Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Good times roll for the Beeb.

Just over a year ago the BBC were in crisis as Lord Hutton's report caused the departure of three key BBC men: Gilligan, Dyke and Dayvies (ok, Gilligan wasn't too key, but his symbolism was.)

As a long-term BBC critic I can say those were heady days, yet I didn't feel too optimistic because our success came down to the good fortune (thank Tone) of having an old-fashioned, undiplomatic judge, and a BBC which decided (wisely, in one sense) that drastic action was required.

That drastic action, which gave people like me so much entertainment, saved the BBC for another day. They won their battle to have their charter and license fee renewed.

I knew, at the time, it would have been better for us had Dyke and co. hung tough, played down the Hutton findings after having briefed their journalist friends to expect the worst, and been the target of the New Labour machine thereafter.

That having been avoided, the BBC needed only to wait for events. Apart from the re-election of George W. Bush, which was an event not really on the BBC's beat anyway (though they love to dabble), these have favoured the Beeb.

First and foremost of course was the charter renewal I've already mentioned. That gives the BBC the breathing space which none of their commercial competitors enjoy. I've no doubt they're taking pleasure in it.

Second is the fact that their general scepticism about WMD, always a political football, has been given cover by both the trend towards questioning the war from all points of the political spectrum, and the findings of the likes of Duelfer which give no concrete support to those who proposed a WMD inclusive argument. Other related 'good news' for the BBC, given their pitch pre-war, might be the failure of the Volker report to eviscerate the UNscam, and the success of Gorgeous George in using a libel case to sweeten the stench given off by the anti-war mob, while punishing some of the BBC's detractors.

Third is that, after sacrificing to appease New Labour, the Beeb have been rewarded not only by their charter renewal, but by the cover that comes from having reconciled themselves with the party that is likely to be in charge of the political situation in the 'base country' for the foreseeable future.

That's why the Beeb now seem far surer-footed, despite lapses which demonstrate their innate tendencies. Some examples of surefootedness here and here that I would call good journalism were it not for the fact that the only good journalism that comes from the Beeb comes when their ideological budget affords it. In other words, when it doesn't damage their ideological agenda. It's so much easier to control those tendencies though when they have a defensible position in the scheme of things, and an assured future. When the Augean stables looks set to remain a major employer, it isn't hard to get the stable-boys to keep trying to freshen the top layer.

So, am I downhearted? No, is the answer to that- because the whole exercise is about recognising the BBC's institutional nature, and feeling the weight of its velocity, so as ultimately to destroy it if it will not be radically altered. The Gilligan-Dyke-Dayvies phenomenon showed how deep the BBC's culture runs, and how important it is to the socialist project as it has been conceived in Britain. Two deep-dyed socialists (Dayvies and Dyke, especially Dyke) fell on their swords to save the BBC and deliver it into today's calmer waters. Only by understanding that can I hope, in a small way, to facilitate the perfect storm which will end the BBC and all it stands for.

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