Friday 4 September 2020

The Sarah Sands of time run out


People hereabouts have said it many times before: 'They always wait till they've safely left the ample bosom of Auntie Beeb, don't they?'

A recent twist though, began last September by John Humphrys, was to not even wait a single day. 

He broadcast his last edition of Today on the morning of 19 September 2019 and by the evening of 19 September 2019 the Daily Mail - which had serialisation rights - was splashing the BBC-bashing bits of his new book. It happened during his leaving party. 

I hope he thanked his agent.


Now John Humphrys's ultimate editor at Today, Sarah Sands, has put him to shame and gone one better...

It was her final edition at editor of Today this morning, and - quite literally - a piece of hers for the Financial Times popped up pretty much to the minute this morning's Today programme ended and she was finally free of her BBC obligations. 

Her FT piece may even have crashed the 9am pips, so well timed was it.

Being the FT, it probably won't guarantee her quite the same publicity that JH got, but it's full of the same kind of demob-happy, love-the-BBC-but-spill-the-beans-and-let-the-cats-out-of-the-bags revelations that JH spilt and let out very nearly one year ago now. 

As far as this blog's big theme goes - BBC bias - Sarah says that "respect for the rules [of impartiality at the BBC] is weakening". 

(No! Paint me ironically shocked!)

She also says it's "awkward" when BBC journalists' "masks slip on Twitter". 

(They're forever slipping. Merseyside transport police should arrest them. Who has she in mind though? Lewis Goodall? Jeremy Bowen? Emily Maitlis? Or her lippy colleague until today Nick Robinson?)

"Does the celebrity conferred on news broadcasters require constant burnishing on social media? ", she wonders. 

(Who has she in mind? Lewis Goodall? Emily Maitlis? They seem to adore the limelight on Twitter at least as much as they do their TV 'fame').

Sarah also talks of "the employee activist" and the "sense of entitlement among younger employees" at the BBC and says that "they expect to have their view of the world on air". 

(We're seeing a lot of that, to put it mildly. It's a huge problem for the BBC. But is it just the young 'uns, and is it entirely new? What about Nick Bryant and Jon Sopel, or - even older - John Simpson and Jeremy Bowen and Hugh Sykes? And countless others? It is undoubtedly getting far worse though with the young 'uns.) 

She's certainly not wrong about how the BBC can "treat social conservatism with polite incomprehension". 

(...something that certainly applies to Ed Stourton's Sunday programme on Radio 4 for starters)

As for her "As for faith, that is best watered down into community homilies", well yes!

(Today's Thought For The Day is only the most obvious example here, along with Songs of Praise). 

On the question of the Last Night of the Proms row she writes, "Many of its staff feel passionately one way, many of its audiences another." 

(Well, yes. We assumed that). 

"The BBC must fight to overcome a cultural like-mindedness," she says. How? She answers, by embracing localism. 

('Cultural like-mindedness' is quite a good phrase to describe the problem. Even John Humphrys, the one thought to be the token right-wing Brexiteer by FBPE, spider-sporting pro-EU left-wingers on Twitter AND his former boss Rod Liddle, turned out to be a self-declared liberal Remainer. Given that the BBC is cutting back on local news, maybe applying the sharpest cuts among the central, metropolitan BBC reporters rather than the local news teams might help?).

She gives an example of how "uncomfortable truths are tricky" at the BBC by telling anecdote about her attempts to raise data about obesity and Covid-19 got quashed through "kindly reluctance" to report it - in contrast to the BBC's focus on data about BAME people suffering disproportionately from the disease.

(Very BBC!) 

And for those of you who want to defund the BBC licence fee and make it a subscription service at best, (though probably not for those of you who want to totally and utterly wipe it off the face of the earth) she writes: 

As for the entertainment, if it is appealing enough, the public will surely pay a voluntary subscription for it. The BBC should be nurturer or curator of talent, not have a monopoly on it. I understand the principle of universality, but we cannot pretend that the BBC is the NHS of broadcast. There are alternative sources of entertainment and scope for partnerships. 

("We cannot pretend that the BBC is the NHS of broadcast". I'm not sure that many of her former senior colleagues are above pretending that at all!)


Is that where new BBC DG Tim Davie really is? A lot of this whole piece sounds like where he is. Yet she's on her way out and he's on his way in.

Interesting times at the BBC.

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