Editorial: A blueprint for change at the BBC

 

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Once again, it is the cock-up, rather than the conspiracy, that is identified as the culprit. In his report into how and why the BBC's Newsnight programme shelved its investigation into Jimmy Savile's sexual abuse, Nick Pollard from Sky News finds no evidence of the dreaded cover-up, establishing rather that "the level of chaos and confusion was even greater than was apparent at the time". That will be some cause for relief at the BBC, as it will be for the programme's then editor, Peter Rippon.

But it should not be. Poor decision-making and an absence of effective editorial responsibility have lain behind almost everything that has gone seriously wrong at the Corporation in recent years, despite the presence of elaborate chains of highly paid executives. From the crisis triggered by Andrew Gilligan's Today report on the "sexed-up" Iraq dossier, through the "prank" phone calls of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, to the non-airing of the Jimmy Savile investigation and its aftermath, it has been hard to escape the impression that too many cooks spoil the broth or, rather, allow everyone to say they were looking the other way at the very moment the pot boiled over.

George Entwistle, the BBC's fleeting Director-General, was skewered by the singular lack of curiosity he showed about the fate of the Savile programme when he was head of "Vision". And the BBC that emerges from the Pollard report is a Corporation hedged about by layers of safeguards that prove ineffectual when they are most needed.

With Ken MacQuarrie's damning verdict on Newsnight's exposé of sexual abuse in North Wales – which he says should never have been shown – the BBC's new Director-General now has two reports before him that, in microcosm, lay bare much of what is wrong. Nor does Nick Pollard stop at a diagnosis. In what is essentially a blueprint for what must be done, he notes that change "must start with the people at the top". After his success at the Royal Opera House, this should be music to Lord Hall's ears.

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