Now the corporation will find it much easier to suppress the `Birt is an alien' story

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The Independent Online
For those of us who do not work in the BBC, like you and me, it may be difficult to see why John Birt's proposed changes to the news service are causing such a furore, but if you are someone who has a privileged insight into the workings of the BBC after many years standing in lifts and canteens at the BBC listening to other people gossiping, as I have done, then you are in a position to explain to the readers just what this really does mean.

So here we go.

First of all, you have to understand how a news story is treated at the BBC.

Let us follow a news story from its breaking-point to its disappearance.

Not a an extraordinary story like the death of Princess Diana. If that happens, all programmes are cancelled and the whole of the BBC's resources are beamed on the story until everyone is sick to death of it. Then it goes on for another week or so after that point, until the BBC is sure it has got its routines right for when the Queen Mother pops off.

No, let us take an ordinary, quite important story.

Let us suppose that the news agencies have picked up on a report that John Birt, director-general of the BBC, is an alien from another planet who has been lodged at the top of our most important broadcasting company to destabilise the world for a possible invasion.

The circumstantial evidence seems quite strong. For years it has been pointed out that John Birt has no obvious human characteristics at all.

He never seems to lose his temper, or defend himself, or indulge in arguments. He just states what he wants.

He is not old but has white hair.

He dresses in a nondescript yet expensive way - as someone once said, he has all the lack of style that money can buy.

He does not even look like himself - in some mysterious way, John Birt looks more like other people who look like him than he looks like himself, many of whom may also come from the same planet.

His published statements are in a language which is termed "Birtist" talk, which is very like English but tinged with what people perceive as management gobbledegook. But it may not be management gobbledegook at all. It is very like the kind of English which an expert but not quite perfect alien would use and may reflect the way English is taught on other planets.

This alien being, then, has been put at the top of the BBC in order to control our news services, and to start undermining the best reporters and creative news heads we have. One day he makes his move and announces a radical shake-up which would take power from the human beings in charge of news programmes and concentrate it in the hands of three or four executive editors.

OK. That is the story that comes in to the BBC.

Now, at present, the news would be fed out to all the different editors of the different programmes, and they would be given a free hand to interpret the story differently.

One might concentrate on Birt's early and strangely inept struggle to get a favourable tax scheme going.

Another might focus on the way Birt has brought the BBC to a stuttering limp with his "producer choice" (a rather odd term which in fact means the process of eliminating the BBC's own resources and castrating its facilities).

Another might get in Anthony Howard and two other "experts" to discuss whether in fact the BBC might not benefit from being run by expertise from another planet, hostile or not.

There might also be discussion of Birt's other-worldly lack of style in dress, his lack of a human presence, his apparent fear of anyone in the BBC who has creative or imaginative faculties, his dread of promoting individuality or anything with a strongly personal flavour, and so on - all the factors which in fact do strongly suggest that Mr "Birt" is not of this world, but governed by an agenda from another world.

Under the new plans of Mr "Birt", all this will go. These editors will not have that kind of power any more. In fact, that kind of editor will not exist any more. It will all go through some sort of centralised agency run by agents chosen personally by Mr "Birt".

So, under the new system, what will happen to the story that Mr "Birt" is actually a being from another planet sent to undermine the BBC and get rid of all dangerous elements in it?

The story will be referred to a central BBC news sorting office handling all news for radio and TV.

After due consideration, It will decide not to run the item at all, but to drop it like a hot potato. Just you wait and see.

If this item does not appear under the new BBC news system, I think I will have made my point.