By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
The last few weeks have been terrible for the BBC. First was the Jimmy Savile controversy and then, in the last week, the false
accusations made against former Tory Treasurer, Lord McAlpine. It is breathtaking that such serious allegations were entertained without (1) ever giving the subject of those accusations a right of reply or (2) without undertaking basic fact checks, notably showing a photograph of the accused to the accuser. As Toby Young and Damian Thompson have both asked, did the idea of ensnaring a 'top Tory' mean political bloodlust among BBC journalists got the better of journalistic standards? Was the opportunity to turn a chase of Newsnight into a chase of the party of Margaret Thatcher something so tempting that it couldn't be resisted? Lord Tebbit certainly thinks so:
"In a savage paroxysm of shame and rage [the BBC was] in too much haste to check any of the allegations against [Lord McAlpine]. Their professionalism was overwhelmed. They may have failed to report on what was going on just outside their office doors, but they were for sure not going to miss this story of Tory wickedness."
Newsnight – supposedly one of the Corporation's flagship programmes – has been exposed for shoddy investigations and standards. And let me say that again: Newsnight is one of the BBC's flagship programmes. If it is failing what does that say of the rest of the Corporation? And do we really believe that these two incidents of poor standards are the exception? That rotten techniques and bias are not more widespread in BBC News, current affairs and the much less scrutinised drama output?
I don't think Lord Patten helped himself by repeatedly attacking Rupert Murdoch during his round of media interviews this morning (see Spectator report). I suspect Mr Murdoch probably does take some pleasure at the news organisation that pursued his newspapers' failings with such zeal now facing some of its own medicine. Attack, however, is not always the best form of defence. In yesterday's extraordinary interview with John Humphrys, Mr Entwistle was clearly out of his depth. The BBC may have more senior bigwigs than the Chinese communist party, as Lord Patten half-joked earlier, but many of its journalists are unaccountable and out of control. Not occasionally but, I would suggest, most of the time. The BBC is simply too big and too powerful to be properly managed. I am in favour of public service broadcasting and the benefits it brings [at this point I should insert obligatory reference to BBC Bristol's natural history programmes etc] but why does the BBC monopolise the revenues from the licence fee? Why shouldn't other broadcasters – including ITV but notably new start ups – apply for a slice of licence fee funds, with which they could make alternative high quality output? They could use those funds to produce programming with more thoughtful views on American power, European integration, Israel's vulnerability, the value of religion and the role of business. Am I the only one who has noticed how big corporates and evangelical Christians are always the villains in BBC dramas?
Before the last election Jeremy Hunt considered top-slicing the BBC licence fee. In the interests of choice and diversity in public service broadcasting Maria Miller should take another look at that idea.