Newsnight, Savile, and why it's BBC managers rather than journalists who deserve our scorn

Our writer, who spent years at the BBC, says it's ruled by a disgracefully overpaid managerial elite who blame hard-working reporters and producers for their own errors

Share
Related Topics

Let me declare an interest. I worked for BBC News for five years until 2007 and I have watched the media storm around the organisation with sadness but not surprise. As a former BBC hack one of the most interesting things to emerge from the organisation’s horror show over the past few days is the gulf between senior management and the journalists and producers on the ground. Now of course, there is such a divide in every firm and organisation big or small across the UK but I think it’s particularly acute at the BBC.

Byzantine

Management structures are often described as byzantine and at the BBC this is no cliché. Managers in the main have incredibly poorly defined job descriptions and areas of responsibility – this breeds a culture of land-grabbing and building fiefdoms within the organisation. All too often it is not about producing the best programming but about protecting one’s fiefdom and perhaps grabbing a little bit of responsibility and power from a fellow manager.

Amongst this elite – and this is one point where the BBC’s sharpest critics do have a real point – there is overpay, with dozens of executives paid more than the Prime Minister and certainly more than they would earn in the private sector (although this was always used as an excuse by previous Director General’s). And when one of the senior executives does lose their job – normally this involves a slow erosion of their powerbase by a competing executive – they tend to walk away with an eye-wateringly high pay off and pension.

Contrast this with the reporters and producers – they tend not to be well paid, redundancy is a constant threat (I remember in one round of redundancy during my time at the BBC only a handful of managers departed while hundreds of reporters etc were shown the door) and they are pressed beneath a management system of nods and winks and competition blood-red in tooth and claw.

Those below soon get to know that they are expected to tow a certain line but that line is never quite clear until a perceived transgression is made; neither in fact is where the buck really stops and who is the line manager is. This engenders a culture of low level fear and professional arse-covering (witness the journalists producing precise email trails for the decision to pull the Savile piece).

Us and Them

No surprise, because post-Hutton Inquiry, senior managers have thrown the lower orders to the wolves. Remember the ridiculous case of the poor Blue Peter staffer fired by a senior manager following the exposure that a poll to change the name of a cat had been rigged and on a much bigger scale; or thousands of staff being uprooted in an expensive and facile move to Manchester. These were pure ‘Us and them’, but don’t even scratch the surface.

This management structure at the BBC matters when it came to Savile. There may well be no killer email in Mr Rippon’s inbox from a more senior manager but despite Mr Rippon’s denials I find it impossible to believe that the piece wasn’t pulled either on a nod and a wink from above or simply to carry favour.

The crisis engulfing the BBC isn’t due to poor journalistic practices – in fact the Newsnight reporters were exemplary – nor as one commentator put it “rule bound,  strictly hierarchical” management (most BBC staffers wish things were that clear) – but instead it’s a reflection of a management living in a perpetual state of dark-age chaos.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
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