Auntie's 90th Birthday – A Hearty Defence of the BBC
The British have a problem. Over the past few years they have learned, legitimately, that almost every single nationwide institution has been corrupted.
Worldwide, the discovery that the banks were corrupted wasn't exactly a shock to most people's public confidence, but what the bankers did to the world was just the beginning for what the UK was about to discover.
The train wreck began in 2009 when the Daily Telegraph exposed a scandal to do with Members of Parliament (not a government scandal, as MPs from all over the House were involved) fiddling their expenses claims. It has hurt many politicians, and virtually obliterated any public trust in government. Even though we have since changed governments, the current Cameron Coalition isn't exactly enjoying the story. Damage incurred: resignation, dismissal, and arrest and imprisonment of various MPs; devastated public confidence.
Next came the newspapers, focusing on (but not entirely) the Murdoch tabloids. Turns out it was common practice to hack into the voicemails of virtually anybody in order to obtain a story. Mainly this practice was used to get dirt on celebrities, but the example that people find most sickening is the Milly Dowler case. Milly Dowler was a teenager who was murdered in 2002, and prior to the discovery of her body, a phone hacker by the name of Glen Mulcaire had accessed her voicemails, deleted some messages, and used the rest for a story. This deletion of messages ultimately led Milly's parents to believe she was still alive and using her phone somewhere. Damage incurred: as well as the torture the Dowlers experienced at the hands of Mulcaire and the tabloids, the privacy of many individuals abused; the closure of News of the World; oh and total loss of public confidence.
Police next. For this, we return to a dark part of Britain's history that took place in 1989. The Hillsborough disaster is so named because of a human crush that killed 96 people during a semi-final FA cup soccer match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Essentially this disaster was a culmination of a poorly designed stadium and a breakdown in communications. In September 2012, once and for all, it was concluded that the police were ultimately responsible. Why is this a scandal and not just a tragedy? Because ever since 1989, the police officers in charge named the Liverpool fans as the people at fault. It has since been discovered that any witness statements taken in 1989 blaming the police were destroyed. A mass in-house cull of evidence took place. Now thousands of police officers are being investigated. Damage incurred: as well as the 96 deaths (plus three suicides in following years), the false blame of innocent Liverpool fans who have been the subject of prejudice ever since; one of the largest independent investigations ever carried out; and total and utter loss of public confidence.
By now you're no doubt noticing a theme. State and independent institutions with too much corruption are being slowly brought to account through various committees and hearings. A fictional version of this involving MI6 even becomes a main plot point of Skyfall.
So the pattern is already there: Institution – Scandal – Deeper Scandal – Hearing – Resolution – Loss of Public Confidence.
This is a problem in itself. For now the BBC has been embroiled in its own scandal of similar proportions, and the pattern we've established means that is where the BBC may end up – a conclusion that is entirely wrong. This has made global news so I'll be brief – but essentially for decades a BBC presenter by the name of Jimmy Savile was able to abuse hundreds, I'll say again, hundreds of children. He lived up to the last four letters of his name, and died in 2011 without prosecution. When he died, the gushing and now-regretted tributes came in and only now are victims able to come forward.
The story is still developing, with the BBC's Director General stepping down after only 54 days on the job. It's a massive story, raising the question of what people knew and what they merely suspected without evidence, what stories were blocked from broadcast and what stories should have been blocked, what people were involved with Jimmy Savile and what people have been falsely accused. Explaining this story is too difficult, so I'll summarise and say I'm defending the BBC here for five reasons.
Firstly, the BBC's main fault here is a lack of cohesive leadership. Sure it needs reviewing, criticising, even reforming. No question something has gone wrong, but we should fix what has gone wrong, not pander to our reactionary selves and hate it while the hatred's fashionable.
Secondly, it's not just the BBC involved in this scandal. First to get the punishment was the National Health Service for allowing Jimmy Savile such close access to children in their care, but in truth we're either all to blame or none of us are. In Britain Jimmy Savile was a popular man. He was knighted by the Queen for services to charity. His image as a tracksuit-wearing loner added to a bizarre double-bluff and one which millions fell for – i.e. he looked and indeed was a creep. Only Jimmy Savile is responsible for his crimes, and with only his corpse and a trashed grave remaining we're after more blood.
Thirdly, this story is largely being bolstered by the Murdoch tabloids not because of what happened, but because of the coverage the BBC gave to their phone-hacking scandal. This, in short, is their ugly revenge.
Fourthly, the BBC is a good thing.
As I'll say again with the police and the Members of Parliament, but what I will not say of the tabloids. Britain needs the British Broadcasting Corporation, just as much as it needs a government and a police force. Of course there needs to be a free press, but currently there are many newspapers which fail to provide such a service. The newspapers are less about news and more about campaigns and slurs. It's Fox News in print. But Britain needs a state broadcaster, capable of transcending political bias (granted, not always succeeding but always trying) and capable of delivering gold.
"The newspapers are less about news and more about campaigns and slurs. It's Fox News in print.
Fifthly, the BBC had its 90th birthday this week. On November 14th 1922 its first ever broadcast, the famed 2LO, reached Britain's brand-new radios. Frankly we should owe her a little more respect on this week of all weeks.
With this in mind, I give you Mitch Benn's "I'm Proud of the BBC". Although this particular birthday is a rocky one for the BBC, a nation thanks Auntie, and wishes her a happy 90th.