The BBC has faced worse crises

Winston Churchill Winston Churchill wanted to take over the BBC as an instrument of propaganda

It's your turn.

That sums up in three words the attitude of many politicians and many in the press to the BBC crisis.

Having lived through their own crises - which critics argue the BBC reported with gusto - sympathy is in short supply.

In recent years, they've seen reputations trashed, jobs lost and people arrested and/or imprisoned.

So they will not see the resignation of a Director General after a mauling by John Humphrys as a cause for much mourning.

What I do not detect, however, is any threat to the existence or status of the BBC - unlike previous rows which pitted governments against the Corporation.

In 1926 when the country was riven by the General Strike, Churchill wanted to take over the BBC as an instrument of propaganda.

Anthony Eden's government drew up plans to take over the Corporation during the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Margaret Thatcher's clashes with the BBC over the Falklands War and coverage of the IRA led to the removal of a DG.

Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell's legal war over the sexed-up Iraq dossier and those missing weapons of mass destruction felled both the DG and the Chairman.

All these crises posed greater threats, in my view, than today's crisis - serious and disturbing though it undoubtedly is.

The prime minister has not sought to impose a government enquiry on the BBC undermining the independence of the BBC Trust.

He has not called for either the Director General's or Chairman's resignation. So far neither has the relevant Select Committee.

Some senior Conservatives believe that Newsnight jumped on a bandwagon launched by one of the party's bitterest foes, Labour MP Tom Watson, who first made a link between child abuse and unnamed Tory politicians.

Many politicians are watching the BBC reeling from its self-inflicted wounds with a mixture of amazement and frustration but I detect little anger or desire for retribution.

One lesson of this crisis is the speed with which people and organisations can move from heroes to zeros - from the triumph of the Olympics to the trough of child abuse.

Another is that you don't have to wait very long for one crisis to replace another.

The next one, coming soon, will pit the press against politicians who believe the law should underpin any new system of regulation.

Today it's the BBC's turn but it will be someone else's soon.

Nick Robinson Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

What a difference a day makes

In just 24 hours, Sir Malcolm Rifkind went from angry defiance to a grim-faced acceptance that he would have to quit his job as an MP and chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Read full article

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    #19 "the accusation against an un-named senior Tory has not yet been disproved"

    Who is still making this accusation? I thought the whole point was that there is no suggested link to any politician, Tory, senior, unnamed, or otherwise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    re Megan - the DG needed to resign because he admitted that he didn't keep even a weather eye on his most troubled and high profile programme. I knew more about his programme than he did! And I was not even at a computer. This wasn't just about Newsnight's cockups, it was about the failure of process and leadership.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The BBC is an essential part of the Fourth Estate - vital to maintaining the balance between our different institutions. If you want Fox news and politics sold to the highest bidder, go ahead and privatise. I don't. But the crass stupidity of the BBC over the past few weeks beggars belief. The BBC is a precious asset to the UK, and more fragile than most think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Can you imagine Sky, Fox or the Daily Mail running a headline criticising themselves. The BBC has many faults but never hides unpalatable stories unlike some of the media. Most of the critics dislike it because they can't personally control it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Andrew Neil programme declared the accusations completely baseless. I don't think so. Newsnight failed to check the identity by simply showing Meesham a photograph, but the accusation against an un-named senior Tory has not yet been disproved. The child abuse is the story - let's not lose it in the morass of BBC problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Why not be super radical ...........and ask the people that pay for this what if anything is what they want and then respect it.
    I for one believe the BBC has become too big and too expensive run by arrogant managers that believe they are beyond reproach.
    Breaking it up would be a great day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    In such a vast organisation it can take weeks for something to percolate to the top through the multiple management layers put in place by John Birt.

    Added to which the 'chain of command' had already been fractured by several managers being 'recused' over the Savile issue. It was a cock-up waiting to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    If ever there was a time for someone like Nick Robinson not to publish an article like this - particularly with this headline - then it's surely now. I support the BBC and think it's imperative that some of its critics, especially some very right-wing Tories, aren't able to take advantage of this crisis for their own ends. This piece of writing plays into their hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This turmoil is not nothing but it's nothing everything either. I think I heard earlier that Entwistle planned to address the complex management structure and silo working within the BBC and, as far as I can tell, that's about all that needs to be done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    So people will stoop to using the Saville debacle as a weapon against the BBC.Why has every programme got to be politically motivated as so many people seem to think? One bad employee doesn't make the whole company bad. Sort out the Saville business but to be honest everything else is getting boring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The issue is the entrenched anti-Tory bias at the BBC.

    In this case it probably wasn't a conscious bias, but the story fed the unconscious prejudices of BBC editors and managers. They desperately wanted it to be true, and this prevented them asking the most basic questions.

    Up to now I thought the BBC was biased, but professional. Now I'm not so sure of the latter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    So much vitriol and bullpoop.

    Do you want to pay what Sky charge to get less, and adverts.

    Grow up and support the finest media organisation in the world - if we pai enough money for it then there would not have needed to have been the disasterous cuts which have led to this..

    Doesn't anyone understand about organisational dynamics and corporate knowlwdge?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Good, informed and intelligent writing from Nick Robinson - as always. Yes, how quickly we turn heroes into zeros. Remember how we were (most of us, anyway) enthralled by the Olympics, and how well the BBC covered them? And yes, one crisis will so quickly follow - and indeed replace - another. To use a phrase from a BBC production from another era: "That's Life!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It seems that Millington is one of those embittered BBC haters for whom the BBC could never do anything right, when it does in fact do an awful lot properly. Must be a Daily Mail or Telegraph reader.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The chickens have finally come home to roost. This smug organisation has for years refused to acknowledge that it is run by a self centered management who will go to any lengths to ensure that their will prevails whether it is in the public interest or otherwise.

    Despite numerous warning about the way it conducts its business, those running the BBC have failed on so many counts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    As a News organisation the BBC is still second to none. I have traveled the world and the idea of privatisation would make it (with no offense) another cheap broacast weapon of whom ever owned it. All you have to do is look at New International to know any organisation this size is hard to control. The BBC is more that a UK institution, it gives honest news and programing to the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I think that the whole thing is smoke and mirrors in an attempt to deflect away from the real problem of systemic child abuse- which seems to have disappeared from public debate at present. A classic case of shooting the messenger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I am sure the politicians would love to get rid of Newsnight, Question time etc... so that there will be no difficult questioning and challenges on policies. In its place, a privatised BBC will put on put on entertainment after entertainment because only these programs will bring in money. As a population, we will be pretty much blinded to what's going on in the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    To put the problem at the BBC simply: Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians!


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