Essays: Bakewell on the Beeb |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Bakewell on the Beeb

Joan Bakewell’s Hetherington Lecture at the University of Stirling in November 2008 is a good example of how a single essay can define a moment. Earlier in the month, the BBC had been plunged into a crisis of confidence by a few stupid things that a couple of comedians had said when they got excited in the studio. Their remarks should never had been transmitted, but because the producer in charge was even younger than they were – in the case of one of them, he was a lot younger – the dumb patter went to air. If the young producer had actually been working for the BBC, he might have picked up a phone and checked in with upstairs. But he was working for one of the comedians. The public reaction to the broadcast was largely a beat-up whipped into being by the Daily Mail, ever keen to embarrass the BBC in the hope that the whole idea of licence-fee broadcasting might be dismantled. But the real crisis lay in the steadily emerging revelation that the BBC’s top management had no idea of how to contain the damage. They were up against a widespread public feeling that the BBC had not only lost its moral authority but, even worse, had no idea of where to find it again. Many of us in the media commentariat wrote articles on the subject – I myself wrote a Radio 4 “A Point of View” broadcast which went out on November 21st and which can still be read and heard on this site, in the Audio section – but Joan Bakewell wrote the lecture that did the best job of analysing the whole mess. A shortened version of her lecture ran as an article in the Guardian and I link to it here. Younger journalists might profit from noting how authoritatively she brings in the underlying cause for the lack of certainty in the BBC’s day-to-day control of its own events. Outsourcing, introduced by John Birt in the previous decade, had eroded the continuity of the organization’s ethical culture. As a result, it was almost impossible to dictate standards of manners and language from the top down. The embarrassment had thus been caused, not by wilful obtuseness, but by the lack of a mechanism for imposing any will at all. Her strongly constructed argument is powerful evidence for the beneficial effect of the old BBC culture she grew up in. Equally persuasive, alas, is her tacit admission that it might be gone for keeps.

Read Joan Bakewell’s Guardian article “Enough Excuses” .