Leading article: A cherished institution in need of confidence and rigour

The BBC is right to prepare itself for chilly political and economic winds

Share
Related Topics

The open letter sent to licence-fee payers yesterday by the chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, is a curious document that is at once hopeful and dispiriting. It is hopeful because, in announcing a full-scale review of BBC activities, it recognises public concern about the way in which the BBC has expanded into areas that might be said to lie beyond its original, public-service broadcasting, remit. It is hopeful, too, in that it recognises that the BBC flourishes – or not – at the behest of the licence-payers and cannot take their goodwill for granted.

But there are also negatives. While the Trust recognises the extent of outside concern, it is rather late in acknowledging this. What has now, in many quarters, grown into a groundswell of criticism, even hostility, in relation to the BBC, could have been stemmed if such a review had been initiated earlier.

Nor does the process, as announced, inspire much confidence. Rather than appointing a respected outsider with inside knowledge to head the review, the Trust has chosen the BBC's present director-general, Mark Thompson. If Mr Thompson had shown himself to be a strong leader in that role, a competent manager able to convince licence-payers their money was well spent, and a robust advocate of the Corporation when necessary, that might just about have been acceptable. But Mr Thompson scores low on too many indicators. During his time in office, the BBC has seemed to lurch from one crisis to the next, with the director-general and his multiple line-managers reluctant to defend their staff, even when it is editorial and managerial responsibility that is being called for. The Jonathan Ross saga was just the most egregious example of well-paid executives scurrying for cover, in the face of public and political pressure.

Mr Thompson has also given his blessing to some of the BBC's more questionable expansions, including the purchase of Lonely Planet and the proliferation of digital services. If the BBC had been better led in the recent years of profound change in the media landscape, it might not have been as beleaguered as it currently is.

The – slightly spurious – pretext for yesterday's open letter was a survey about what should happen to £5.50 of the licence-fee once the digitalisation project is complete. It found, unsurprisingly, that a majority would like to pay less. In the context of what is happening in the media generally, however, there are bigger questions to be addressed: about the principle of the licence-fee, and whether it funds only the BBC.

Sir Michael Lyons said – correctly – that the BBC needs to "focus on what makes it different and distinctive from commercial media". That should surely be the starting point of its review. Nor should the Corporation's defects blind anyone to what is the excellence of the service offered in many areas. It makes programmes that are the envy of the world. It has radio and television stations that are unmatched for their quality and, sometimes, for their daring. And the breadth, depth and accuracy of its national and international news places it in a class apart. Little wonder that, as another recent survey showed, it is treasured by the majority of Britons.

In mounting this review, the BBC is clearly preparing itself for a political and economic climate that is likely to be chillier than for many years. It remains a deeply admirable institution, despite its defects. So it is in all our interests that it should emerge not only fitter from the process, but more confident and better run.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
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