April 2, 2004
All Hail the New BBC Chairman!By Michael Morris
Watching the BBC report on itself, which it's recently been doing frquently, is always an enlightening experience.
On Friday afternoon at about , BBC News 24 was getting very excited about the imminent arrival at BBC headquarters in
As is the case with most non—military press briefings, it didn't start on time.
To kill a few minutes, the BBC 24 anchor was interviewing various commentators who were sharing their thoughts on how Michael Grade would fare at the Beeb. Most of them were pretty enthusiastic, but funnily enough, seemed a lot more concerned about whether the hordes of BBC staff would take him into their hearts. It's a very communal organization, of course. No, make that self—involved. Or perhaps self—obsessed captures the reality better.
In between these snippets of exciting chit—chat, live footage from inside the massive atrium—style headquarters of the BBC kept appearing on the television screen. For anyone not familiar with the rather luxurious interior of the BBC's offices, just imagine a huge central courtyard with five to six floors of continuous inward—looking balcony around the entire building.
As the BBC 24 camera panned upwards I was astounded to see hundreds —— possibly thousands —— of BBC employees crowded along the balconies of each and every floor, like the masses of citizens in the Coliseum waiting for a new Roman Emperor to arrive.
My first thought was: get back to work you civil service layabouts; I'm paying your wages.
But then it came to me —— and I felt terribly guilty—— that these were the poor demoralized children cruelly abandoned after the fiasco of the Hutton Inquiry.
Their previous mommy and daddy, Greg Dyke and Gavin Davies, had gone away on a long journey and wouldn't be coming back home, because Judge Hutton had said they'd been very naughty parents indeed. The thousands of BBC staff at HQ had also massed during that farewell, in much the same manner, as they were gathering today to welcome their new munificent leader.
They do a lot of massing at the BBC. The British taxpayers are in no position to enforce workplace discipline.
The interesting thing about this ant—like gathering phenomenon at the BBC is that it's so very indicative of a conformist public sector mindset. Like sheep without a shepherd, they are lost without the fatherly guidance of their omnipotent leader, who will protect them from the horrible realities of the cruel Capitalist world.
So, when he arrived fashionably late to give his press conference in front of his breathless minions, he certainly didn't let them down.
His first pledge hit the g—spot of his instantaneously adoring fans:
"I remain committed to the licence fee as the best means of funding the BBC for the foreseeable future'
So anyone who thought the new Chairman might be a forward—looking type is obviously out of luck. Especially UK television owners, who will continue to fork over more than $200 every year, whether or not they watch the BBC offerings.
His second pledge was a dubious scrap for the rest of us who monitor the politically biased and anti—American BBC:
"The regulatory role of the board of governors is in urgent need of clarification, if not repair. In practice, this means a greater separation between the executive and the governors.'
Big deal! Greater separation doesn't really mean anything of substance because it implies that there will still be daily contact between the editorial management team of the BBC and its supposed regulators.
What is needed is a complete quarantine between the BBC governors and the executive. Michael Grade's second pledge sounds more as if he's just going to move the Governors office a few doors down the corridor.
And his third major pledge was another gift for his new horde of adopted children:
"The editorial independence of the BBC is paramount in maintaining the support of the viewers and listeners. Without it, there is no point to the BBC."
It's amazing that someone like Michael Grade, who has spent most of his life in commercial broadcasting (other than a previous two year BBC stint), still believes in the concept of 'editorial independence.'
That's like an adult who still believes in Santa Claus.
Of course, what he means by 'editorial independence' is sheer lack of accountability. They won't remediate based on any complaints, whether or not they originate from the government. And if they don't take a complaint from Tony Blair seriously, you can imagine what they must think of a normal complaint from a British taxpayer.
So folks, don't expect any change of bias at the so—called BBC, and rest assured we will continue to monitor them and bring them to task when required.
It looks like business as usual.
Michael Morris is our London Correspondent