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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 44.


    You raise some valid points - but the BBC news producers need to have the editorial independence to address controversial issues on occasions, if they are subject to central editorial control there may be real charges of editorial political bias.

    The BBC just needs to improve its journalistic standards and stop competing with the tabloids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    outside of the bbc and the press and westminster village does anybody seriously care? this is a case of tit for tat,nowt here for the normal people,MOVE ALONG PLEASE

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    We don't know whether Newsnight was wrong to pull the Saville report [it may have had legitimate doubts], it was certainly sloppy in not checking the McAlpine story properly thankfully the story was quickly quashed before too much damage was done. The moral outrage in the press has much to do with Leveson - the BBC has its faults but we need to keep this in perspective.

  • Comment number 41.

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

  • Comment number 40.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The Tory supporters now showing they are not averse to the bandwagon charge they so often throw at Labour these days. So poor journalism and even poorer management is used as an excuse to peddle the tired old anti-Tory bias rubbish. There are clearly issues needing sorted out at the BBC - bias is definitely not one of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Having been (excessively) roasted for not exposing Jimmy Savile, the BBC erred in the other direction by hastily broadcasting similar allegations against others - this mistake facilitated by a lack of people with relevant experience around Newsnight (most of them having been moved aside post the Savile controversy).

    A case of overreaction begats more overreaction. The solution is to calm down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Great to see the BBC on the back foot. Their bias and pomposity beggars belief and a root and branch investigation of the culture from top to bottom is required as a matter of urgency.
    As a service that is meant to serve all four corners of these islands, there is far too much control in London and it must end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    This isn't even close to being a crisis. I think newsnight ran the story because they couldn't afford not to run it. Could you imagine the uproar if they had shelved the transmission and let ITV run it .

    We should focus on the child abuse and hiding the original report upon lawyers advice about insurance risks. The media should not be afraid to go after alleged perpetrators.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    One other thing worth noting - because of who they are and the organisation they represent far too many of the BBC's senior managers are away from their desks for days at a time.

    Despite modern communications, this doesn't make for effective and informed management. You are far too reliant on being alerted when necessary instead of being 'on top of' the issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The BBC has not faced worse crises - that is nonsense .

    The crises listed did not have the BBC at the centre of the crisis - which is far bigger than any media crisis that we have seen before as appears to show a publicly funded broadcaster going after a Tory scalp like a run-away tram with connivance from the Tom Wart-son band wagon.

    BBC has peddled its Guardian cart under an oncoming train

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Nick, as a political editor, it would be interesting to know more about the inherent bias in the BBC that caused them to try to shoot across the bows of the Conservative Party in a misguided self defence reflex. If you are too close the woods to see the trees, maybe you should step aside too and get someone else in to cover the story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    BBC was warned it would be in trouble if it went ahead with the Newsnight programme, the trouble was, they could not resist once Messham had said one of his abusers was a Top Tory & then announce it was from the Thatcher government. The whole BBC news network were salivating at the thought.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Is it not the case that this was "awful journalism", compounded by a lack of management? Perhaps journalists do prefer to operate without close supervision but in such circumstances comes responsibility. To broadcast allegations without carrying out the basic checks is irresponsible. It seems as though the BBC has no management at all Hopefully it was not a political statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I put a lot of the BBC's troubles down to the move of a large portion of the Corporation to Manchester. It gave a lot of good managers and presenters the chance to jump and they did. I think too it was bad luck that the BBC embraced Manchester, at a time when London was the centre of the media-world and other broadcasters welcomed the escapees with open arms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The BBC do more than just report the news: they produce a great deal of good programming and in general get a great deal right. The big concern is journalistic judgement. When they get things wrong it is very public very quickly, yet as we saw in the Humphreys interview they are not afraid to rip themselves to shreds in public either. Perhaps they are a tad too transparent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Why has the abuse by Saville and whoever else been turned into a crisis at the BBC. Lets not forget how all of this started. The BBC must be protected from those who wish it ill and have other agendas. Two errors of judgement and the last one was just plain stupid dont constitute a hanging offense. I am just one payer of the license but it still represents the best value in the country.

  • Comment number 27.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Why is the BBC being castigated? Is it because those who are guilty, who know they are guilty, are in a position to put pressure on the BBC to prevent investigation?
    Probability outweighs possibility, the guilty have almost succeded, who will risk the full weight of the establishment law in shining the light of truth on the establishment? A sad day for both democracy & investigative journalism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    What glee the BBC had pinning the blame on the hated Thatcher and her colleagues
    Bit of balance required me thinks


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