So, BBC Director General George Entwistle has resigned after a record low of 54 days in the job. I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him; he’s had one shit-storm after the other, and it must be nauseating to kiss goodbye to your £450,000 a year salary before you’ve even upgraded your mobile phone contract. His appearance just before his resignation on Radio 4’s Today programme, however, in which John Humphrys interviewed him in the manner of a cruel schoolboy stabbing a writhing fish in a bucket, was uncomfortable to say the least: “Did you see the film the night it was broadcast?” “No, I was out”. “Did you read Guardian’s front page yesterday?” “No, I was giving a speech”. Amidst the stuttering and spluttering, Humphrys pinned down Entwistle to such a degree that –rightly or wrongly- he came across as absent and incompetent.
I have a growing sense that the rest of the media are mirthlessly rubbing their hands together while watching the omnibenevolent BBC stumble and fall, get up, shoot itself in the foot, and then fall over again. The BBC are always the impeccable good guys, the license-fee kingpins who perennially toe the line and hold everyone else to account, and those who were live-streamed on the BBC website squirming in their Leveson chairs are probably relishing even slightly the thought of Newsnight et al getting a dose of castigating headlines and glaring scrutiny.
Incidentally it’s been quite interesting, if not bizarre, to see the BBC adamantly play out its accountability virtue in a kind of twisted labyrinthine pseudo-parodying meta-journalism. There were Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuses at the BBC, which the BBC reported on from outside the BBC, with archive footage obtained from the BBC, and questions over whether the BBC was right to allow such practices at the BBC. Then BBC’s Newsnight programme was outed for not airing an investigation into Jimmy Savile’s abuses at the BBC because the BBC was airing a tribute programme to him at the time. BBC Newsnight reporters criticised their BBC Newsnight editor Peter Rippon who then stepped down, before BBC veteran John Simpson waded in to say the BBC was facing its ‘worst crisis’ in fifty years. BBC’s Panorama then investigated BBC’s Newsnight, and then BBC’s Newsnight jumped the gun and decided they’d better broadcast something, so they put out a programme which falsely implicated Tory peer Lord McAlpine in child sexual abuse. The victim of the abuse then appeared on BBC news to say he’d got it wrong, so BBC Newsnight was back in the slaughterhouse. BBC Director General George Entwhistle then gave that fist-eating interview on BBC’s Today before announcing his resignation from the BBC on the BBC news channel.
What next for the great British Broadcasting Corporation? I predict that this car crash will play out, more heads will roll and the internal and external torrent of frenzied accusations will inevitably dry to a trickle. But I think it’s important to remember that the BBC has produced excellent journalism, and in the scheme of things, a couple of (albeit very) bad decisions on Newsnight don’t constitute the abolishment of the programme or of the BBC’s entire ninety-year old reputation. Compared with the nebulous virtue of print media, Newsnight made journalistic and editorial errors while newspapers involved with the hacking scandal made moral ones.
Savile must be turning in his grave, but only to light up a cigar and have a chuckle at it all…