Leaders: Case must be made for BBC’s continued existence

BBC Scotland Headquarters at Pacific Quay, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MaLleod

BBC Scotland Headquarters at Pacific Quay, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MaLleod

IT IS hard to underestimate the scale of the damage that has been done to the reputation and integrity of the BBC.

Public confidence in the Corporation as a reliable and trustworthy source of news and analysis has been shaken to the core. And it is this to which the resignation of the Director General, George Entwistle, barely five weeks in the job, speaks so directly. The condemnation of what went wrong at Newsnight, the Corporation’s flagship news and current affairs programme, coming from the mouth of Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, leaves in no doubt the depth of the failure of news executives at the BBC and its elaborate machinery of editorial and corporate governance.

But this was no editorial lapse merely. It exposed a failure of the BBC’s extensive, multi-layered, elaborate – and notably well-heeled – management. The question is not just how a contentious story which gave credence, effectively if not directly, to an untrue and potentially most serious destruction of character and reputation passed the immediate front line of fact checking. It is what the extensive management of the BBC actually does for its earnestly lobbied millions.

The questions left by this appalling affair go to the raison d’etre of the BBC. The reason is that its very existence as a state-funded broadcaster rests – as it has historically rested – on the assertion that it is the guardian of excellence in the standards of journalism. Time after time this argument has been rolled out when it was necessary to defend the BBC from other shortcomings and in recent years to justify its extraordinary generous funding and its relentless expansion into areas of news coverage more than adequately well covered by 
private sector institutions.

Its claim to protection and support rested on public trust in its accuracy, reliability, fairness and probity. It is this defence that has now been profoundly undermined by grave misjudgment in its handling of the sex abuse scandals – in particular the failure to put its own house in order and now, as in a grotesque attempt to make good this shortcoming, to broadcast a glaringly unchecked report that Lord Patten himself as described as “awful” and “shoddy” journalism.

The depth of the trouble the BBC is in is reflected in the fact there are now four inquires under way into the Corporation.. These inquiries, separately and cumulatively, and Mr Entwistle’s resignation, cannot but raise searching questions as to the very existence of a state-funded broadcaster in the modern era.

The case for its continued existence is on the line. Excellence in broadcasting can now be found to rest elsewhere and, this being so, the BBC’s reason to exist in its current form has gone. This is the challenge that the inquiries – and more widely the government – must face. Simple replacement of a director general from within the BBC management and tired assurances of “lessons will be learnt” will no longer suffice.

A little light relieves fiscal gloom

Given the evident failure of a “good news” follow-through from the better-than-expected bounce in third quarter GDP and the depressing forecasts from the Fraser of Allander Institute last week, it is difficult not to fall into deep gloom over our prospects. But today brings shards of hope amid the darkness.

The latest Bank of Scotland Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report finds that while overall business conditions across the Scottish private sector economy changed very little at the start of the fourth quarter and that employment was virtually unchanged, there was modest growth in activity as firms worked through existing order books. Specifically, the bank’s PMI Index rose from September’s reading of 49.6 to 50.7 in October, signalling a return to weak growth in private sector activity.

This modest expansion reflected higher activity in the service sector as manufacturing output continued to decline, albeit at a much slower pace than one month before. In respect of new orders, there was little sign of an upturn last month after three straight months of decline.

There is little here to suggest a break-out from a glacial pace of recovery, but equally, little evidence either of a further deterioration that many have feared. The decline may have levelled out. But given the substantial resort to quantitative easing and the introduction of the Funding For Lending scheme to help banks lend, this is disappointing.

Clearly there is much for Chancellor George Osborne to do to encourage enterprise and support activity, particularly for the beleaguered construction sector, when he delivers his autumn statement on 5 December.


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