Accusations of Brexit bias deepen the muddied waters around the BBC
PUBLISHED: 17:22 08 February 2020 | UPDATED: 17:22 08 February 2020
It's not going so well for the BBC at the moment with accusations of bias over Brexit coverage adding to the current worries at the corporation. Former BBC employee Paul Barnes investigates
The BBC earned itself yet another biffing over Brexit. The corporation was handed, free of charge, a home-made but professionally crafted video of the prime minister's address to the nation. It only needed plugging in and the button to be pressed and, Bob's your uncle, we could all have seen and heard it. But the Beeb said no, and so we didn't, though apparently viewers of Russia Today were treated to it in full.
You do wonder if the Beeb suffered a fit of pique because nobody from Broadcasting House was invited to Boris's 11pm bash at Downing Street. According to my spies (I have them everywhere) it was a fun do with scrumptious grub, oodles of English bubbly and Dylin the Dog in a patriotic little jacket.
At the witching hour an image of the countdown clock being projected onto the front of Number 10 should have been seen at the party but the telly conked out. Unfazed, Boris seized a little gong, seizing a photo opportunity at the same time, and struck it 11 times.
Every time the BBC logo came up on the giant screens in Parliament Square an otherwise good-natured crowd booed. More than one viewer said afterwards that the BBC's glum coverage was not a true reflection of the event. Ever since the referendum there had been accusations of BBC bias, a trickle of complaints growing gradually into a deluge, bursting the banks after the general election. Truckloads of sandbags have been seen in the streets near Broadcasting House.
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The waters around the BBC are growing ever deeper and they're not muddied only by the perception of bias: there's the threat to the licence fee; TV competition from the likes of Netflix, Apple, Amazon and Disney; radio competition such as that from LBC; the hullaballoo over equal pay; and the ridiculously excessive rewards paid to what is believed to be "talent" - all too often it's the wage of a genius for doing the job of a cretin.
Lord "call me Tony" Hall, the director-general, is about to wade for the drier land of the National Gallery; Sarah Sands, the editor of Today is jumping ship before she's pushed. She saw which way the wind might blow when word escaped that the corporation was looking for substantial cuts in the field of news and current affairs.
It might be worth recalling that Fran Unsworth, the presiding director in that field, was the highly-paid big cheese when the BBC dumped itself into deep doo-doo over the Cliff Richard affair. In the hunt for a "celebrity paedo" the news people turned a police search of Sir Cliff's home into a US-style cop caper complete with helicopter coverage.
Clause 13 of the Terms and Conditions emphasises the importance of guarding the BBC's reputation for "impartiality, integrity, independence and decency" insisting that this reputation "should not be compromised, undermined or called into question". Here was the BBC dumping itself into disrepute and into court. Heads should have rolled but none did. Instead, the licence payer was left with a massive bill for damages and costs.
But now some heads are set for rolling. The unsinkable Unsworth is chopping off about 450 of them, nationwide. Of course, they will all get pay-offs and pensions and these have got to be paid for, so further savings are being frantically sought, like selling BBC properties or making them multi-purposed. This sort of approach might bring the cuts a bit too close for comfort for some.
Clare Drone, a regional business consultant, points to BBC East and its TV studio in particular, a large space empty for most of the day. The word on her grapevine is that the owners of a chain of gin-and-juice bars, specialising in oriental snacks, have expressed an interest in sharing it. I have to say that this seems a bit far-fetched to me, but several people have noticed that the presenters have lately appeared side-by-side on some evenings clutching what look like small trays. Practising perhaps? So if it's "sayonara" to the BBC, recasting themselves as Toshiro White-san and Sushi Fowler-Watt, they might at least get free meals and tips.