The BBC must hack away the slack


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The Independent Online

After the ghastly revelations of the past months – sexual perversion emerging on an unprecedented scale, which took place over many years right under the noses of a management more concerned with protecting themselves than any victims – it's hard to believe the BBC still hasn't learnt the basic rules of PR.

Last Friday, it scored another own goal by releasing the evidence submitted to the Pollard inquiry into the dropping of Newsnight's investigation of Jimmy Savile in a form that was hardly user-friendly. Three thousand pages of text on sheets of A4 paper scanned and dumped on to the internet. It was fiendishly hard to read, with chunks covered in black pen. Clumsy?

The BBC said that only 3 per cent of the information was redacted for legal reasons, to protect victims and prevent libel actions, but others disagreed. Key witness Jeremy Paxman was outraged, as was the lawyer acting for a large group of Savile's victims who are suing the corporation.

Then, the timing – releasing the information on a Friday when most MP's are in their constituencies. Accountability? The senior management had battened down the hatches. The acting director-general Tim Davie despite previously assuring MPs that he would be available for interview, only appeared in a pre-recorded chat with someone from the BBC. What planet are these people on?

Former director of Audio and Music Davie is fond of management speak and doesn't radiate the necessary gravitas for the job, waffling about "fixing issues" and "a very transparent" process. (Grammatical note: you can't be "very" transparent – either you are or you're not.)

No one has lost their job in the fallout from the scandal and the £2m inquiry into management failings, apart from former DG George Entwistle, but that's hardy surprising – in the BBC, people retire or get moved sideways. Former head of news Helen Boaden now runs radio, and her deputy, Steve Mitchell, has retired. Newsnight boss Peter Rippon is now in charge of online news archive. No pay cuts, no loss of pensions, no removal of perks. Life continuing in a slightly different configuration, that's all.

Tony Hall the new DG, announced that jobs will have new "transparent" titles: Vision becomes "television" and Sound becomes "radio". Hoorah! A whole heap of licence-payers' money will no doubt be spent on new stationery – but changing names isn't enough to change the culture at the BBC. It has more pyramids of power than an anthill, and I used to work there.

The Pollard inquiry demonstrates how organisations with such labyrinthine structures are full of secretive factions, infighting and a determination to withhold information to further your own ambitions. There is a BBC department running something called the Managed Risk Programme List – with a head, of course – designed to flag up anything troublesome in the pipeline. Buried in this evidence are clear examples of how staff manipulated the moment when projects got placed on this register, and management might take more interest in anything controversial.

It's amazing how many people, from Entwistle downwards had "no idea" that the UK's most prolific sexual predator was doing anything untoward in a caravan parked right outside the bloody building. Hello? The veteran Light Entertainment executive producer Nick Vaughan-Barratt gave a broad hint back in 2011, sending an email to several of his bosses which stated he felt "queasy" about an obituary for Savile, stating he had worked with the entertainer for 10 years and "saw the real truth!!!", alluding to "a darker side" to the man who claimed he could Fix It. Somehow Mark Thompson, Helen Boaden, George Entwistle and Music and Events executive Jan Younghusband all failed to either read or act on this pretty heavy-handed hint that all was not entirely as it seemed in the world of J. Savile.

In the communications industry, money is not unlimited: newspapers like this one are produced using a fraction of the staff employed 10 years ago. Reporters produce material used in many formats, online, on twitter, blogs and so on. This newspaper group has won the franchise to broadcast a local television service for London, for a tiny slice of the costs of BBC local news.

I've spent my whole life in broadcasting and print media, and seen how the workforce has had to adapt to survive at first hand. There's only one pot of advertising revenue for commercial television, and as channels proliferate content must be generated for less. In this context, it is ludicrous for the BBC to be weighed down by a top-heavy management. It has to be slashed it by 50 per cent. As Paxo said, all these people do is talk to each other. Excessive management wastes resources, but more importantly, it breeds the mindset that led to the Savile catastrophe in the first place.

For the BBC to survive, all workers have to be no more than two executives away from the top. My single message to Tony Hall would be, wield the scythe, and hack out the self-satisfied slack. Pollard demonstrates exactly how programme makers have become demoralised and abandoned by executive failure. Tony Hall has to reconnect with the coalface to achieve anything.

Writing wrongs

Uncharacteristic silence from Sally Bercow as Lord McAlpine announced he still plans to sue the outspoken wife of the Commons speaker for her Twitter comments following Newsnight's false report implying he was connected to sexual abuse in North Wales. The former Tory chairman asked Twitter users with fewer than 500 followers to donate £25 to Children in Need. Sally, however, has 57,000 followers, and now faces her day in court. I wonder what happened to her debut novel, first announced two years ago. I asked a couple of leading literary agents, but it seems our Sal might be too hot to handle. The book, provisionally titled "Westminster Wives", is said to contain thinly disguised portraits of real people. Lord McAlpine should brace himself – will Sal's bonkbuster include a vexed peer?

Off the rails

The Ouigo rail service – embracing the same ethos as budget airlines – was unveiled in France last week, and unions immediately condemned it as "third-class". Third-class railways have already arrived in the UK. The overhead lines were down on the East Coast main line last Wednesday. It was announced there were no trains into London south of Peterborough just as I arrived at Thirsk to begin my journey. The ticket office did not possess a rail map of the UK, so passengers clustered around an iPad and worked out we could still get to London via Sheffield or Manchester. Well done, train operators! Eight directors of the state-owned East Coast line earn more than £100,000 a year – and their first-class coaches are full of staff using free travel passes. High salaries are justified as a way of "attracting the right talent", but they don't attract customers.