Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Can We Trust The BBC?


First it was L'affaire Liebowitz when the exposure of doctored footage showing Her Maj supposedly stalking out of photography session in a huff forced the Beeb into an embarrassing apology. Days later Auntie admitted to mixing up the chronology of events in a Newsnight piece about a documentary maker attempting to interview Gordon Brown. Now the Beeb has also admitted conning viewers with fake phone-in contests. Can we trust the BBC? Not until she gets her act together.
Such cases make the case for root and branch reform of the Beeb - a process which only kicked off with the resignation of the complacent BBC board of governors in 2004 after the publication of the Hutton Report - that much more urgent. The signals being given out by director general, Mark Thompson, are positive. He recognises there is a problem and intends to deal with it. It's a start but he's certainly got his job cut out.
The problem of BBC bias is a pressing one. Examples of egregiously partisan 'factual' programmes are far too numerous and well-documented to be ignored. Uncritical coverage of political campaigns because they are supposedly non-controversial is a related problem.
Robin Aitken is author of the recently published 'Can we trust the BBC?', which explores these issues in detail. He's well-placed to have written such a book, being a former BBC man himself. He was a reporter on The Today programme when the Gilligan affair was kicking off. One of the many pleasures of his book is the vivid character sketch he gives of Gilligan, describing him as "... a very singular type of reporter. A loner, secretive and conspiratorial." Aitken reveals some genuine shockers, such as the presenter of the Today Programme in the 1970s Jack de Manio being kicked off the programme following pressure from pro-EEC lobbyists who perceived him as hostile to their cause and the spiking of a critical story about the background of murdered Belfast lawyer, Pat Finucane. This was justified on the improbable grounds that it rested on a single source, though they didn't have such scruples about Gilligan's output.
The BBC likes to think of itself as the voice of the nation but as Aitken convincingly shows too often its been a foghorn blaring at the nation.