Greg Dyke On Broadcasting

Jowell at bay, the hounds moving in for the kill. It's not a pretty sight

Some time last week, I think it was around Tuesday or Wednesday, I began to feel sorry for Tessa Jowell. I have no particular reason to support the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport; she certainly didn't do me any favours during the Kelly/Hutton affair when she was only too willing to do Alastair Campbell's bidding, and to attack me and the BBC to anyone who would listen.

She's also been too much of a sycophantic Blairite for my taste, too often acting uncritically as her master's voice - although she's not the only cabinet minister guilty of that.

To be fair, she's not been a bad Culture Secretary, and her performance has improved enormously during her time in charge of the department. On the big issues in broadcasting, such as the creation of Ofcom, she's largely been proved right, and she clearly deserves real credit for her role in winning the Olympics for London in 2012.

But none of that is why I began to feel sorry for her. No, what worried me as the media pack sensed blood and moved in for another ministerial kill was that she seemed to be getting an awful lot of flak simply because she was married to David Mills. She was in danger of being found guilty by association with her husband.

As everyone now knows, Mills is a lawyer and tax specialist who has worked for, and is close to, the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. That in itself is arguably a misjudgement given Berlusconi's reputation, and Mills may or may not have done things he should not have; only time, and possibly the courts, will establish that. But on the basis of the evidence so far available little of this has anything to do with Ms Jowell. Finding someone guilty of an offence of being married to someone who might be up to no good strikes me as unfair, even when that person is a politician. And some of the allegations made against Ms Jowell in the past week were simply wrong.

I saw one story on BBC News which suggested that, because she was married to Mr Mills, Ms Jowell should have declared a conflict of interest when the Government decided to allow ITV to be bought by foreign media groups, with the obvious suggestion that Ms Jowell, as Secretary of State, pushed this legislation through because somehow the decision might advantage Berlusconi. There are three obvious flaws in this argument.

First, the decision to change the rules on the foreign ownership of ITV was an initiative from No.10, not the Culture Department. Second, Berlusconi has never shown the slightest interest in buying ITV. Third, and by far the most powerful argument, the change in the foreign ownership rules made not the slightest difference to whether or not Berlusconi's company could own ITV. As a European company it was already allowed to own ITV if it wanted to; the point of the change in the rules was that it made it possible for non-European companies to own Britain's No. 1 commercial broadcaster for the first time.

Looking at the case against Ms Jowell, it seems to me that the only serious allegation against her is that she signed a form to re-mortgage her house when her husband presented her with the papers. Is that sufficient evidence to end her ministerial career? The Cabinet Secretary decided it wasn't.

Of course, if it now turns out that she tried to influence the Home Office in how it dealt with requests for information from Italian prosecutors in their case against Mr Mills, it's another matter. But so far there's no evidence to support that and it seems to me that the media's demand for blood needs to be resisted unless the evidence is watertight. It is worth remembering that Peter Mandelson was driven from office by a media campaign over the Hinduja affair, only for it later to emerge that he wasn't actually guilty of what he had been charged with. In that case Alastair Campbell has a lot to answer for.

But Ms Jowell had better watch out: she has a lot of enemies around. Last week I was at an event in the House of Commons where I bumped into two former ministers, one Labour and one Tory. We got on to discussing the Jowell affair and I told them I was planning to write a sympathetic column about the issue. Both tried to warn me off, saying that they thought David Mills had sailed very close to the wind.

As far I was concerned this only made my point. I am not interested in whether David Mills is guilty or not guilty. I'm only interested in whether Tessa Jowell has done anything wrong. Once we start judging people, and particularly politicians, by the actions of their spouses rather than themselves, we are on a slippery slope. We are demanding too great a level of accountability. Why stop at the actions of a spouse? What about the parents or children of politicians? Should we have judged Margaret Thatcher by what her son Mark was up to?

New boss, old problems

The news that the staff at the BBC are deeply unhappy with the corporation's current leadership, and that only 13 per cent of them believe that senior management listen to their views (compared with 54 per cent three years ago) must be a real problem for BBC chairman Michael Grade.

The last time these sort of BBC approval figures were as low was in John Birt's time, and one of the outsiders then leading the attack against Birt's style of management was none other than Michael Grade. In his 1992 MacTaggart lecture, the then chief executive of Channel 4 described Birt's BBC as "pseudo Leninist", saying: "There comes a point where iron discipline is virtually indistinguishable from brain death, and the worst consequence of all this is on the morale of the staff who speak disparagingly of their managers - behind their backs."

When I was appointed director general in 1999, at the end of the Birt era, the BBC governors made it very clear to me that one of my major tasks was to improve morale among the staff at the BBC. I am not sure they had been influenced by or even read Grade's lecture; they were simply fed up with BBC staff moaning about the management and believed that the relationship between the two was damaging the performance of the organisation.

Given what Grade said back in 1992, isn't it now time for him to do something about BBC morale? Or was that then and this is now, and that was Birt and this is Grade?

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Trainee Recruitment C...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album