Can Tim Davie save the BBC?

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The reputation of the BBC matters. It wants to be seen as the gold-standard of public service broadcasting, and that matters not just for the BBC and, by extension, the UK but for the whole world because, historically, the BBC has successfully projected itself as a beacon of broadcasting service that all democratic nations should seek to emulate.

In a world of SVoDs it will find it increasingly difficult to keep audience attention, but it must make its best efforts and find a viable means of funding to do that. And that must continue to involve the licence fee at some level – any form of direct funding is too dangerous in this, or any other political environment.

And the reason it must keep up the effort to grab and keep audience attention with drama, soap and shiny floor shows is so that they stay for the news. In these days of Facebook infection and Instagram insidiousness, where any malicious actor or deluded nincompoop can present, or spin, anything from a half-truth to batshit crazy nonsense as news, a gold standard in objective, truthful reporting and current affairs is needed as never before.

Which brings us to the Martin Bashir affair. Surprise, surprise an enterprising and uber ambitious journalist went way too far in getting the biggest story of his life. So far, so normal. Having landed the scoop of the century those who shared the credit, his line manager editors, looked the other way at his methods. OK, kind of understandable, I suppose. Then, when his methods became more widely known, they screwed the careers of the whistleblowers (full disclosure, one of them was on the same college course as me). Wrong, distasteful, and unforgiveable.

And then, of course, we come to the cover up – that which always gets them in the end; or, at least, it should. When other broadcasters revealed some of the details, the BBC reached for that cloak of respectability, an internal inquiry. As usual, this was actually just a cloak; a cloak to specifically cover up the truth from proper scrutiny.

The conductor is that inquiry was Tony Hall, later DG, later Lord Hall.

All of this would fall into the category of shameful, regrettable, damaging. But it shifts up into the additional categories of stupid, shocking, self-harming and downright sinister when Bashir – who had gone onto cement his reputation as a reporter who would instinctively use the dark arts to get the stories he wanted – was rehired by the BBC in 2016.

And then he was promoted! Davie’s initial response to this mess was creditable, and the Dyson report on the original Diana interview and Hall’s ‘inquiry’ didn’t pull its punches. But its remit didn’t include why was Bashir rehired and promoted? So, Davie handed it to… an internal inquiry: Tim, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? Have just a few more weeks in the top seat really seen you go that native?  On June 14th Ken MacQuarrie, a long-time senior BBC apparatchik, said the hiring was all fine, if a bit iffy in its fairness to other candidates. Apparently, James Harding, a former editor of The Times and then head of BBC news, had never heard of any of the multiple rumours, programmes and stories about the original Diana interview.

I read the release on the report twice to check I hadn’t misread it – did it really not say anything about the 2018 promotion of which it is widely acknowledged Hall would have approved? It didn’t. Hall and other BBC figures, appear before the Media Select Committee of Parliament today (June 15th). On their record, I’m not very optimistic they will get to the bottom of it.


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