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

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Benedict Cumberbatch attends a special screening of his latest film The Imitation Game  

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: What's the actual difference between 'coloured' and 'person of colour'?

Matthew Norman
Pressure is growing on Chris Grayling to abandon the Government bid to advise Saudi Arabia on running its prisons (Getty)  

What in sanity’s name is Chris Grayling doing in the job of Justice Secretary?

Matthew Norman
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea