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 64.

    Nick, was he pushed, ambushed, or gently led up the path to self destruct. Something doesnt smell of roses here. It does however give me a whiff of inhouse misdoings to investigate the motives of some journalist who are employed at the BBC. Not to investigate a name properly & then tie it in with somebody else over the air is a stitch up & then not to tell the boss is another stitchup.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Nick there is just one small thing you are forgetting with this & its that the BBCs credibility problem is with the public not just government

    There appears to be nobody steering the ship

    BTW ex Chair of the BBC this morning seemed to think part of the problem was lawyers not doing their bit. Nope, its just being plain daft, a lawyer wont save you from that, you don't go to a lawyer for clarity

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    This frenzy of self-preoccupation by BBC programmers is unbecoming.

    As MP Tim Loughton rightly says, there remains the very serious matter of child abuse.

    One case of mistaken identity merely means the alleged abuse would have been perpetrated by someone else, who has/have so far got away scot free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    58 sagamix

    Saville was a BBC legend . The BBC only started pushing any links to Thatcher once he was outed . Your argument shows the typical politicalised nonsence spouted constantly by the BBC

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    It is not existential in terms of public broadcasting independent of politics and its paymasters. It is existential in terms of BBC investigative reporting which will now be taken with the pinch of salt normally reserved for the unsavoury side of our media. It is also existential in terms of BBC management which appears diffident, non-professional and irrelevant to the corporation´s work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    @ 57

    But Jimmy Savile (the guy the BBC allegedly let off the hook) was a Conservative supporter.

    Pales in comparison to his other crimes, obviously, but it does give the lie to allegations that the BBC was driven in all this by 'anti tory bias'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    56 jon

    Your average kebab shop denizen is not a Tory
    So what's the point in the BBC highlighting it .

    Its never been about the victims . Its about the politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    First the BBC is the target of a frenzy for not naming someone who WAS a child molester.

    Now the BBC is at the centre of a frenzy (not) naming someone who was NOT a child molester.

    Meanwhile, everyone panics over news stories, real live child molesters in kebab houses and taxis continue their activities.

    Let's have a bit more of this frenzy targetted on child abuse happening now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Totally wrong Nick. None of those events you mention impacted on public trust in the BBC - this one does. The next poll that measures public trust in the BBC will show it falling off a cliff. Me, I've not trusted the BBC since the first time I was involved in a story it reported, and found the reports to have been intentionally distorted - but Joe Public *did* trust the Beeb. Not any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I'm sick and tired of the vicious attacks from Tories and the establishment on the BBC, the one organisation we can be proud of. Other broadcasters have made similar allegations, some even exposed a list of names implicated but I haven't seen the same witch hunt in their organisations. Yes Mr Cameron, there is a witch-hunt but not against possible paedophiles, but against the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The BBC is paid for by the British, in what at the end of the day is a tax, there the "Beeb" should just report the facts, not rumour, gossip and inuendo, maybe strip out, by root and branch, all the senior management New Labour appointed via Greg Dyke and return the Beeb too what it should be, impartial and factual, instead of a mouthpiece for the Socialists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    The BBC should rid itself of two things to return to provide a critical, impartial investigative role. 1st: removal of all political bias, and Chris Patten must be included, since he has clear Conflicts of Interest being an ex cabinet Minister. 2nd: it should not be forced into a quasi-market situation where it has to appeal to popularity, and so dumbs down. Murdoch and Politicians are the enemies

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    #48 Try reading what Nick wrote, not what you thought he wrote.
    He is saying that Blair fought a legal war against the BBC over the dossier. He is not saying that the Iraq war was legal, that is a different issue. Perhaps Nick was a little thoughtless in using the word war with Blair and Iraq as it can stop people from thinking straight!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    This crisis is self inflicted, and anticipated, but it is unfortunate that it is the Newsnight team that have been caught in the middle of it.

    However, BBC commentators should not make light of this - it goes to the core of journalistic standards at the BBC which are pretty fundemental, and untrustworthy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I'm thinking of starting an e-petition to allow licence payers a say on whether the BBC's monopoly & licence fees should be removed

    But some guy beat me to it?

    Amazing how some are so quick off the mark?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    "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". You mean Illegal don't you Nick? Or is that just Labour lefty bias the BBC is notorious for slipping through the cracks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The trouble at the BBC is that the tail is bigger than the dog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Yes, but you have the Murdoch empire seeking to exploit a real opportunity to divert attention from its baseness, and there are tory MPs who hate the BBC as much as they do the NHS. Get rid of the managers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

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

    Oh yeah, that was when the BBC was caught broadcasting British troop movements to the Argentinians.


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