In my previous article, The Plover and the Crocodile, I explored the difficulties that are bound to be faced by a quality assurance function when it is confronted by a culture that relies upon the mutual scrutiny of those who have a shared interest. The BBC got a mention, by implication, because of its woeful inability to protect the most vulnerable members of society from a predatory monster that just so happened to be a BBC employee. However, to be fair, the BBC never did set itself up as a branch of the social services, so I suppose a little bit of corporate-sponsored paedophilia and necrophilia was to be expected. What is more difficult to accept, however, is that an organisation that lives off a worldwide reputation for journalistic integrity should encourage and protect an employee that had fed a painfully insecure royal celeb with poisonous lies, before then interviewing the poor soul so that the fruits of the self-destructive paranoia he had sown could be used to attack a country’s monarchy.

I speak, of course, of Martin Bashir and his notorious interview of Diana, everyone’s favourite dead princess. I won’t go into all of the detailed skulduggery that lay behind that interview, nor the ramifications it had for those affected. I won’t even dwell upon the lengths that the BBC went to in order to cover up the sordid affair, including the running of a smear campaign against those employees who attempted to expose the deceit. All of this is well documented elsewhere. However, there is one commentary that I would like to draw to your attention – that of Lord Michael Grade, former Chairman of the BBC. He has previously been critical of the culture at the BBC but never more so than when he said yesterday on Channel Four:

“Their default position is always ‘We are never wrong, we have got it right. We don’t care what you are saying, we don’t care what the evidence is. We are right, now prove us wrong’. And you go through agony to get them to admit something they could have admitted on day one. So the culture of the place is absolutely arrogant and rife with ‘we are never wrong’.”

But this all happened 25 years ago, the BBC bleats. The culture at the BBC is very different now.

Really? Is that why they get to label their opinions as a ‘BBC Fact Check’ nowadays? And presumably it was this new order of humility that was on show on Newsnight yesterday evening when Kirsty Wark ‘Fact Checked’ her interviewee in the following exchange:

Interviewee: “Dyson leaves hanging who authorised the smear campaign and cover up but does say it had to be senior management.”

Kirsty: “Well it [the Dyson report] doesn’t say a cover up specifically, those words are not being used.”

Interviewee (smiling): “It does say a cover up in fact.”

Kirsty: “Well, err, I’m going to come onto you and what happened to you…”

The reality is that the facts are as safe in the BBC’s hands nowadays as the children were on Jim’ll Fix It back in the seventies. And yet their role as self-appointed guardians of the truth continues. The fact-mongering behemoth lumbers on with such dodgy products as Climate Change: The Facts. Society’s paranoia regarding the prospects of future climate apocalypse are being fuelled just as effectively by the BBC’s suspect advice as was Diana’s paranoia regarding her positon within the Royal Family. And there is plenty more in the production pipeline, I’m quite sure. I don’t think that that particular sewerage system will be decommissioned any time soon, because the sad fact is that an organization that has been shown to be capable of the most shameful of manipulations can still enjoy the public’s favour when surrounded by a bunch of climate change ‘deniers’. This is a day when I should be rejoicing the demise of a main player in the debate. Instead, I am only reminded of the extent to which the campaign is already lost.

The BBC has its headquarters at W1A 1AA, but you should need more than just a satnav to locate the moral high ground.

29 Comments

  1. Panorama producer Mark Killick:

    After he raised his concerns about the documents with a BBC lawyer, and was told to discuss the issue with management, he was “let go” from Panorama after 10 years on the programme.

    “I was told we only want loyal people on the programme,” he said.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-57199164

    Like

  2. Absolutely, Jit.

    Mark Killick was the interviewee alluded to in my article. Kirsty Wark was arrogant enough to think that she could correct him. Did it not occur to her that someone who was a central target of the cover up would have gone through the Dyson report with a fine tooth comb? Is her faith in her own journalistic abilities so unshakeable that she thinks she must have a better grasp of the situation than someone such as he?

    Like

  3. Why am I reminded of attacks upon the entire UEA following the misdeeds of a small part of it (CRU) and some of its senior management?

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  4. Alan,

    >”Why am I reminded of attacks upon the entire UEA…”

    I don’t think you should be. The ‘one rogue journalist’ defence is the one that I’m sure the BBC would use — in fact I have heard it used. However, I focused here on the Lord Grade testimony because he spoke of a cultural problem. You don’t get to dismiss such criticisms so lightly; nor can such problems be fixed so readily. It is true that an organisation can be wrongly accused of cultural defects on the basis of the misdemeanours of a minority, but I don’t think that is what is happening here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There is a certain air about the BBC, almost akin to Papal Infallibility. Avoiding comment on Savile, because it was never litigated and his substantial wealth ended up in the pockets of lawyers rather than people in need, there is so much to deplore. For example, the way a BBC news crew travelled with the police to arrest Cliff Richard. Or the dismissal of Tony Blackburn because he had allegedly not complied with an investigation years earlier, which he denied. And his subsequent re-employment – he is still a livelier presenter than most of the current crop.

    The strangest thing was their employment of John Bridcut, a director of intriguing films about early 20th c. English classical music, to formulate a policy for reporting climate change.

    Incidentally, last weekend, what counts for a row in classical music circles erupted when Humphrey Burton made ever-so-slightly disparaging remarks about the outgoing commissioner for classical music programmes. I have heard another film director, Tony Palmer, recount the story of how he pitched an idea for a film about Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Beeb. The reply essentially said that he had not demonstrated why the work of Mr V Williams was relevant to audiences today.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Alan,

    I’ve been thinking again about your comment and I think I should have acknowledged that the Bashir affair does not reflect badly upon the whole of the BBC. For example, no one is suggesting that Football Focus should be overhauled as a result. The problem is that some of the remedies that may be considered could affect everything the BBC does. Also, even if one restricts one’s attentions to systemic problems within the journalistic arms of the BBC, one has to acknowledge that not all individuals should be tarnished. There were plenty of them who tried to blow the whistle and a majority of staff who were quite unaware or would have wanted no part of it.

    I presume those were the points you were making.

    Like

  7. @ dfhunter, well yes, the BBC is “uniquely funded” by the licence fee, which is a TV tax in all but name – fine for those payers whose views align with the BBC, but a case of taxation without representation for the rest of us!

    Like

  8. John. Indeed it was. Brush-tarring is a popular sport hereabouts. Mark and I have had many bouts about the BBC, me supporting, Mark criticising. My support is based upon my experience after returning to the U.K. after a 17 year absence. Those who have not experienced it, cannot imagine just how abysmal TV News is in the USA (with Canada not much better). The BBC was a very welcome change, one that I still recall and use to defend it, despite its foibles and occasional bad actors.

    With regard to the current fracas
    1, Do you see any difference in content or journalistic style between the BBC and its rivals? I don’t.
    2. Do you think those rivals would have black-balled the interview if it had been offered to them?
    3. I see little evidence that Bashir stoked Diana’s paranoia. This was already there and if sources are to be believed, the Palace was responsible.
    4. I viewed the interview as rehearsed and a script already worked out beforehand, e.g. “There were three in our marriage” and “I want to be a Queen of (people’s) hearts”. Hardly a poor little princess being exploited by a ruthless journalist. Almost, I could believe a journalist being used.
    5. An interview would have happened one way or another, BBC, ITV or whatever.
    6. Why is there no criticism of ITV for hiring Bashir? They must have been aware of his history.

    This does not excuse Bashir, nor the cover-up by BBC Bigwigs. But a sense of proportion please. An interview would have happened, and the link between it and the manner of her death is tenuous in the extreme.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Alan,

    Addressing your points in turn:

    >”Do you see any difference in content or journalistic style between the BBC and its rivals? I don’t.”

    I do, if only because the BBC seems to play upon its supposed monopoly on truth, through its ‘Fact Checking’ service. However, I think the real difference is the attitude of the masses who have been brought up to expect that their license fee pays for reliable and non-partisan information. There is an implication of trust here that I do not believe has a counterpart when it comes to the public’s view of the BBC’s rivals. I’m sure that it would not have occurred to Diana that the evidence presented by Bashir could have been faked. This is the BBC, after all. It is when there is a violation of trust that you see the sort of moral outrage that we have witnessed over the last two days.

    >”Do you think those rivals would have black-balled the interview if it had been offered to them?”

    More to the point, could I see the rivals going to the same levels of deceit to obtain the interview? I suppose the answer must be ’yes’, considering the journalistic scandals that have occurred in the past (e.g. phone hacking, fake sheiks, etc.) However, I refer to my response above.

    >”I see little evidence that Bashir stoked Diana’s paranoia. This was already there and if sources are to be believed, the Palace was responsible.”

    As I said in my article, I do not wish to dwell upon such matters. Suffice it to say, Diana was already paranoid before she met Bashir, but those closest to her said that the encounter definitely made things worse. I think we should respect their testimony.

    >”I viewed the interview as rehearsed and a script already worked out beforehand, e.g. “There were three in our marriage” and “I want to be a Queen of (people’s) hearts”. Hardly a poor little princess being exploited by a ruthless journalist. Almost, I could believe a journalist being used.”

    I think it is well-accepted that Diana had a complicated relationship with the media. She was obviously manipulative, but I don’t think this precludes the possibility that she was also being manipulated. I don’t see the two as being mutually exclusive.

    >”An interview would have happened one way or another, BBC, ITV or whatever.”

    True, but those closest to her are convinced that she would not have said everything that she said if it were not for the paranoia fueled by Bashir’s deceit.

    >”Why is there no criticism of ITV for hiring Bashir? They must have been aware of his history.”

    I think that is simply because the relationship between ITV and Bashir did not fall within the scope of the Dyson report. I suspect that there are many sub-plots yet to be explored. Give it a few days.

    In summary, my article was not meant to suggest that the BBC is unique in harbouring rogue behaviour. However, there are some aspects of the BBC culture (which, according to the widely-experienced Lord Grade, is unique to the BBC) that pose difficulties when it comes to matters of scrutiny and governance. I wanted to focus upon that issue because I thought it would be the one of most interest to us ‘deniers’ who have such a hard time of it, largely because the BBC says “these people are deniers – and you can trust us on that”.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. While there’s nothing quite like the BBC anywhere else, I think certain media organisations have through great longevity and long-standing reputations of trust in the past, gained not dissimilar relationships with their publics. The New York Times springs to mind. And, if anything the current cultural spiral of that org in particular and the accompanying bias on all manner of topics, is a betrayal of the former trust whether or not it crosses lines of legality. Ultimately, it is the group belief of such organisations that they simply cannot be wrong, which allows not only bias to burgeon, but extreme bad practice to prosper too. At some point, how can it not allow some employees to cross lines; and to preserve the belief from what are viewed as merely inconvenient slips, how can it not be covered up too.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Alan and I have indeed had many disagreements about the BBC over the years, he being in the camp that says it’s not so bad, me being in the camp that is critical. Fortunately, we’ve never fallen out about it, and I do understand where Alan is coming from, based on my limited experience of what seem to be markedly inferior media products abroad.

    Alan won’t be surprised, though, to learn that I’m definitely behind John Ridgway’s observations in his piece about the BBC. Many years ago, I used to be a great fan of the BBC, but I have become increasingly disillusioned with it over the years. IMO it has made a number of shocking errors (Jimmy Savile, Cliff Richard, biased reporting of the Brexit campaign, unashamed campaigning over climate change, Martin Bashir, to name just a few). But the big problem for me is its apparent undying belief that it is superior, that it can do no wrong. I think its political views are shared by ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News, and it is fair enough for Alan to point this out. The difference, to my mind, indeed the critical point, is that ITV, Channel 4 (arguably) and Sky News are perfectly entitled to hold and to promote certain views – the BBC, by its charter, isn’t, yet it does. And it trades on the historical trust the British people (and I guess also many people abroad) have in it, and their belief in its integrity and impartiality. If only!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am another BBC-sceptic. The clincher for me was the “28-gate” affair which is well-known to all here, no doubt. I take the view that, if the top echelon of the BBC can behave in that way on the climate issue, why would they behave differently with regard to any other major topic? In short, there is a corporate view which is followed and promoted at all times: journalistic integrity has long gone.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. Mike,

    Thank you very much for a very timely and relevant reference to 28gate. The following link provides further information that amply illustrates the ‘we are never wrong’ attitude of the BBC and the lengths they are prepared to go to in order to cover up their misdemeanours:

    https://www.theregister.com/2013/01/31/bbc_28gate_legal_fees/

    I also particularly like this footnote:

    “The 2007 Bridcut Report for the BBC Trust contained a strong warning for the Corporation. ‘The BBC has many public purposes of both ambition and merit – but joining campaigns to save the planet is not one of them,’ wrote Bridcut. ‘Acceptance of a basic scientific consensus only sharpens the need for hawk-eyed scrutiny of the arguments surrounding both causation and solution’.”

    Liked by 4 people

  14. BBC bias is so deeply embedded that I almost fail to notice it these days, from the pushing of certain subjects to the exclusion of others, to the language used in headlines.

    Yesterday we were treated to the “news” that it was one year since George Floyd was killed. That isn’t “news”, it’s history. Somebody made a decision to push that story, as part of the BBC’s campaigning on behalf of BLM.

    Today’s website headline is:

    “Covid: Government backtracks over local travel advice after confusion”.

    That strikes me as another example of bias. The headline is implicitly critical of the Government – “backtracks” is a loaded word. They could have reported it positively, e.g. “Government responds to concerns over local travel advice”. Better still, they could have reported it neutrally – e.g. “Government changes local travel advice after some parties expressed concern at possible confusion” Fat chance!

    One of yesterday’s headlines on the BBC website was:

    “Elliot Page: Actor wins praise for sharing swimming shorts image after top surgery”

    I’d never heard of Elliot Page (OK, my bad) and had no idea why this was newsworthy, had no idea why it was praiseworthy, and had no idea what the operation was. It turns out that Elliot is trans, a “prominent LGBT advocate” and the operation in question was for breast tissue removal. I am glad that the operation has made Elliot happy, but I have no idea why it should be front page news, except that the BBC is an unashamedly campaigning organisation, and LGBT issues are at the forefront of its campaigning.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Mark, here we go again
    1. Anniversary of George Floyd murder is still news. It will be marked by vigils and protests worldwide. Channel 4 news mentioned it, so BBC not alone.
    2. Although your alternatives might be better, the headline does adequately describe the change in Government attitude and “backtrack” seems rather mild given the utter confusion regarding government-sponsored comments.
    3.Must admit I missed the great Elliot Page storyline (and presumably accompanying imagery) As to newsworthiness, I looked him/her up on Wikipedia and found him/her to have won rather a lot of awards. Unfortunately for roles in films I have never seen. So unlikely to be of much interest to you or I but probably of interest to many.
    As I have often said, bias is in the eyes of the beholder. I personally would not have picked these three items as evidence of BBC bias – there are more obvious candidates IMHO. And it really is a matter of differing opinions.

    Like

  16. Alan,

    I stand by my selection of items to justify my allegations of BBC bias and agenda.

    1. The fact that its bias and agenda-driven editorial choices are shared by Channel 4, doesn’t make them any less what they are. The difference is that the BBC has a legal obligation under its Charter not to behave that way, and we’re all forced to pay for it if we want to watch TV.

    2. “Backtrack” is not an objective word in the context of the headline. The headline was chosen by someone, probably a senior editor. They must have training (if not, why not?) in the selection of headline wording and how to be objective and neutral, yet they regularly fail. It’s the sort of headline I would expect from the Guardian (which is entitled to express its political views in this way). I shouldn’t see it at the BBC.

    3. The Elliot Page story isn’t news in any conventional sense, in my view. I doubt (I could be wrong of course) if it was of interest to one person in 10,000, but it’s of interest to the BBC, because of its pro LGBT agenda, and so it makes front page news on the BBC News website. How many more interesting and newsworthy stories were pushed off the front page and relegated to the nether regions of the website, to be hunted down by those who care about them? How many passed the public by because the BBC prefers to push this sort of thing at us?

    However, the great things are:

    1. You and I don’t fall out over our profound disagreement regarding the behaviour of the BBC;

    2. It demonstrates that we CliSceppers are not a monolithic group, and that we have widely differing views on a number of subjects. I think that makes us stronger, and it offers me reassurance that others who see aspects of the world differently from me do agree with me (broadly speaking) when it comes to the very important issue of climate change and related elements of it.

    Vive la difference!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Covid and the climate crisis really are linked:
    Both are hyped and deceptively used to put allies in power at the cost of liberty, safety and honesty.
    Censorship is anti-scientific.
    Censors are are anti-scientific.
    Those who censor, deceive, suppress, avoid audits, etc are the enemy.

    Like

  18. Speaking of fact-checking, Dominic Cummings has been making a big stink about how the government failed its people and Boris is not fit to lead the country. So I thought it might be useful to fact check his allegations (if the BBC can do it, why can’t I?)

    Cummings said:

    A democratic system that forces the people to decide between Boris and Jeremy Corbin is not fit for purpose.

    My Fact Checking Team says:

    No shit Sherlock.

    Cummings said:

    When I told you the main reasons for my trip to Barnard Castle, I was telling the truth as far as it went. I just didn’t include the main reason.

    My Fact Checking Team says:

    This is very true. Cummings was only lying in the very narrow sense that he wasn’t telling the truth.

    Cummings said:

    Hancock lied on at least 15 to 20 occasions and he should have been sacked for that.

    My Fact Checking Team says:

    One of the most obvious lies that Hancock uttered was the one where he insisted that Cummings had legitimate reasons for going to Barnard Castle and so he should not be sacked. Is that particular lie one of the 20 that Cummings has in mind now?

    Cummings said:

    Hancock was not telling the truth when he said a protective curtain had been placed around care homes.

    My Fact Checking Team says:

    Hancock was telling the truth. Care home residents were imprisoned by the state and deprived of their basic human rights from the very outset. The only purpose for which they were allowed out was to visit hospital to pick up their covid-19 and take it back to the care home.

    Cummings said:

    It wasn’t obvious that the SAGE consensus was being correctly transmitted to the UK government in order to properly inform the decision-making process. That’s why I decided to sit in on their meetings.

    My Fact Checking team says:

    There never was such a thing as a SAGE consensus. However, having an unqualified, self-appointed non-expert sit in on their meetings to form his own assessment that could then be used to influence government decision-making is obviously the best solution.

    Cummings said:

    Boris should go, but Rishi Sunak is one of the good guys – and I’m not just saying that to wheedle myself into a future Sunak government.

    My Fact Checking Team says:

    He’s just saying that to wheedle himself into a future Sunak government.

    Cummings said:

    The government were completely unprepared for such a pandemic; they completely let us down and that is why we ended up with 127,000 deaths.

    Our Fact Checking Team says:

    This is not true. The 2017 issue of the UK’s National Risk Register identified a flu-like pandemic as the greatest risk to the country and that one could expect between 20,000 and 750,000 deaths. The same document made it quite clear that: “For pandemic flu, good hygiene remains the most effective defence until a vaccine can be developed.”

    You can’t blame the government for our failure to wash our hands.

    Like

  19. MIAB,

    Absolutely. My comment was, of course, deeply ironic. If anyone wants to know what I really think about the government’s preparedness, they can read it here:

    Penny Mordaunt’s Face

    Like

  20. JOHN RIDGWAY
    I have to disagree with your fact check on Cummings. Nothing he said about Barnard Castle can be considered a lie because it was all about what he felt (about his health, that of his wife and kid, his eyesight.) The media and public hysteria about it is symptomatic of our society which has given up on facts and operates on feelings alone. Feelings about every subject under the sun, from dangerous climate change to the electoral system in Belarus. We’re feeling our way to economic collapse and perhaps world war three and nobody cares.

    Likewise his judgement on Corbyn and Johnson is similarly unassailable by fact check, although it is open to the criticism that Cummings seems to be proposing some kind of technocracy which is the first step on the road to Mussolini-type fascism. Johnson v Corbyn was an example of British democracy at its best. Tory MPs put Bojo into the leadership final because they realised that their criteria (someone honest, hardworking and serious) didn’t correspond to the public’s (a cunning bugger to get Brexit done.) After 15 years of Blairite purges the Labour left were too few in parliament to put up a leadership contestant, so some centrists helped them out, and the extremist proved the most popular among party members, (and among voters, who gave him more votes than Gordon Brown) despite him being useless on Brexit and at defending himself from charges of anti-semitism. Democracy means the right to vote for idiots.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Geoff,

    I concede your points but, in my defence, I will apply the caveat that everything I had said was meant to be taken with a pinch of salt. It was just me expressing my feelings 🙂

    That said, I still think it is valid for me to point out that what he says now about why he felt he had to take his exodus north was not amongst the main reasons given at the time. He would argue that he was just being economical with the truth, and with good reason. But the fact remains that he is being inconsistent, and I choose to draw the conclusion that somewhere along the line he must therefore have not been telling the truth about what his feelings actually were.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. And I concede your point, and apologise for an error. I said: “Nothing he said about Barnard Castle can be considered a lie.” This is false. I should have said: “Nothing he said about Barnard Castle can be proved to be a lie.”

    I have positive feelings about Cummings because:
    1) He reads a lot and thinks about what he’s reading.
    2) He’s looking for answers
    3) He famously insulted the political/media circus, saying they tweet each other and screw each other and think they’re living, which could be a quote from Juvenal on Imperial Rome
    4) the Guardian hates him

    The point being that all the speculation about his motives is unhealthy and sign that our civilisation is down the pan, because the very idea of someone thinking hard about problems promotes a reaction of blind panic and hatred among the chattering classes.

    I expect his feelings were: “How am I supposed to solve the biggest crisis the country has faced in decades cooped up in a flat with a wife and small kid and people shouting at the windows?”

    While Carrie’s feelings were: “If I’m going to live in this joint at least I can have some gold embossed wallpaper on the firm.”

    Both may be guilty of bending the rules to suit themselves. If you think their attitudes are in any way commensurate then you’re not a serious person.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. Geoff,

    I have to admit that, when it comes to feelings, those I have for Dominic Cummings are very mixed. After reading about his role in the Brexit campaign, in Tim Shipman’s book, ‘All Out War’, I came away with the impression of a man who was autocratic and divisive but, at the same time, someone who was innovative and effective. He certainly wasn’t someone who one would mess with. Since then, I think the public image has swung away from his virtues and has somewhat concentrated upon his vices. Consequently, whilst I have complimented him on this site in the past, I have also had occasion to be critical. Despite what you say about the ascendancy of feeling over facts, I don’t think Barnard Castle was his finest hour.

    I think the wider issue – the one that you raise here – is the extent to which we are ruled by our feelings and the somewhat tendentious relationship we enjoy with the factual world. I think this reflects the extent to which our primary cognition is emotional. As a species, we are in the habit of using facts to rationalise conclusions that we have already arrived at emotionally. That is one reason why I approach the BBC fact checking service cautiously, and one reason why I chose to parody it in my earlier comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. So a BBC report has concluded that the rehiring of Bashir was not part of a cover up.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-57469980

    “The review was set up to look at why Bashir became a correspondent in 2016 when questions already surrounded him.

    Had those involved in his hiring known all they do now, he ‘would have never been reappointed’, the report says.”

    So, basically, a BBC report investigating the BBC found that there was no evidence of a cover up within the BBC, despite essential information regarding Bashir being withheld from a panel set up to interview him. The hiring of Bashir was not done as part of a cover up, it was merely the result of a cover up, which, presumably, is okay.

    It’s good to see the BBC’s standards for merciless self-scrutiny are being maintained.

    Liked by 2 people

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