Thursday, July 26, 2007

When the media becomes the story

I'm a member of the Regional Audience Council for the BBC in the South of England. It's an interesting forum to be involved with: we get together six times a year and discuss programmes - generally regionally-produced output - and issues facing the BBC such as on-demand broadcasting, the Licence and Charter, the analogue to digital switchover and the like.

Being on the Council also means I get a copy of Ariel each week. It's the BBC's in-house newspaper, often referred to as 'Pravda' by Corporation insiders, and it's always interesting to get another perspective on the nation's 'state' broadcaster.

Unsurprisingly, the publication's full of the BBC's response to the dodgily-edited 'Queen' programme trailer, and the revelations that Beeb employees have covered up for a lack of viewer or listener involvement by getting members of the production team or their mates to pose as callers to live (or in some cases recorded but played-out-as-live) shows.

As shown in how it has been the leading item on most BBC news bulletins - at least until the Godsend to news that was the floods - the BBC has indulged in some mightily meritorious hand-wringing and has turned itself from a corporation caught out at some minor dubious practice into a rather self-righteous driver for zero tolerance in anything that might mislead the licence-paying public.

The BBC has gone too far in banning all competitions from TV and radio - who does that help? Certainly not the viewers or listeners who now have less reason or opportunity to engage with the Corporation.

The reaction I've had from people I've talked to about the BBC's over-reaction to some poor editorial judgement has generally been along the lines of my friend Claire's reaction: 'For God's sake, they should just get over themselves and move on.'

I'm with Nick Webb from BBC Wales Sport who wrote to Ariel saying: "Any other major organisation would have dealt with these problems quietly and internally. Surely the (Director General's) own handling of the issues has done more damage than the original mistakes. Has Mark Thompson been taking publicity lessons from Gerald Ratner?'

I definitely think that Thompson should have taken on board that old adage: when you're in a hole, the last thing to do is keep digging.

My perception of his actions has been to pass the buck from the BBC to RDF - when surely the BBC as commissioners of RDF's work holds the ultimate responsibility - and to blame junior staff in an environment where there's clearly insufficient governance in place and insufficient honesty in the culture to either prevent poor editorial judgement or deal with the consequences of audience indifference in an adult way.

In bending over backwards to 'engage' with its audiences in an interactive and PC-manner, Auntie Beeb appears to have shoved its management head squarely up its own behind.

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