Saturday 5 July 2014

The secretive BBC

For those of us who have watched the BBC's relentless use of legal loopholes to weasel their way out of releasing the Balen Report, this would hardly have come as a great surprise:
Alex Spence, Media Editor
The BBC is more prone to hiding behind commercial secrecy to withhold embarrassing evidence than almost any other organisation, according to public spending watchdogs investigating its costly failures.
The BBC’s willingness to deploy commercial confidentiality and individual privacy as reasons to keep back information put it in a league of its own, the head of the National Audit Office (NAO) said.
Sir Amyas Morse, the comptroller and auditor general, told MPs yesterday that his staff had been stymied by interfering bureaucrats acting as “gatekeepers”.
He said that the NAO had struggled to obtain information about the BBC’s spending of public money, particularly in relation to incidents such as the excessive payoffs to former executives and the £100 million digital archive disaster. Investigations were held up for months, Sir Amyas told the Commons culture, media and sport committee.
“There are an awful lot of gatekeepers in the organisation who feel that they can apply their judgment, rather than relying on our professionalism as to what we might or might not see,” he told the MPs.
The NAO, which scrutinises public spending on behalf of parliament, played a critical role in uncovering two of the biggest scandals at the BBC in recent years.
An inquiry last year revealed that the corporation had given £25 million in severance to 150 departing senior executives. A report in January on the abandoned digital archive project uncovered a litany of failings by BBC management, which led to huge losses for licence payers. However, the NAO’s ability to look over the BBC’s books is more restricted than it is in other public bodies.
Sir Amyas said that these episodes had exposed an absence of clear accounting lines and clarity about which managers were responsible for big decisions. “Bad news didn’t get upstairs very quickly,” he said.
Ed Richards, the chief executive of Ofcom, the communications watchdog, told the committee that it was “beyond belief” that the BBC’s governing body had not stopped the payoffs. The hearing was part of an inquiry by the committee into the future of the BBC.
And what does the BBC say in response?
The BBC said: “We are committed to openness and transparency as the content of previous reports has shown and we have a good working relationship with the NAO, which already has full access to the BBC’s operations, with the exception of editorial areas, as protecting the BBC’s editorial independence is paramount.”
Janet Daley at the Telegraph calls this "a classic of the genre". Indeed.

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