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Coffee House

Chaos at the BBC

12 November 2012

9:13 AM

12 November 2012

9:13 AM

The BBC crisis continues to dominate the airwaves. George Entwistle’s £1.3 million payoff has set outraged tongues wagging. Tim Montgomerie has collected the furious comments made by several Tory MPs. Much of the rest of the press pack has followed suit, saying that the severance deal is yet another self-inflicted wound by BBC management.

Meanwhile, Helen Boaden and Stephen Mitchell, who are respectively the director and deputy director of BBC News, have stepped aside pending the results of the Pollard inquiry. David Dimbleby told the Today programme that he couldn’t understand why George Enwistle resigned, adding that the continuing fallout from the Savile scandal is not the greatest disaster to befall the BBC. He also said that the BBC is governed by a cabal of managers who speak ‘gobbledegook’. This strident intervention has led several interested commentators to wonder if Dimbleby has designs on the director generalship; Andrew Neil goes one further, asking if Dimbleby has his eyes on the chairmanship.

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These feverish developments do not suggest that the corporation’s leadership has a grip on the crisis. It is little surprise, therefore, to see Lord Patten coming under renewed pressure. Philip Davies MP appeared on the Today programme earlier this morning and argued that Patten should resign for having been ‘asleep at the wheel’. And the Murdoch press, in the form of the Times (£), has responded to Patten’s confrontational comments yesterday by challenging him to prove that he is the man to inaugerate reform and appoint a new director general.

Patten, though, is not without friends in the press and the corporation. Libby Purves has written a forthright column (£) in his defence, turning her righteous anger on the ‘useless “referees”’, the ‘bloated management layers’, which failed to save Newsnight from itself. John Simpson makes the same point only with a little more nuance in the Telegraph, pointing out that editorial cuts have left Newsnight depending on the services of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This position implies that the cuts should be reversed and applied elsewhere if quality is to be maintained.

This media circus is richly entertaining, as the elite devours itself. Who, for instance, could resist the vital information imparted by the Mail that ‘Dry’ Lord McAlpine loathes ‘Wet’ Lord Patten, even down to the greedy manner in which he eats oysters. It’s like something out of Evelyn Waugh.

Beneath the hilarity, however, lie two very serious points: further evidence of child abuse, which must be properly investigated (I would argue by a full judicial inquiry), and a witch hunt conducted in the badlands of the internet. Lord McAlpine is considering legal action against those who libelled and slandered him on Twitter. This should interest the print media, which lives in fear of libel, and those considering statutory regulation of the press. The elephant in Sir Brian Leveson’s hearing room has always been comparably ungoverned and vastly influential social media.

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