current affairs

Analysis: What is next for the BBC after the Pollard review?

On December 19, the review of the motives surrounding the termination of a story about the scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile on the BBC programme Newsnight was

On December 19, the review of the motives surrounding the termination of a story about the scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile on the BBC programme Newsnight was released. Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News who conducted the review, speaking at a press conference, said the investigators looking after the story did get it right, and had concrete proof that Savile was a pedophile. Pollard added however that the decision to drop the segment was flawed, but the decision by Peter Rippon had been done in good faith.

However, Pollard said that there was a more worrying aspect.“In the first few months after the Savile investigation was halted the News Division’s management and its publicity teams seemed to have kept a lid on the rumblings of press interest about the story but it slowly became clear they did not have the full facts and that the problem was not going to go away,” Pollard wrote. “An element of personal distrust played a significant part in this.”

Pollard added that the chain of communication broke down at management level, saying that there was “chaos and confusion”, and leadership was “in short supply” over the course of the time acquiring the facts surrounding what had happened. Additionally, according to a report from the Guardian, Pollard criticised the decision made by deputy director Stephen Mitchell, who removed the programme from the managed risk programmes list at the BBC.

As a result of the report, Mitchell announced his retirement from the BBC effective next year, and Rippon and Newsnight’s deputy editor Liz Gibbons are to move to new jobs within the organisation, in addition to 5 live controller Adrian Van Klaveren, who oversaw the report that saw Lord McAlpine being accused of conducting sexual abuse actions against children, the Guardian report added. Additionally, responding to the report, the BBC executive said the post on the Savile story on the Editors Blog, which allows BBC editors to communicate with the public on editorial decisions, was mishandled, and as a result the blog would be reviewed. New guidance for BBC journalists are also to be introduced on relations with the police when it came to material.

Additionally, a Guardian report says that director of news Helen Boaden is to hold quarterly all staff meetings. In an e-mail from the head of newsgathering Fran Unsworth, Boaden is to start this in order to enhance communication between management and BBC journalists. A spokesperson for the BBC confirmed to Kettle that the meetings would go ahead.

In its response to the report, the BBC Trust said that it had accepted it and said the reform of management culture would be the top priority of Lord Hall, the new director general, who is to take over in the spring. “We will expect him to present us with his plan to lead this sort of change within three months of his arrival,” the statement said. “We will ask him to include proposals to improve the Executive Board’s oversight of editorial decision-making, both through the executive support he receives as Editor-in-Chief and through the contribution that can be made by the non-Executive Directors. For our part, we will consider whether there are improvements that can be made to lines of communication between the Trust and the Executive Board at the top of the BBC.”

In a statement according to The Guardian, the Culture Secretary Maria Miller said the report raised serious questions about editorial and management issues and looked to the Trust to resolve this. “I also remind the trust how vital it is to publish all relevant evidence, as soon as possible, in order to rebuild public trust and confidence in the BBC,” Miller said. “It remains critical that we do not lose sight of the most important issue in this, the many victims of sexual abuse by Savile. I urge the BBC to now focus on the review into those abuses, and ensure it is swift and transparent. I will remain in close touch with the trust as they oversee this work.”

In a statement, the National Union of Journalists agreed with the Trust and the priority to reform management culture. “For far too long the NUJ has dealt with regular complaints from members on this very issue,” said NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet. “Now at last the scale of the problem is finally recognised which gives the BBC an opportunity for meaningful and genuine change for the better.”

What remain are questions as to the future of the BBC and what the culture will be like once Lord Hall takes over. A report is due in the new year from Dame Janet Smith examining the working culture of the BBC whilst Savile worked there.

Writing in The Guardian, the former presenter of Radio 4’s The World Tonight and the World Service’s Newshour, Robin Lustig, said Hall knew the organisation well to handle the issue (Hall was the head of BBC News between 1996 and 2001). “Tony Hall knows the organisation well enough to do something about it, and that includes trying to do something about the Trust itself,” Lustig said. “It’s an ugly, hybrid beast, neither regulator nor board of directors, and it should be put out of its misery at the next charter review.”

Lustig also raised the question about the budget, despite it not being considered in the review. “Endless rounds of annual budget cuts, imposed by governments shaving real-terms licence fee income year after year, come at a cost,” Lustig said. “Programme teams are smaller, and fewer managers are taking on ever-greater responsibilities. Fewer people working under more pressure equals more mistakes.”

It is clear that there is still work to be done to ensure that the BBC remains trusted through the conclusions of this report. While most of the public accepts that the BBC can be trusted and will continue to be trusted (as the saying goes, everyone makes mistakes), what happens next will see a new BBC come forward, intact with the culture of creativity that Britain and the world expects of it.

What do you think is next for the BBC? Do you think the conclusions in the Pollard Review are satisfactory? Do you still trust the BBC? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook and on Twitter.