The furore over ‘The Debates’ and the BBC’s blatant political bias (against Conservatives) was further exacerbated by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee’s battering of the Trust’s Chairman, who just happens to be a non-executive director of HSBC. Calling on her to resign from the Trust, Margaret Hodge described her as ‘naive or incompetent’ for the breadth of her ignorance of the various alleged tax avoidance/evasion issues in Switzerland which recently came to light, despite a £500,000 annual pay packet.
On seeing this parliamentary confrontation on the news, my fury and sympathy with Ms Hodge’s outburst, prompted me to look at the BBC Trust’s website, to see just who are the Trustees and what they do. I was somewhat surprised to discover that, of the 11 positions (two are currently vacant) six have direct connections to the BBC as former employees, contributors or regional governance (surely a conflict of interest).
They all also hold a broad range of non-executive roles elsewhere and are primarily London-centric, with the exception of the 3 who represent Scotland, N Ireland, and Wales. We are not told what these Trustees are paid for a few hours a month, but I bet it won’t be a pittance.
I also discovered that there are Audience Councils for different parts of the UK; recruits are currently being sought for all regions, except the South East, and E Anglia. But, how many of us have ever heard of these councils? Do they meet around the country, and what is their remit? How much do they cost to run? According to the website, they make recommendations to the Trust Board – the three highlighted for 2014/15 are anodyne to say the least.
None of them addressed its treatment of women over 50, or controlling excessive salary packages for the BBC’s hierarchy, which are an insult to those on the average national wage of around £26,000 who actually fund the BBC.
Since every household with a TV pays £145 to receive BBC programmes, isn’t it time that ‘ordinary people’ got a grip on its management and had a genuine voice? Like so much of the arts, governed from London, it appears somewhat patronising to the regions – yet we have to pay for its grandiouse failures, and Lord Hall’s recently announced ‘MyBBC revolution’ sounds like another IT disaster in the making; the last one led to a £100m write-off.
As a news junkie, my first port of call is always the BBC’s news channel (or Channel 4 news) and Radio 4, but it is worrying when a Newsnight presenter is evidently – according to a Green MEP – assisting with their sums, and the director of communications is a former Labour minister, not to mention that the head of political news who leads on ‘The Debates’ is married to a former head of Labour’s communications. Yet, the broadcaster has a duty of impartiality! Some hope.
This doesn’t just matter because we are coming up to a general election, but the insidious nature of bias also impacts on local politics; it is headlines which grab the attention of busy people. These headlines can be nuanced in such a way that they can actually misrepresent the content of a story.
There also appears to be a tendency to use drama – the Archers flood plotline came from nowhere; is it timed to remind those around the country who suffered during the 2013/14 floods? There’s no mention so far of a former Labour minister’s chairmanship of the Environment Agency, whose policies contributed to the disaster. Then there is TV’s The Casual Vacancy…
Instead of allowing the broadcaster to carry on with business as usual, perhaps our local political leaders should make a stand and lobby the culture secretary to force change through greater scrutiny by effective regional representation on the Board of Trustees. We have world class entrepreneurs across the UK, who live and work in their communities, rather than enjoying the bright lights of London’s theatreland; they understand how money works and the meaning of best value. If they wasted (public) money the way the BBC does, they’d be bankrupt and responsible for hundreds of job losses.
The crony culture, which is so entrenched across the publicly funded arts, needs to be stamped out. So, after the election, persuade some of these wonderfully creative, hardworking, business people to become Trustees, so they can speak up for the regions and get some control of reality embedded through careful project management, and a focus on those who do the work: in drama and news, documentaries and all that the BBC does best and for which it, rightly, enjoys international recognition.
They should call time on excess at the top, and implement robust financial controls – that include executive salaries and expenses, as well as any Trustee benefits.
If Tesco’s new CEO had the time, which he obviously doesn’t, he’d be an ideal candidate to crush arrogance and waste, whilst focusing on the customer who just happens to be the paymaster.