants or their near clones are employed by new kinds of Media Owners who try to gobble up everything in their path.
We must protect ourselves and our democracy, first by properly exercising the cross-ownership provisions currently in place, and then by erecting further checks and balances against dangerous concentrations of the media power which plays such a large part in our lives. No individual, group or company should be allowed to own more than one daily, one evening and one weekly newspaper. No newspaper should be allowed to own a television station, and vice-versa. A simple act of public hygiene, tempering abuse, widening choice, and maybe even returning broadcasting to its makers.
The political pressures from market-obsessed radicals, and the huckster atmosphere that follows has, by degrees, and in confused self-defence, drawn the BBC so heavily into the dogma-coated discourses of so-called market efficiency that in the end it might lose clear sight of why it, the BBC, is there in the first place.
I fear the time is near when we must not save the BBC from itself, but public service broadcasting from the BBC. The old Titan should spawn smaller and more nimble offspring if its present controllers cannot be removed. Why not think about it anyway?
Why not separate Radio from Television? Why not let BBC2 be a separate public service broadcaster? Let us begin to consider afresh how the thousands of millions of pounds of licence money could be apportioned between two, three or four successors to the currently misled Corporation. One of the successors could certainly be a publishing or commissioning authority on the model of Channel 4.
Indeed, Channel 4, if freed from its advertisements, could continue to evolve out of its original, ever precious remit into a passably good model of the kinds of television some of us seek. Michael Grade is becoming, by default, the new Director General, and the ironies if not the comedy of such an unexpected grace remind me that it is time to wind down before I exhaust myself with my own restraint.
Thirty years ago, under the personal pressures of whatever guilt, whatever shame and whatever remaining shard of idealism, I found or I made up what I may unwisely have termed a sense of Vocation. I have it still. It was born, of course, from the already aborted dream of a common culture, which has long since been zapped into glistening fragments by those who are now the real if not always recognised Occupying Powers of our culture. Look in the pink pages and see their mesh of connections. Open The Sun and measure their aspirations. Put Rupert Murdoch on public trial, and televise every single second of it. Show us who is abusing us, and why. Ask your public library if there is one left to file the Television Franchise Applications on the shelf hitherto kept for Fantasy, Astrology and Crime Bizarre.
I was exceptionally fortunate to begin my career in television at a time when the BBC was so infuriatingly confident about what public service broadcasting meant that the question itself was not even on what would now be called the agenda. The then ITV companies shared much more of this ethos than they were then willing to acknowledge. Our profession was then mostly filled with men and women who mostly cared about the programmes rather than the dividend.
But the world has turned upside down. The BBC is under governors who seem incapable of performing the public trust that is invested in them, under a chairman who seems to believe he is heading a private fiefdom, and under a chief executive who must somehow or other have swallowed whole and unsalted the kind of humbug-punctuated pre-privatisation manual which is forced on British Rail or British Coal.
But I do not want to end o a malediction. Let me remind myself of how to paint the clouds with sunshine. I first saw television when I was in my late teens. It made my heart pound. Here was a medium of great power, of potentially wondrous delights that could slice through all the tedious hierarchies of the printed word, and help to emancipate us from many of the stifling tyrannies of class and status and gutter press ignorance. We are privileged if we can work in this, the most entrancing of all the many palaces of variety. Switch on, tune in, and grow.
I hope it is clear by now that I happen to care very much about the medium that has both allowed and shaped the bulk of my lifes work, and even my lifes meaning.
However, I do have the odd hour or two in each day in which to pretend to be a St. George rather than a St. Sebastian. I therefore hereby formally apply in front of witnesses of substance, here at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, for the post of Chairman of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
These extracts are from Dennis Potters James MacTaggart Lecture, delivered last night [Friday August 27th 1993] at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
By David Lister, Media and Culture Editor
10 September 2001
A secretive panel of figures from business, politics, the media and academia will begin an exhaustive interrogation this week of the six candidates for the sensitive position of BBC chairman, who will preside over some of the most revolutionary changes in the corporation's history.
Nicholas Kroll, permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will chair a group believed to comprise Sir Christopher Hogg, the chairman of Reuters; Liz Forgan, the former head of BBC Radio; and Sir Brian Follett, an academic. Although the BBC is publicly funded and in spite of promises of open government, a Whitehall spokesman refused to confirm the names on the panel.
Yet the quartet has just as much importance as the Media and Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, in the selection. It will whittle down the names from six to probably two or possibly even one, who will then be interviewed by Ms Jowell. She will forward her choice to the Prime Minister, finally to be rubber-stamped by Buckingham Palace.
The interviews are scheduled to take place on Thursday and Friday when most of those who run the British television industry are ensconced in Cambridge at the Royal Television Society conference.
The first big job for the new chairman will become clear at that conference to oversee the establishment of the two controversial new BBC digital channels, BBC3 and BBC4. Ms Jowell is expected to approve the new channels, one specialising in children's and youth programming, and the other in culture. Despite protests from commercial broadcasters, the Government has been convinced by the BBC's argument that, without an expansion of children's programming by the corporation, the country would be swamped by American shows from the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon and Fox.The new channels will be in the vanguard of the corporation's attempts to be ready for the huge upheaval surrounding the planned turn-off of the analogue signal later in the decade.
The six on the shortlist for the chairmanship are understood to be the broadcaster David Dimbleby; the current BBC vice-chairman, Gavyn Davies; the former leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Jay of Paddington; the ex-chief executive of Channel 4, Michael Grade; the former chairman of the British Library, John Ashworth; and the former diplomat Dame Pauline Neville-Jones.
The hot favourite remains Gavyn Davies. The only whispers against him have been on account of his closeness to the New Labour élite. Some feel there should be more of a political balance at the top of the BBC. The director general, Greg Dyke, is a Labour supporter. The outgoing chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, was appointed by the Conservatives.
The process has been delayed to give the new leader of the Tories a say in the selection.Heather Rabatts, a former chief executive of Lambeth council in London, who was rumoured to be a serious contender for the post, does not appear to be on the shortlist.
The Goldman Sachs economist is the hot favourite. Having chaired a government review on the financing of the BBC, he is an expert on the subject. New Labour smiles upon him and his wife works for the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.
As with all the current candidates, she would be a hands-on chairwoman. But with sensitivities about political leanings at the top of the BBC, someone who was so recently serving in the Government is unlikely to be appointed to the post.
Personable cigar-chomper who now runs Pinewood Studios. A brilliant scheduler at Channel 4, he also imported Friends and ER. Keen to return to television.
Likely clashes with Greg Dyke would be interesting. Expect to see Panorama promoted from its graveyard slot if the BBC current affairs supremo gets the job.
A surprise candidate, this biochemist is believed to be a champion of public service broadcasting and would ensure close scrutiny of the BBC's output.
Supported by Conservative lobby, she chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee and was managing director of NatWest Markets.
A media studies student who caused thousands of pounds of damage as he "rampaged" through the BBC's main television newsroom has been sent to a mental hospital for an indefinite period.
Nigel Flack, 21, broke into the newsroom at Television Centre in White City, west London, last September and threatened to kill anyone who tried to stop him. He got to within feet of newsreader Anna Ford before the situation was brought under control by staff. A security guard suffered facial bruising.
Judge Simon Smith at Middlesex Crown Court told Flack, an undergraduate at Middlesex University, who admitted one count of affray and two of common assault last September, he was clearly mentally ill and needed treatment.
After "careful consideration" he and the two magistrates sitting with him had decided an order needed to be made under the Mental Health Act allowing him to be detained "without limit of time".
While no one was seriously injured, Flack not only had little insight into his condition but there was a real risk he would not continued with his medication if left unsupervised. Such a situation posed a "considerable risk of another episode and if it was anything like the last there would be a serious risk of harm to the public," the judge added.
The court heard that Flack, who pleaded guilty to affray and common assault, had suffered a sudden psychiatric illness.
Flack's problems appeared "to have come out of a cloudless sky," said Charles Ward-Jackson, defending.
He managed to breach the tighter security imposed in the wake of Jill Dando's murder. He forced his way through turnstiles and ran up to the second floor.
Once there he picked up a large coffee table, smashed it through the window of the "secure" newsroom, and climbed in.
Richard Burrington, prosecuting, said Flack screamed that he would kill anyone who tried to stop him.
He said he attacked a cameraman and a security officer who attempted to intervene. Both escaped serious injury.
Mr Burrington said: "Flack then picked up two TV monitors and threw them to the floor, breaking them, before picking up a chair and trying to throw it through another window leading to the newsroom's nerve centre."
The prosecutor said he threatened to kill everyone in the newsroom and he added: "He said he was going to take the BBC off the air by his actions."
When police arrived his bag was searched and was found to have a stick and a 3lb dumb-bell.
"When interviewed he admitted his actions and said essentially his motive for them was that he had an argument in his mind with the controller of the BBC Greg Dyke over the way it produced its programmes," Mr Burrington said.
He said Flack added: "I hate the BBC and want revenge. They charge too much. The licence is too high."
Forensic psychiatrist Dr Ceri Evans told the court there was little doubt Flack had suffered a psychotic illness, probably schizophrenia, for up to two years before the incident.
She said he believed people on television were watching him.
A SECURITY guard stationed outside the BBC newsroom was removed just two weeks before an intruder smashed his way in, it was claimed yesterday.
A BBC source also said that electronic locks on the newsroom are largely useless because staff routinely jam the doors open.
Immediately after Jill Dando's murder a raft of measures was ordered to tighten security at BBC buildings. But two weeks ago the newsroom security guard at the BBC's West London headquarters was allegedly taken away.
"Any attack might have been prevented if that guard had been at his post," said a newsroom source, who is one of a number of staff offered counselling following the attack. "A guard being there was also a useful measure to stop people jamming the doors open," added the insider.
"The BBC talk the talk when it comes to security but really, it's a joke. Things have improved but no way as well as they should be. The fact that Tuesday's attack happened is proof of this."
Staff representatives are due to meet BBC chiefs next week with a list of demands to improve staff safety.
Last night a spokesman at the BBC, which has ordered an urgent review of security since this week's incident, said: "We are not prepared to discuss the details of our security arrangements other than to say we review them and act on the advice of the proper authorities."
The spokesman said the corporation had "absolute and complete confidence" in security chiefs Eddie Halling and David Haywood.
Mr Halling, a former detective superintendent, was brought in to boost security at the BBC. One of his responsibilities was to review security for potential targets.
He vowed after Jill Dando's murder in April to protect staff, especially top names like Anna Ford and Anthea Turner, against further attacks.
He was one of the people behind a £300,000 security clampdown which included the use of former MI5 agents.
Unemployed Nigel Flack, 20, of Camberley, Surrey, has been bailed to appear before magistrates next week charged with burglary.
In the hunt for Ms Dando's killer, police are still combing through 486 names listed in her diary.
Other evidence being sifted includes 1,000 witness statements, more than 1,000 documents, 3,500 letters to the incident room, 191 security camera tapes, more than 1,000 items from the crime scene and 13,700 e-mails sent to the BBC.
Detectives are trying to trace 10,000 phone calls made in two key time-slots on the morning of the murder. Scotland Yard has made a new appeal for information, emphasising a £250,000 reward.
YOUR report (BBC bosses hold stakes in contract winning firms, December 6) ignored salient facts about senior BBC executives' outside interests and was misleading.
The fact that Sir Christopher Bland is chairman of NFC is not "buried in the latest set of BBC accounts" but is clearly stated in the front of all three annual Reports since his appointment as BBC chairman in 1996. The BBC's contract with Exel Logistics, an NFC subsidiary, started six years before Sir Christopher became NFC chairman and eight years before he became BBC chairman. Sir Christopher has never. participated in any discussions at NFC or the BBC about the Exel BBC contract.
Alan Yentob [see left, for it is he] has never been involved in commissioning any programmes made by Philippa Walker. Sir Richard Eyre has not taken part in any discussions on contracts involving companies in which he has an interest. Philip Langsdale was only appointed last September; the legal firm for which his wife works has advised the BBC for over 40 years. Liquid Solutions, the company for which John Smith acts as unpaid secretary, were not, and are not, in negotiation with the BBC.
' Following the Nolan Report, the BBC established a register detailing the interests of governors and senior management. This is publicised in the Annual Report and is available for public inspection. Conflicts of interest must be declared and transactions involving outside interests communicated to the BBC's auditors. The BBC also has strict guidelines on potential conflicts of interest for all staff.
Director of Corporate Affairs
The most important and controversial matter or the autumn of 1986 was the series of documentaries called Secret Society. I do not think there remains much dispute about their genesis. They were offered to the Controller of BBC-2 by BBC Scotland as a result of conversations between a producer in Glasgow and the journalist Duncan Campbell, after another programme in which Campbell had taken part. Campbell, well-known as a thorough investigative journalist much of whose work was published in the New Statesman, wanted to try his hand at television. The offer, six thirty-minute investigative films by Duncan Campbell (i.e. researched an presented by him, but produced within normal BBC practice) 'each illuminating a hidden truth of major public concern', was accepted by Graeme McDonald, the Controller of BBC-2 on 12 on th June, 1985. Later, those who detected the cloven hoof in Campbell demanded to know why McDonald had not alerted others He said, simply, he never recognised there might be a problem. And, anyway, the plan for the programmes' production was known to senior Television Service management.
Work began on the series. In April 1986 Alan Protheroe, acting on my behalf, was asked by BBC Scotland for permission to embark on programme one which involved the need to 'bug' a private detective who said he could access a Criminal Records Office computer. Permission for such covert filming or recording had to be obtained from the Director General or his nominee. After much legal discussion, permission was granted and filming took place. Later, the police were informed that a potentially criminal act had taken place and the man was subsequently charged under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. This work was embodied in the programme later called Data. In June, the Head of Television BBC Scotland wrote to the Controller of BBC-2 filling in the details of the programmes as planned at that date.
1. The Secret Constitution. We're taught that Britain is a parliamentary democracy. But who really rules? Answer: small, secret Cabinet committees.
2. In Time of Crisis. Since 1982, governments in every other NATO country have been preparing for the eventuality of war. In Britain, these preparations are kept secret. So what will happen when the balloon goes up?
3. A Gap In Our Defences. Bungling defence manufacturers and incompetent military planners have botched every new radar system that Britain has installed since World War Two. Why? And can we stop it happening again?
4. We're All Data Now. the Data Protection Act is supposed to protect us from abuse, but it's already out of date and full of loopholes. So what kind of abuses should we worry about?
The fifth programme being discussed at the moment is about the Association of Chief Police Officers and how Government policy and actions are determined in the fields of law and order.
A sixth programme is at the early stages of discussion and is likely to be about communications with particular reference to satellites.
Alan had mentioned to me that work was proceeding on the Campbell series and that everyone in Scotland, from the Controller downwards, seemed to be on top of it. The programmes were still, of course, being made. But their shape was emerging, and at a press conference on 20th August to reveal the BBC-2 autumn plans, attended by Duncan Campbell, there was talk of the series 'which will disclose restricted information on Government emergency plans in case there is another war'. Reports of this press conference alerted the Secretary of the D-Notice Committee (Defence Press and Broadcasting committee: a means for the Ministry of Defence to communicate to the media matters whose publication might affect national security) who made remonstration noises. It also alerted some Governors since the reports of the press conference were included in their regular press packs. They began to ask about the series. I promised to keep them informed as progress occurred.
Early in September, the Head of Television in Scotland, Jim Hunter, wrote to Alan to tell him that Joel Barnett had agreed to take part in one of the programmes (the one on satellites, named Zircon) in his former capacity as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. (Later Joel withdrew and his successor as Chairman of the PAC, Robert Sheldon, took his place.) On 10th October, Alan wrote to Pat Chalmers, the controller of BBC Scotland, saying that we must have an urgent and full brief on the whole series as it then stood. A couple of days earlier, the interview with Bob Sheldon had been done and he complained to the BBC and Joel Barnett that he had been 'set up' by Duncan Campbell and the production team. Things seemed to be getting very messy.
When Barnett came to Edinburgh to speak to the CBA dinner, he was not only tetchy about the Hamilton/Howarth case, he was very cross about the way he claimed Sheldon had been treated. Alan had briefed me over the phone and I had the transcript of the interview to hand in Edinburgh. I took Joel through it and satisfied myself (and I think at the time him) that Sheldon had come out of the experience perfectly well, even though for good reasons a question was sprung on him. but alarm bells were ringing all over the place. Daphne Park and other Governors were demanding to know why Campbell had ever been employed. He was 'a destroyer', he was not the sort of person the BBC should consort with. On 13th November, she and Curtis Keeble waxed very hot about the matter. Joel Barnett and Alwyn Roberts were the only voices counselling caution. Hussey, chairing his first Board meeting, made no bones about how deeply most Governors were getting to feel about this series.
Over the next few weeks, there was much bustle with Alan attending several viewings in Glasgow. In particular, the Zircon programme about an alleged British spy satellite, the cost of which the programme claimed had been concealed from the Public Accounts Committee in direct contravention of an agreement made when Joel Barnett was PAC Chairman, was causing anxiety. Campbell claimed, and has continued to claim, that his information was accurate. Alan's briefings, from a number of sources, changed his original view that the programme was fit for transmission. In a private letter sent to my house on 5th December, he made the positive recommendation to me that the BBC should hot transmit the Zircon programme for reasons of national security. His memo was carefully, but strongly, worded.
Meantime, I had personally viewed all the programme rough cuts, as I assured the Board I would, and I invited other members of the Board of Management to see them with me. If we were working up to another confrontation, I wanted to be sure that the management, anyway, was of one mind. We concluded that Zircon apart (and some were doubtful of Alan's judgment on it) the other five programmes were transmittable. But all had flaws. Consequently, at a meeting in my office on 17th December, and again on 7th January, I told the Controller of BBC Scotland that I wished to clear an evening on BBC-2, cut the films down, and use them as evidence in a thorough programme discussion on 'freedom of information'. He was not happy, but I told him to go away and think about it. Over the Christmas holiday, I concluded that BBC Scotland would not easily encompass the new format and told Pat Chalmers to prepare the agreed five films for transmission. Secret Society was ready for the air, probably in March. I then informed the Board that five films would be transmitted but that one, Zircon, would not. We were giving further thought to possible different programme format.
By now, Hussey and I had had a few working weeks together. A big, genial man, he seemed mainly concerned that I was being kept fully informed about who he was lunching with, but also wet, ferret-like, back over all the papers on the Hamilton/Howarth case, writing me long memos full of fairly peremptory questions. He even sent for our counsel in the case and interviewed them at length. Later, there was a sticky meeting where he and Barnett sat in solemn judgment on the affair and Alan, Margaret and I were left in no doubt that they thought we had made a proper hash of the whole thing. Shortly after Hussey arrived, I gave him lunch at a restaurant we both enjoyed. there I learnt a lot about him, his terrible war wound at Anzio, his early life in newspapers, his troubled time at The Times. He was amiable and obviously a man of great courage. I touched then on my future, saying I would like to continue as DG (which was an option in my letter of appointment from George Howard) after my term of six years expired in July 1988. He said, I thought quite reasonably, that 'It's not the right time to talk about that.' I presume he already knew by then how he was going to act a few weeks later.
As he went around the BBC, we discussed amongst ourselves at Board of Management how the new team of Hussey and Barnett were getting on. Hussey seemed to go down very well with the staff, relaxed and friendly, as did Barnett also. It was inevitable that they would be dubbed 'Little and Large'. There were some who were anxious that Arnett had an office in the building and seemed a very active Vice-Chairman, and I passed this anxiety on to Hussey on one occasion. the increasing presence and activity of Chairman in recent years was one thing; if you had an interventionist Vice-Chairman as well (and Joel was very involved in, for example, the White City development) there was distinct danger of collision. Although Hussey was genial with the staff, one or two members of the senior management had received the rough edge of his tongue. To me, he could not have been nicer. The Board, on the other hand, showed all the signs of ragged nerves. At the last two meeting before Christmas, they grumbled about various appointments suggestions we put to them, hounded me unpleasantly over Secret Society, seemed thoroughly dyspeptic. Mike Checkland and I swapped notes after one meeting. 'They're throwing down the gauntlet,' was his comment. I was quite glad to see the back of them at Christmas.
There was one other incident towards the end of the year which perhaps had a hidden significance. We had all worked hard to arrange a celebration of Stuart Young's life in Guildhall, with many different interests to be accommodated. It turned out to be a splendid and moving occasion where a number of people, including the Prime Minister, gave readings and Bill Cotton, David Young and I spoke, David most touchingly. Afterwards, there was a reception, and I moved with Sheila to have a word with the PM who was talking to the Chief Rabbi. To my surprise, she effectively cut me dead. The very same evening, after a Board discussion on television, Alwyn Roberts dropped in to the office for a drink. Some Board members, he warned, wanted my 'head to roll' because of Secret Society. I had no need to ask who.
The New Year dawned mild and very wet. Ten days letter, the entire country was feet deep in snow and transport paralysed. The worst winter, they said, since 1962-3. The first Board meeting of the year was due to take place on 15th January; the General Advisory Council meeting the day before. It seemed only humane to cancel the GAC meeting since there were around sixty-five members coming fro every corner of the country. And though we rang round the Governors and all were valiantly prepared to try and come to London for their Thursday meeting, when I met Duke Hussey in the lift on the Wednesday morning, we quickly agreed we should cancel the Board as well. Joel Barnett was still on holiday in Brazil and rumours in Broadcasting House had it that the wires between the Chairman's office and Rio de Janeiro were hot with usage. Had that meeting occurred, I suppose my execution would have taken place a fortnight earlier than it did.
We already had confirmation from the Home Office that in future the licence fee would be index-linked to the RPI. Over the next fortnight, too, the Secret Society affair gathered momentum. On the 18th, the Observer broke the story of my decision not to transmit the Zircon programme: 'BBC GAG on £500M DEFENCE SECRET'.
The next day the press had heard that Duncan Campbell would be showing the film to MPs in the House of Commons on the Thursday. We thought it prudent to tell Pat Chalmers to remind our staff of their contractual limitations and to demand the return of the film. By the Wednesday, Treasury solicitors were busy taking injunctions out against Campbell. The Select Committee on Defence were insisting on seeing the film but the permanent Secretary at the MoD, Sir Clive Whitmore, appeared to have refused them. On a couple of occasions, Hussey grumbled to me about why we ever came to make the film. It wasn't long before the Special Branch were running all over the BBC in Glasgow like mice, removing boxes of papers and impounding every foot of film they could find. It was a bizarre development to a long-running story.
On Wednesday, 28th January, the day before the first Board meeting, there was a farewell dinner for Alwyn Roberts, the retiring Welsh National Governor. Alwyn had been around the BBC, first as a member of the Broadcasting Council for Wales and then seven years as National Governor, for a long time. He had been due to go the previous summer but this term had been extended for six months, just as he was about to have his first farewell dinner! These are big occasions, held in the Council Chamber, with seventy or so people present, including former Governors and former embers of the Members of the Board of Management.
The tradition is that the Chairman speaks first, and the Director General follows, speaking for the executive. There is a presentation, and the guest of honour replies. When Hussey and I had done our bit Alwyn, speaking as he always did without a note and with the rhetorical skill of a trained preacher, spoke strongly and with candour. He warned the Governors and the management of the continuing dangers of confrontation. He was dismissive of those Governors who insisted on proclaiming that they and they alone were the BBC. What about the producers, the cameramen, the sound recordists, the film editors, the engineers, he asked; were they too not part of the BBC and the most important part?
Looking about me, I could see that this homily did not please some of the Governors present. There were frowning faces. A colleague of mine who was sitting next to Sir John Boyd told me later that John was muttering angrily: 'This is all nonsense. You wait until tomorrow.' As the party broke up for a farewell whisky, it seemed we had said a proper goodbye to Alwyn, which he fully deserved. He had also sounded a clear warning note.
At the Board the following morning, much of the business was routine. I fancied Hussey was in more of a muddle with his papers than usual, but thought nothing of it. Some Governors - Daphne Park, Watson Peat - were extremely sour about Secret Society again, but Alan Protheroe fought his corner well. As we walked down the stairs at Television Centre, I said to Mike Checkland, 'What did you make of that?' 'Awful,' he said. In breaks during the morning, we had been talking to our lawyers about the ghastly case of Michael Lush who had been killed rehearing a stunt for the Noel Edmonds' Show. The case was being heard in the Coroner's Court that day, and I went in to Bill Cotton's office, which adjoined mine, to speak to them again.
Then, as I walked down the corridor in the direction of lunch, Patricia Hodgson, the Secretary, asked me if I would go and see the Chairman. I thought it odd that she addressed me by my Christian name; everybody else did, but for some reason she had never done so before. When I walked into Hussey's office, Barnett and he were both there. I remember the blinds were drawn against the sun which was brilliant that morning. Hussey's lip trembled as he said: 'I am afraid this is going to be a very unpleasant interview. We want you to leave immediately. It's a unanimous decision of the Board.'
I was stunned. What was he talking about? Perhaps I should have seen the plot thickening, but I hadn't. 'We want to make changes,' said Barnett. 'We can't under the present circumstances.' I didn't speak. Hussey said again: 'It's a unanimous decision of the Board. You might prefer to resign - for personal reasons.' Barnett said, 'We are men of honour. If you resign, it won't affect your arrangements. You are going next year anyway.'
I had, in fact, eighteen months to go as DG. The Board which appointed me had also spoken of a mutual option of another two years. Hussey said: 'I've already spoken to Arnold Goodman.' What terrible people, I thought. I asked for a sheet of paper, couldn't remember the date: one of them said it was 29th January. I wrote out my resignation and handed it to Hussey. I walked back to my office and said to Ros, my personal assistant, 'I've been fired.' She said: 'Oh my God', and then I walked through to Bill Cotton's office, where Mike Checkland was too, and told them. Bill swore roundly; Mike looked totally disbelieving. I went downstairs and said to Eddie, my driver: 'Home Eddie.' 'When shall I pick you up?' he asked. (We were due that evening at a party to launch Superchannel, where the Prime Minister was going to be present.) 'I'll be in touch,' I said when he dropped me at home.
At home, I was on my own. Sheila was out. As I prowled up and down the living room, the first impact was the humiliation of being discarded by such people without a word of explanation or discussion; one of them had been all of ten working weeks in the BBC, the other barely six months. I had imagined I still had eighteen months to serve as DG. Anguish was followed by despair.
Half an hour later, a letter from Hussey was delivered by a driver. The Board had, he said, accepted my resignation. They had asked him to 'express their gratitude for your many years of service with the Corporation'. Would I now put my lawyers in touch with theirs?
Within minutes of the BBC's announcement of my departure, the Fleet Street contingent was camping round my front door to chronicle the end of my BBC career. The horror of what had happened was softened in later days by the scores of letters from friends and colleagues all over the world. One of them, from a famous and distinguished British broadcaster, precisely echoed my own feelings. 'What has happened to you,' he said, 'is something that will stand high in the annals of broadcasting infamy.'
(end of chapter)
Milne, Alasdair. DG : the memoirs of a British broadcaster
Two other programmes also had a significant impact on Mrs Thatcher and Marmaduke Hussey's successful move to topple the BBC Director General in revenge for political embarrassment. Firstly the Panorama programme 'Maggie's Militant Tendency' exposed the fact (at a time when the tabloid newspapers were laying into Labour's radical 'Militant' wing) that the Conservative party had its own nasty breed of extreme right-wing MP's. Two Conservative MP's were exposed as members of fascist organisations in the programme one of whom was the later notorious Neil Hamilton MP.
The other was a radio four programme by Duncan Campbell called 'My Country Right or Wrong' which questioned the morality of aspects of government intelligence work in a similar way to the Secret Society series.
Alasdair Milne was a crucial figure in the transmission of all three programmes, without his backing none would have gone ahead. He had to be removed to save the Conservative party, and the establishment, further embarrassment.
Since Alisdair's sacking the BBC's producers have lost the will to fight for controversial programmes which serve the public rather than establishment interest. Thursday 29th January 1987 was the day public service ended at the BBC.
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It's not every day you get a call from the top echelons of the BBC inviting you to begin a review of news values. I'm sure you can understand my cynicism... would my views really make an iota of difference... but I was getting my travel paid and a free meal so I took them up on the offer.
The overture came from the office of Richard Ayre, deputy head of News and Current Affairs. Ostensibly the review was called to get news priorities right for the new government. There would be six top editors from the BBC there who would discuss all aspects of news coverage with six of us from outside.
When I arrived at Oxford Circus on a hot July evening at about seven I was gearing myself up to speak for everyone who understands the power of the mass media and is genuinely frightened by the concentration of its control into fewer and fewer hands.
I arrived at Broadcasting House reception, passing through the 'hallowed portals' I'd got to know several years ago as a radio reporter and researcher.
The facilities in this building beggar belief... I remember being awe struck by 'News Information' department, with its thousands of neat files of newspaper clippings on every subject from Headingly Cricket to Heads of State. Everything that had ever made the news was here to peruse.
They were waiting for me on the third floor so I stepped into one of the magnificent art-deco lifts. There were no signs to the third floor suite so I set off down the corridor knowing that as all floors in B.H. are laid out round a circular corridor I'd find 'the suite' eventually.
After passing through several sets of swing doors I was confronted by an intimidating sign: Radio Newsroom, no entry to visitors. Luckily, being so used to going in and out of B.H. with my own ID card, I had forgotten to register as a 'visitor', so I pushed the doors open and crossed the newsroom with a purposeful air.
As a cub reporter the buzz in this room had fascinated me... it was homely and familiar... this room has the power to lay the foundations for the changes we so desperately need. The crippling debt and trade in weapons that so weigh the world down could be challenged from here. I reflected on the worn-out institutions that supposedly decide our fate then on the power over public opinion that these folk at the BBC have. As I looked at the faces around me whose voices would be instantly recognizable, I wondered how we allowed it to happen that none of us have a say in deciding who makes those crucial decisions.
Out the other side of the newsroom the corridor continued further round eventually passing the Director General's suite... could this be it? I knocked on a nearby door and a helpful woman confirmed that this was the only dinner suite on the third floor.
Sure enough they were expecting me and Richard Ayre introduced me to a rapid succession of top editors... the hidden faces behind the news: The World Tonight... Breakfast News... The BBC Social Affairs Editor was there as was Sian Kevill, deputy head of political programmes. I worked my way around the BBC people until I found some smarm-free conversation. More with ITV it's true- but media people take sycophancy to nightmarish depths.
Sian seemed an exception and was particularly clued up on The Land Is Ours campaign as well as the history of land enclosure and the Levellers and the Diggers. As we were talking about the Civil War she mentioned that the BBC would be covering the 350th anniversary of the Putney Debates to be organised by the Quakers later in the year. As it turned out although I was in Putney Church as an 'Agitator' the BBC were not. She began to press me closely on what I wanted The Land Is Ours to achieve. I made it clear that I would consider the campaign a failure if we couldn't manage to achieve what the Diggers did, by occupying land to live on for at least a year. We managed it at Wandsworth for just under six months but the year was the aim. I had to politely refuse to answer when she insisted on knowing where exactly we planned to do this!
By now other guests from outside the BBC were arriving and I was introduced to them. There was an Italian woman from the Consumers' Association who seemed to think the BBC was the world's perfect broadcaster, well it could seem that way to someone brought up on Italian TV. Another of the guests was from the T.U.C., the dinner was taking place at the height of the British Airways dispute with cabin staff so she was ready to call the BBC to account for never explaining the context of industrial disputes. Other guests included a jovial top police officer from Thames Valley and a woman from the Human Embryology and fertility clinic.
When we all sat down around the DG's dining table Richard Ayre was at the head. He kicked off the discussions and the meal by explaining he wanted us all to tell it how it was. That this meal was the first step in a comprehensive review of news and current affairs programmes that would proceed to a set of new programmes to be prepared in the Autumn and Winter.
When Richard kicked off discussions I was the first to speak, throwing down the gauntlet immediately by challenging the BBC's right to charge a licence fee. There were several nods from the guests so I explained that Channel 4, particularly with its Dispatches strain were doing far more public service programming than the BBC. And they are a commercial channel. Richard defended the BBC stoutly but the only example of public service programming where they were sticking their neck out he gave was the Panorama Diana interview.
We criticised the BBC's use of 'experts' which each of us in our fields knew were far from objective, we discussed coverage of Northern Ireland and I questioned the fact that none of the locally produced and insightful material is shown on BBC networks. Maybe surprisingly there was universal support amongst the guests for interviews to be shown with all sides including armed groups in the Troubles.
In all our discussions there was not a mention of the only meaningful change in recent months, the wonderful idea of 'super-editors' a handful of which will control what we are allowed to know and think.
I insisted on putting forward the point that young people that I knew increasingly see the BBC as State Broadcasting, and with some pretty substantial justification. That the corporation was far too controlled, particularly in its news and documentary coverage, by the Foreign Office and by Downing Street. I know this because a friend worked as a temp for several months in the TV newsroom and explained to my horror that she was putting calls through regularly from top government officials and passing messages on to the editors about the best angle to take on sensitive news stories.
Richard Ayre dismissed my comments about political interference with the BBC as alarmist and assured us all that they guarded their independence fiercely. I know they dismiss left-leaning staff under the secret 'Christmas Tree' scheme (Tannenbaum = The Red Flag) because so many people independently have told me about it. He was lying through his teeth, so I decided to throw the most reprehensible example of political censorship at the BBC I knew of at them.
Alasdair Milne, the last Director General to stand up for independence and the public interest at the BBC was sacked, I said, for supporting a politically embarrassing programme.
A programme in Duncan Campbell's Secret Society series revealed that £500 million of public money had been spent by UK Military Intelligence on a spy satellite without the knowledge of parliament. This was the Zircon programme and as the transmission date approached, I explained, pressure from many angles was brought to bear on Alisdair to drop it. He felt, quite rightly, that the programme did not compromise national security and refused to cover up for the ineptitude of the intelligence services.
Special Branch turned up at one stage at the offices of BBC Scotland and emptied the contents of an entire production office into several transit vans as part of the Political pressure on the BBC. Meanwhile Alisdair, who'd had a hand in such ground-breaking programmes as Tonight and That Was The Week That Was, refused to budge. So, I explained, he was sacked.
After a short uncomfortable silence Richard Ayre challenged me; he reminded us all that at the time newspapers reported he had resigned of his own accord. "Oh come on Richard", and he looked more than a little crestfallen as I recalled, "I have read his Autobiography and Alisdair explains quite clearly that he was called into the Chairman's office and told he had no choice but to go, the resignation was a face-saving exercise to deflect the adverse publicity".
There was another short silence before Richard made light of his deception. "Actually Tony I have to tell you", he sounded slightly more human now, "The events you refer to happened right here around this table, and I was there at the time."
There was another pause, "Alisdair was sitting right where you are now Tony, and he'd just finished his soup". I looked down and staring up at me was an empty soup bowl looking like some extra-terrestrial object from the Twilight Zone. Richard went on to illustrate how much of a choice Alisdair's resignation had been and how when Alisdair returned from his audience with BBC Chairman (politically appointed) Marmaduke Hussey in the adjoining office his chair was gone and his place had been cleared away.
That whole obscene episode in the winter of 1986/7 not only illustrates to what extent the BBC is no longer 'ours' but raises serious questions about the influence of entirely unaccountable military intelligence groups over our perceptions.
Ever since that particular travesty of 'Public Service' at the BBC the British press has been in decline. From my 3 year stint at 'Auntie' I have seen corporate ideology creeping, bit-by-bit, into every corner of the corporation.
So if even the top editors at the BBC are denying political interference to our faces God only knows what goes on when there's no concerned members of the public around to prick their consciences.
In a world where the truth is whatever the editors say it is are the BBC likely to have listened to me? Its also more than a little worrying that the editor of the editors should be misleading his guests so readily.
Public access to archives
a) Public Service provision,
b) Reflect Cultural Diversity,
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g) Reflect lives and concerns of local and national audiences.
Regional Advisory Councils
Objectives - to advise on all matters which affect the interests of persons in that region. Their procedure shall be determined independently and members will receive all expenses.
25 Jan 1996 - Agreement between the Secretary of State for heritage and the BBC (with treasury minutes).
An example from the agreement:
8.3 If and whenever in the opinion of the Secretary of State an emergency shall have arisen in which it is expedient in the public interest that Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom shall have control over the broadcasting or transmission of any matter whatsoever by means of the stations or any of them, it shall be lawful for the Secretary of State to direct and cause the stations or any of them or any part thereof to be taken possession of in the name and on behalf of Her Majesty and to prevent the Corporation from using them, and also to cause the stations or any of them or any part thereof to be used for Her Majesty's service, or to take such other steps as he may think fit to secure control over the stations or any of them, and in that event any person authorised by the Secretary of State may enter upon the stations or any of them and the offices and works of the Corporation or any of them and take possession thereof and use the same as aforesaid.
Charter available on the BBC website
HMSO, 0171 873 9090, 0117 926 4306 or 01232 325672
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