Sunday 8 March 2015

Nick Cohen on the BBC's crackdown on dissent

There's a very strong attack on the BBC from Nick Cohen on the Guardian website headlined The sinister treatment of dissent at the BBC (h/t Guest Who at Biased BBC):
Nobody from John Humphrys in the morning to Evan Davis at night dares mention a scandal at the BBC. It undermines their reporting of every abuse whistleblowers reveal. It reinforces the dirty common sense of British life that you must keep your head down if you want to keep your job.
The scandal is simply this: the BBC is forcing out or demoting the journalists who exposed Jimmy Savile as a voracious abuser of girls. As Meirion Jones put it to me: “There is a small group of powerful people at the BBC who think it would have been better if the truth about Savile had never come out. And they aim to punish the reporters who revealed it.”
Meirion Jones was an investigative producer for the BBC. He broke the Savile story, but the editor of 'Newsnight' banned his report. The BBC then attempted a cover-up. 
A week ago, Jones’s managers told him that a temporary assignment on Panorama was over. He should have been able to go back to his old job. But there was no old job to go back to. He had been fired.
His reporter on the Savile film, Liz MacKean, also spoke out, "so the BBC forced her out too":
“When the Savile scandal broke,” she told me, “the BBC tried to smear my reputation. They said they had banned the film because Meirion and I had produced shoddy journalism. I stayed to fight them, but I knew they would make me leave in the end. Managers would look through me as if I wasn’t there. I went because I knew I was never going to appear on screen again.”
The BBC refuses to call them “whistleblowers”. Its official review into the Savile scandal found that BBC management had acted in “good faith”. 
If you are tempted to agree, consider the sequel. Panorama responded magnificently to the news that the BBC had killed the Savile scoop. It broadcast a special documentary, which earned the highest audience in the programme’s history. Jones and MacKean described how their journalism had been suppressed, and Panorama went on to document Savile’s crimes. How open the BBC is, I thought. What other institution would subject itself to the same level of self-criticism?
What a fool I was. Since then, BBC managers have shifted Tom Giles, the editor of Panorama, out of news. Peter Horrocks, an executive who insisted throughout the scandal that the BBC must behave ethically, announced last September that he was resigning to “find new challenges”. Clive Edwards, who as commissioning editor for current affairs oversaw the Panorama documentary, was demoted. The television trade press reported recently that his future is “not yet clear” (which doesn’t sound as if he has much of a future at all).
Nick Cohen contrasts their treatment with "those who did nothing to advance the public interest": Adrian Van Klaveren, who "allowed Newsnight to falsely imply that Lord McAlpine was a child abuser", and has now been promoted to "head of strategic change";  Helen Boaden, then BBC head of news at the time of the "censorship", who now sits on the BBC’s executive board; Peter Rippon, the 'Newsnight editor' who blocked Jones and MacKean, who "now has a comfortable job managing the BBC’s archive."
A senior BBC press officer vowed to “drip poison about Meirion’s suspected role”. He was later promoted. Peter Rippon said that if Jones spoke freely: “I will throw shit at him”.
Nick Cohen concludes with a more general point and a call to arms:
The best aspect of modern culture is that it revolts against such hierarchical control. The computer revolution makes information sharing and cooperative ways of working easy to achieve. But hierarchies have men and women at their summits who will fight as ferociously as BBC executives to protect their position, and prevent democratic change.
The case of Jones and MacKean makes my point. I have reported on it in the Observer and Private Eye has covered it too. But the Tory press, which daily bashes the BBC, has avoided the story. You only have to look at the Telegraph to understand why it does not want to encourage insubordination. Its journalists must resign before they can protest against HSBC’s control of its news pages.
The power of hierarchies is hard to break. But if you want to fight fraud in the City or the rape of children, it has to be broken. A start can be made by insisting that everyone from John Humphrys in the morning to Evan Davis at night tells the truth about the purge of the BBC’s truth tellers.
Maybe the BBC could prove him wrong by allowing him to make a documentary for them investigating this story further, and then broadcasting it in, say, Radio 4's 'The Report' spot or in BBC One's 'Panorama' spot?


  1. Sounds like business as usual at the BBC. We've heard the phrase "keep your head down" with regard to several issues over there, haven't we? Peter Rippon certainly got exiled to the archives, and I'm not sure he even did anything wrong either way.

    PS: Meirion Jones certainly has produced shoddy journalism for Newsnight about voter fraud in the US. He has disputed this, of course.

  2. And Liz MacKean was a target of mine on my old 2009-10 blog, where I found her to have produced two of the most biased 'Newsnight' reports I'd ever seen:

    I also bashed her at Biased-BBC. Here's me in the comments:

    "There's a write-up of Liz MacKean's report on the BBC website. One of the people criticising academies is someone she calls "independent educational consultant Roger Titcombe". Roger Titcombe is a leading member of the anti-academies campaign group, Our Schools Are Not For Sale (OSANFS):
    To call him "independent" is surely very misleading.
    The name 'Liz MacKean' on a report always makes me suspicious."

    I complained about that and got a reply from Liz MacKean herself. I'll post it here if I can find it. I remember thinking it did her credit to reply in some detail, and with (her characteristic) earnestness.

    I also slagged her off in another couple of comments:

    "Craig has commented 07 August 2010,13:06:08.
    On Wednesday Newsnight's Liz MacKean presented a report about 'the growing crisis in foster care'. Liz's concerned voice and the use of sad music gave it the feel of a charity appeal on behalf of the Fostering Network. (A worthy cause, no doubt).

    One key point she wanted to get across was a political one - that, as Emily Maitlis's introduction put it, "many believe that forthcoming cuts will jeopardize the care given to some of our country's most vulnerable children." Liz MacKean made that point again and again throughout her report and ended with pretty much the same words. (The report's statistics were drawn from the Fostering Network and the Labour-leaning think-tank Demos).
    Like quite a few of Liz MacKean's reports, it had the whiff of propaganda.

    Plus, she also appeared in a Biased-BBC post I did. I described a report she did as "another completely one-sided report from Liz MacKean, which propagandized for keeping speed cameras and against government budget cuts".

    I wasn't really a fan, was I?

    1. I have found this whole thing intriguing on a variety of levels.

      Usually matters 'BBC' are relatively polarised affairs, and anything that adversely affects the corporate edifice are very much rounded on by the Guardian, its writers and readers.

      But there do seem to be cracks appearing more and more often.

      Perhaps not surprisingly this is more when the dissent is from within, especially if turf wars flare up and when loyalties are called into question and folk are not seen as the required level of 'team player'.

      Clearly, as you point out, the protagonists at the core of all this have professional histories that also can only be seen as variable on a few counts.

      As always these will be pounced upon, maybe with a degree of justification, to cast doubts on anything else by association.

      So it becomes key, if a trial, to try and separate the fact from the opinion, and the intentions from the evidence.

      Nick Cohen has laid out the runners and riders fairly well, but others have pointed out a few major stumbles on accuracy or extent.

      However overall there are surely some undeniables and these must form the core focus.

      No doubts that there was something very dubious going on around Savile, and how 'the top brass' handled it was about as dire as it got. Which included and may evidently still include some mid-level protagonists whose careers ended up as collateral damage either in backwaters or the scrapheap.

      Whichever way, the message must surely have gone out, and that is any who mess with the hive will not survive. And some characters, either thick, incompetent, unpleasant, devious or a mixture of all these, are still embedded and riding the next wave of gravy whilst keeping 'boat rockers' in check.

      Hardly the best outcome on any basis for an entity that plays such a influential, if often malign role in how this country is educated and informed. One that still tries to sell itself as the last independent bastion of holding power to account.

      Any attempting to raise concerns with the BBC juggernaught, public (via the risible complaints pages - I do note with some irony the number of posts on the article comments pages that have been community moderated to oblivion) or employee (QED) should not be confronted by 'sinister treatments of dissent'.

      So soon after the airy 'carry on as you were' afforded the BBC by The Future of the BBC committee (despite some jaw-dropping testimony published but apparently deemed worthy of a pass), it is hard to be encouraged.

      I see the comments are still open, and may chip in as, for once, things seem rather less one-sided than usual CiF fare. I wonder how many are from the BBC?

  3. Article by Mark Easton on the BBC website.

    Notice that there is no criticism of the BBC


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