Tusa attacks 'grim efficiency' at BBC

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The Independent Online
JOHN TUSA yesterday launched a stinging attack on the rise of performance indicators, management consultants, jargon and the grim quest for efficiency which has gripped the BBC, where he was managing director of the World Service.

Although his lecture at the City University, London, examined the spread of consultant-inspired efficiency practices from the Civil Service and public sector bodies from 1979 onwards, a main target was the present BBC management, of which he was part until 18 months ago.

Mr Tusa, in a clear reference to the mood of alienation and despair gripping many BBC staff and fuelling their strike action, said that 'an institution's ethos is not owned by its management; it is owned by the staff. Any management that ignores this, that undervalues the basic ethos, or tries to reconstruct it without reference to the staff. . .risks an internal psychological schism that will not easily be repaired.

' After all, many - most - in the BBC are deeply loyal to the institution and the idea behind it. Who ever heard of anyone being loyal to a business unit or cost centre?'

Mr Tusa, who works part-time as a presenter for BBC television news, was delivering the City University James Cameron memorial lecture. He chose as his theme 'Programme or Products - the management ethos and creative values'. He said that, while change was needed, the key question was whether the methods chosen were suitable and appropriate to the institutions such as the BBC to which they were being applied. He said the BBC was in danger of falling into Oscar Wilde's trap, knowing the price of everything (the cost of individual programmes) but the value of nothing.

The pressure for efficiency was leading to a stringent re-examination of how journalism is actually carried out, creating new work practices. But could those practices really demonstrate effectiveness in all its complexity?

'Journalistic effectiveness is one thing, management efficiency may well not be the same. For where in all this reductive numericalism is the room for creative insights, where is the space for understanding, richness of language, boldness of image, the shaft of emotion?

'We know the price of a programme - but in. . . our zeal to cost, to manage, define, to pin down, are we in danger of losing sight of the true nature of the activity in which we are engaged, and of the people for whom it exists - the audience?'

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