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What the BBC does matters to everyone in Britain. As the nation’s largest purveyor of entertainment, information and analysis, it is the most important single influence on our thinking. It’s also a great lumbering beast of an institution, struggling through the quagmire of its own history, traditions and self-regard. It suffers from its own internal prejudices and a complicated, contradictory socio-political stance that is at once essentially progressive while inherently change-averse.
Generally, big changes happen at the BBC only when external influences kick it into innovation. In the ’60s – some will recall – in their radio output, the old Light Programme transmogrified and split into Radios One and Two as a direct response to the success of Ronan O’Rahilly’s Radio Caroline and the other pirate stations that emerged behind it and exposed the obvious public demand for dedicated pop music stations.
Some decades later, the laid-back, unchallenging demeanour of the newly established Classic FM (with its persistent and irritating incitements to relax), forced a major shift in attitude on Radio Three, where for years presenters who talked as if they had broom handles up their bums made sure their listeners treated the music with appropriate reverence, until it was decided abruptly that they should become cuddly and have first names, even accepting that Jazz could as artistically valid as ‘Classical’ music.
However, once the internet had first made its presence felt, the BBC didn’t wait to be kicked into action. With all their licence-fee-funded news gathering resources, they plunged in and grabbed the opportunity with both hands, quickly establishing, with help from the big search engines, a position in news propagation which dominated their main rivals – the commercially funded national newspapers who were trying to plug the leak in their falling print sales revenues. It was always an unfair, uneven pitch on which to play, and as long as this unfairness exists, only the BBC can win. This is a very real and imminent danger. The commercial operators – newspapers hoping to regain their lost revenue from online advertising – are facing (despite any optimistic gurgling Rupert Murdoch makes from time to time while earning the vast proportion of his profits from other media) a relentless downward profit spiral and will not ultimately have the resources to maintain serious investigative news gathering, and simply won’t be able to deliver a news service that can compete with the BBC.
I’ve warned about this danger before, so I was heartened to see that others more influential than myself (the Home Secretary and David Dimbleby among them) have been expressing their concerns about a problem which some commentators identified over ten years ago. Whatever the BBC and its apologists may say, they cannot deny that the current state of online news in Britain looks like delivering them a powerful and potentially dangerous monopoly in news distribution. They appear to accept this as of right although the Internet was never, of course, included within the terms of Lord Reith’s original charter; I imagine that he saw the BBC as being in healthy, complementary competition with the national press – not in direct conflict.
At the same time, it could be said that what additional costs the Corporation incurs in running its websites, could be saved and channelled back into other areas of traditional broadcasting where there is deemed to be under-spending – full-length, high-quality television drama, for instance.
However truculent the national press may be about being regulated by outsiders (although Ofcom externally monitors the broadcast media without unduly restricting their ability to report news which is uncomfortable to governments), there is a vital need for a functioning Fourth Estate; to see it slowly emasculated by its inability to compete with the BBC would seriously damage our democracy.
The BBC in its reactionary mode, which likes nothing more than celebrating anniversaries of astonishingly long-running radio programmes, does demonstrate that there is value in some the of the revered old formats. Of course, opinions differ over the really hoary old shows like the Archers, or Just a Minute, but the format of the seventy-one year old Desert Island Discs still serves very well in revealing to the public the naked persona of its subjects. Music being the one truly abstract and most viscerally appealing of the arts, the choices expressed by the subjects and their reasons for them tell things about them that a normal interview seldom does. Listeners can have their views changed quite dramatically in these circumstances. Jeremy Clarkson, for instance, revealed himself as a thoughtful, quite gentle and self-effacing man, utterly unlike the crass, oafish TV and journalistic persona he has created. And years ago, listening to the late George Thomas, former Commons Speaker, Lord Tonypandy, whom I’d always rather admired, revealed a disappointing lack of interest in music and thus, I deduced, in his fellow men. It recently revealed, surprisingly, that Ed Miliband also has no real interest music, and his choice of discs reflected no more than his sympathy with the lyrics or an appreciation of non-musical elements of his choices. At least the selection hadn’t been drawn up by a gang of special advisers, as it often appears to have been for politicians, to assist in wooing hitherto unengaged sections of the electorate.
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Having been invited last April by the Met’s Weeting inquiry to come in and chat about the phone hacking he’d engaged in to secure some of his shameless Shag’n’Brag tales that appeared in The News of the World (though not the one about Gordon Taylor, which got spiked because Taylor knew he’d been hacked back in 2005, before the Murdochs and Les Hinton, and Rebekah Brooks, and Andy Coulson and Tom Crone and the rest of them told the world many times that Royal ‘Editor’ Clive Goodman was just a rotten apple in the barrel – a single rogue reporter) ‘Onan’ Thurlbeck has been called back to deal with an allegation that he tried to pressure witnesses by threatening to expose them, into putting their names to fresh and false allegations over one of his nastier stings.
But Neville Thurlbeck [ see my past blog ] appears to be a man of high moral and ethical standards. Here’s what he told Lord Leveson on Dec. 12th 2011
My experience of the News of the World is that it was a highly professional organisation. It was staffed by some of the best journalists on Fleet Street, who worked with great diligence and integrity, and continue to do so. I was proud to work alongside all of my colleagues. I have enormous respect for all of them. You know, there may have been a small caucus of people who gave us a bad reputation now. Unfortunately, the bulk of those very decent journalists have been tainted by that and ae now finding it extremely difficult to get work. But I have to say that my experience of working with the vast majority of the people on the News of the World was wonderful. They are an exemplary bunch of people who could work on any newspaper of the world.
Trust him, he knows.
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Geeky, cheeky James Murdoch has “stepped down” as Executive Chairman of News International because he lied to a British parliamentary committee about phone-hacking. It’s becoming clear that this will be incontrovertible, as the Leveson Inquiry and the Met’s own inquiries continue. It’s just as likely that young Murdoch knew about the bribes being paid by News International to the Metropolitan police while he was in charge. It is precisely this kind of criminal activity – the bribing of officials – that could damage News Corp’s US companies as a result of the USA’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids such activity, and Pop Murdoch needs desperately to be seen moving against the guilty parties within his British companies, and that includes James.
James had to go now, to support Rupert Rumplechops’ future claim that he reacted to clear up the mess in order to plead his innocence to authorities in the US, where he is no more liked than he is here.
James deserves no prizes or rewards for lying to the British people through Parliament and his removal has been widely welcomed.
In the meantime, he’s still running a much more important arm of News Corp, and still making a pile of dough. Unlike his sacked former star hack at the Screws, Neville “Onan the Barbarian” Thurlbeck, who (the Press Gazette tells us with a wicked shiver of schadenfreude), is to become Theatre Critic on the Surrey Comet,
Onan says, ‘In these days of flagging interest in the arts the Surrey Comet is a crucial medium to advertise and get the message across about the artistic lifeblood that’s rich and flowing through the borough.’
I don’t know about that, but he personally took a great deal of professional interest in flogging when he was busily digging up, embellishing or just inventing some of the grubbiest sensations his old employer ever published.
In case he requests any back-stage interviews with female members of the cast, I should refer the theatre’s management to my last post on Neville the Barbarian. http://www.peterburden.net/archives/900
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All the obvious hacking suspects at the now brown-bread Screws have been rounded up, EXCEPT the arch twaddle peddler of them all, the Fake Sheikh, AKA Mazher Mahmood. And yet, today Guy Pelly was given £40,000 by the paper for their criminal hacking of his phone. Pelly was a regular target of Mahmood, who spectacularly failed to nail the young club operator (and Prince William’s friend) in a hopelessly bodged sting in Las Vegas. Other high-profile hacking victims who were targeted by Mahmood include Kieran Fallon – in another failed sting.
For what sinister reason is Mahmood immune to the police’s attention?
Does he know more about their evil deeds than any of the other ‘journalists’ on the defunct rag? It’s unlikely that he’s a member of the same Masonic Lodge, unless the Masons are now recruiting from ethnic minorities.
Why have News International continued to employ him at the Sunday Times? Why did the Leveson Inquiry grant him a non-visible hearing?
Why did the Crown Prosecution service allow the Pakistani cricketers to be tried for a victimless offence and a non-crime which Mahmood had fabricated?
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Although, as both Murdochs have assured the HoC Culture Committee, the News of the World was a paltry, unimportant adjunct to their mighty media empire. Nevertheless, as James authorised the payment of the thick end of a million quid to Gordon Taylor, he must still have wondered which journalist (among his 50,000 employees) had pursued a (unpublished) story which was costing more than a paltry amount. Or did he simply assume it was the work of former Screws Royal editor, Clive Goodman (the sole ‘rogue reporter’)?
Incredibly, that is what he expected the Commons CMS committee to believe.
If I were them, I’d be feeling deeply insulted.
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Congratulations to Asst. Dep.Com. Sue Akers for finally feeling the collar of the ring master in the circus of lies and deceit that was the News of the World. We can assume that Ms Akers is not a member of Kuttner’s lodge, which, of course will have made the job easier.
Now it only needs the Fake Sheikh to have the hood of his djellabah grasped for us to call ’HOUSE!’.
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What kind of desperate vanity would have induced anyone to take over from the former incumbent, Sir Christoper “Loose Cannon” Meyer, the thankless task of running the least effective “self-regulatory” body in the country?
Baroness Peta Buscombe was mad to take over the Cup of Hemlock that is the Chair of the Press Complaints Commission, and now she’s paying the price.
She’s cocked up the job from start to finish, been bamboozled by the Screws, sued for libel by a leading media lawyer, made herself look ridiculous and – one good thing – she’s almost certainly brought this useless institution to the point of its overdue execution.
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Mr Murdoch, you have conceded that Gordon Taylor had to be paid because his phone had been hacked by Muclaire on behalf of the News of the World.
Your executives Myler, Crone, Kuttner, Coulson, Hinton all told the CMS committee in 2009 that there had only been one rogue reporter, Clive Goodman – the Royal editor – and continued asserting this, as did you, right up until 2010.
Are you telling us that you and your executives believed that the extensive phone hacking of Gordon Taylor and his assistants by Mulcaire was ordered by Clive Goodman, the one rogue reporter?
And did they (and you) believe that Goodman also instructed Mulcaire to hack into the phones of Skylet Andrew (a footballers’ agent), Simon Hughes, and Max Clifford, all of whom were named as victims of Mulcaire’s hacking when he was convicted in January 2007?
If they didn’t believe this (and they could not possibly have believed it), they all lied to Parliament when they re-asserted their claim that Goodman was the only guilty reporter.
The obfuscation, the hesitation, the avoidance of direct answers, the high pitched protesting whine, as well as the inconsistency of fact when James Murdoch appeared before the committee on Tuesday were all convincing indicators that he too has now lied to parliament.
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Apart from providing Rupert Rumplechops with a PR coup – a piece of reverse spin that his former (?) employee, Andy Coulson might have cooked up (as he did for George Osborne back in 2005) – which showed the world how much his athletic young wife loves a growling old billionaire, the Culture Media Sport Committee’s grilling didn’t produce more than a little warm toast.
Restricted as they were by sub judice topics in the case of Rebekah Testarossa, they might have done better to leave this session until the future, when she would not have been in a position to bat away their questions with another clutch of well-honed lies, the way all her colleagues did in 2009.
They could have asked…..
When, in May 2006, she saw that the News of the World carried a story in which they reproduced a verbatim message left by Prince William on Prince Harry’s voicemail, did she not question to the legality of the means by which the story was found? Or did she just think that Coulson, Thurlbeck and Goodman hade made it up? When she became CEO of News International did she not question News of the World managing editor, Stuart Kuttner about it?
Why was News editor Greg Miskiw sent packing in July 2005, shortly after the Gordon Taylor story went wrong?
Why was Stuart Kuttner sacked in 2009, the day before the Guardian revealed the Taylor pay off.
Why was Tom Crone sacked two weeks ago? (Yes, they asked her but they didn’t challenge the absurdity of her mendacious reply.)
Let us hope that the Metropolitan Police are less lenient in their questioning. At least we know Rebekah’s not a member of the same Lodge as the Senior MET Freemasons – that august charitable organisation still doesn’t allow women members – or does it, and they just haven’t told us?
Watch this trowel.
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