The scandals over Jimmy Savile and Newsnight show the BBC can either modernise or die. Having a full time Chairman would be a good start

Our writer applied to be a BBC Trustee last year. This is what she learnt

Share

Walking through the corridors of the BBC I was struck by the lethargy in what should be a vibrant, dynamic environment. More lacklustre than edgy, I could practically smell the formaldehyde oozing from the corridors. Granted it was Radio 4 but it was representative of my cumulative encounters with the BBC. A secretive, elite institution that enjoys unfettered power unburdened by accountability. A recipe for disaster.

I was recording a programme about Race which, when broadcast, was edited beyond recognition. The producer indicated he disliked a fellow contributor, Jane Elliott, and in my view abused his position in an apparent attempt to sabotage her career. This is a woman who was in her 70’s and had dedicated her life to confronting racism in the US in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. A woman whose children were bullied and beaten because she, a white woman, dared to speak out against “her own” community in the 60’s. 

Too little, too late

Later that year a BBC executive (a Lord) and I met in Sydney to debate whether the media is trustworthy. He argued that it was and I the contrary. Although I like to think I made a compelling case, it was his own hubris that undid him. When he dismissed ethics as having any place in editorial decisions, he lost the audience completely. Clearly unaccustomed to public scrutiny, the disconnect between his reality and that of his audience was cosmic.

Brand BBC has been blighted by a series of crises recently, though none so heinous as the Savile scandal. Editorial integrity, or the lack thereof, is at the heart of every incident. Whilst I welcome Lord Patten’s tough talk of a radical overhaul, it’s too little, too late from the chair of the BBC Trust. After just one of the seismic scandals that left the corporation’s reputation in tatters, the trust should have taken stock.

As chair, Patten’s remit is to promote trust amongst licence fee payers. Had he instigated the cultural overhaul at the start of his tenure the Newsnight catastrophes might have been avoided. Instead, his belated intervention in the wake of the Savile scandal exposed his allegiance to the status quo. His excuse for not intervening over the Newsnight child abuse allegation was fear that it would be considered “grotesque interference”. His job is to interfere in order to safeguard the integrity of the institution.

When juggling multiple boardships, as Lord Patten is, keeping abreast of issues at every organisation he represents would simply be unfeasible. Resigning from the BBC Trust would relieve him of one such burden. His inability to grapple with a culture of contempt, appointing the hapless Entwistle as DG and then rewarding him with £450,000 of licence fee money for failure, makes Patten’s position untenable.

Last year I applied for a BBC trustee role. Having surveyed the biogs of the other trustees there was a blindingly obvious skill gap. Despite its primary remit being to hold the BBC executive to account, there was no corporate governance specialist.

Despite being amply qualified for the job I knew I stood a better chance of becoming the next Pope. I was right, but at least I was beaten by a Lord. Given my USP is challenging taken-for-granted-thinking, I didn’t stand a chance. I’m not suggesting I would have done a better job than the Lords that preside over the BBC Trust but I certainly couldn’t have done any worse.

Against conformism

There was a question on the application form that implied unquestioning allegiance to editorial independence, a mantra repeated by Lord Patten recently, to which I responded: "Whilst I wholeheartedly support editorial independence, there is a risk that the media itself is sometimes too close to its subject matter to be objective. The ability to take a step back, reassess and hold your hands up when you get it wrong is a quality I would like to see given equal weight to that of safeguarding independence."

I cited The Higgs Report to set out the dangers of nepotism in leadership appointments: "Unaccountable boards, made up of “like minded people”, recruited via a tap on the shoulder (as opposed to merit) is a recipe for failure. The BBC’s brand and ability to compete, nationally and globally, is dependent on its board being held to account skilfully and effectively."

BBC Trustees should be appointed based on their ability to challenge, not conform to, the status quo. If the corporation is to survive the leadership has to be more accountable. The BBC’s longevity depends on it becoming relevant to and representative of its audience. Having lost the debate in Sydney, the BBC Lords parting words to me were “You’ll never work for the BBC”. Mine to him were “Modernise, or like dinosaurs, become extinct”.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick