Danny Rogers on PR: A scandal not only of the BBC's making

 

“This is the worst crisis in 50 years at the BBC”. That was the splash headline of this newspaper exactly a week ago. It was a direct quote from John Simpson, the BBC's foreign editor. It now looks like hyperbole.

It is certainly a week that BBC boss George Entwistle will want to forget. The new DG resembled a rabbit caught in headlights, especially when "doorstepped" by reporters. Entwistle's early lack of leadership and gravitas led to coruscating attacks from media commentators such as the Daily Telegraph's Peter Oborne.

It wasn't the organisation's finest hour either, with senior journalists locked in a fierce battle with management for much of the week. The broadcaster had unarguably "bottled it" by failing to air a Newsnight report last year that would have exposed the vile behaviour of Jimmy Savile earlier. In doing so, the BBC had betrayed brave victims who had bared their souls to camera.

To make the unfolding crisis worse, communication was poorly handled. The golden rules of crisis management are to respond quickly, respond accurately, show leadership and keep an eye on longer-term reputation.

The BBC failed on several counts, with contradictory accounts emerging and senior staff blaming one another. Director of communications Paul Mylrea – president of the Chartered Institute of PR last year – and head of press and media relations Julian Payne, fought valiantly to stay on top of developments.

The farce over the Newsnight report was probably less serious than the BBC's culpability as Savile's employer.

But crucially, the scandal was not only the BBC's: it was the tale of multi-institutional –arguably societal – failure.

So as a BBC crisis, is this worse than the Hutton Inquiry (2003), fixing audience phone-ins (2007) or Jonathan Ross insulting Andrew Sachs on air (2008)? No, it is probably on a par. That said, Entwistle will be praying against further revelations.

Danny Rogers is editor of PR Week

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