17:21 Monday 12th November 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: This morning the BBC’s Head of News and Deputy Head of News stepped aside temporarily while the handling of claims about Jimmy Savile is reviewed. Media expert Neil Midgley joined me earlier to comment on what has been an extraordinary last few weeks and hours for the Corporation. (TAPE)
NEIL MIDGLEY: It does seem extraordinary, and I think today actually I have been, for the first time, really genuinely worried about the future, certainly of the top of the BBC. The senior management seems to be in such disarray. Now that the very short serving Director General George Entwistle has left, there just seems to be if anything increasing chaos at the top of the BBC. And it’s very sad to watch actually.
CHRIS MANN: So what does it need? How can you fix this?
NEIL MIDGLEY: The first thing that needs to happen is that the Acting Director General Tim Davie needs to take a genuinely firm grip of the news division, and of Newsnight in particular. And instead of talking about getting a grip, but actually fudging things, which is what he’s been doing today, by allowing the Head of News Helen Boaden and her Deputy Steve Mitchell to quote step aside close quotes on full pay, not resign or be fired, and not actually do their jobs for the half million a year that they’re paid between them – instead of that, he needs to either back them or sack them. Because if as Lord Patten says the BBC needs a radical thorough overhaul of its management structure, then it’s hard to see, no matter what their qualities and their position separate from these particular scandals, it’s hard to see Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell leading BBC News through that period of change.
CHRIS MANN: People have from time to time said the BBC’s too big, it’s everything from World Service to Strictly Come Dancing to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and other points ..
NEIL MIDGLEY: Some of those more important than others of course.
CHRIS MANN: Of course. Do you think that’s one of the solutions, perhaps breaking it up might be an answer?
NEIL MIDGLEY: No I don’t. And I think that that’s a very dangerous thing to bring in to the discussion. I know it’s not you doing that, it’s critics of the BBC, some extreme critics.
CHRIS MANN: What they’re saying is it’s unwieldy, and one man can’t run it. for instance.
NEIL MIDGLEY: Well there are lots of organisations that have twenty odd thousand people in them or more, many more, which are run by one chief exceutive at the top, with the right help on their executive board. And that is what the new Director General of the BBC is going to need. And I think people who use this as an opportunity to bash the BBC generally, or try and break it up, or privatise it, or whatever it is they want, I think they need to be very careful what they wish for, and look to countries which don’t have a very strong public service broadcaster like the BBC, such as the US, and wonder if for example they would like NBC’s horrible Olympic coverage rather than the BBC’s brilliant Olympic coverage, just for example.
CHRIS MANN: You’re talking about heads rolling. Who should go and when?
NEIL MIDGLEY: I’m afraid I do think that Helen Boaden and Steve Mitchell need to go quickly. And I think that’s sad for them, because .. and they’re quite rightly consulting their lawyers at the moment .. they were separate from the editorial horrors that took place on Newsnight, or so we think. So it’s to an extent unjust to ask them to carry the can. But it was also unjust to ask George Entwistle to carry the can completely. And I think BBC News does need a new broom to sweep clean, and it also needs some very swift decisions about the future of Newsnight in particular, which of course is where all of these problems began.
CHRIS MANN: And is Lord Patten the man still to lead the Trust?
NEIL MIDGLEY: This morning I would have said yes, for the moment. I’m starting to believe differently, because I think what he is saying is so diametrically opposed to what Tim Davie is saying that they clearly haven’t got the proverbial grip on it between them. And I’m wondering, given that Lord Patten is the continuing factor in all of that, whether he is the right man to do this.
CHRIS MANN: And the BBC can continue to be a central part of British life, and a trusted and loved on?
NEIL MIDGLEY: Yes, I think it continues to be so. I think there’s some polling evidence that people generally now don’t believe a word that senior management at the BBC say. But I think as an institution as a whole, the BBC has great affection up and down the country, and people love it, and all those programmes and services that you mentioned. And unless things get a lot worse, I think that’s unlikely to change. And I think the BBC will bounce back from this crisis, as it always does.