Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

As the row rages supporters rally to BBC's defence

Defenders of the BBC rallied round the country's most famous media institution yesterday after it suffered a day of sustained attack over faked phone-in competitions for which it has issued a public apology.



As penitent executives filled the airwaves and the director general, Mark Thompson, admitted that the BBC had had "a rude awakening", outside the walls of the corporation's White City headquarters, a different mood was developing. A series of prominent commentators gave the BBC's management and the newly created BBC Trust credit for tackling a problem thrown up by the increasing pressures to cut costs and compete with commercial television. The Labour MP and former Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane, who lost his job as a young journalist after agreeing to a producer's request to pose as a caller to a BBC phone-in, said: "The BBC's overall contribution to making Britain a civilised country able to have a mature discussion with itself surely should outweigh the stupidities they have now been honest enough to own up to."



Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, called it "a black week for all public service broadcasters", but added: "The BBC has been under pressure over competition, the outsourcing of programmes, and the increasing, and very welcome, reliance on independent companies. Its whole way of operating has changed dramatically. But there isn't a proper system of monitoring this upheaval, which is threatening the very high standards we have for BBC programmes."



Across much of the conservative media, which has maintained a traditional hostility to the BBC, the clamour for corporation heads to roll became deafening yesterday, after recent scandals involving doctored footage of the Queen during an Annie Leibovitz photo-shoot and further revelations of faked phone-ins on shows from Blue Peter to Comic Relief.



But signs of a fightback on behalf of an institution that has been assailed in recent times by Margaret Thatcher, Alastair Campbell, the Israeli government, and most of Britain's conservative media pundits, were unmistakable



Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, resisted calls from Conservative MPs for the Government to intervene. She told the House of Commons: "It is of course important they have the trust of all their viewers but this is not just an issue for the BBC but across all broadcasters."



Mark Byford, the deputy director general, has been summoned before a Commons committee next week to answer questions about "public confidence in broadcasting". The Culture Select Committee will also hear from the former BBC chairman, Michael Grade, who is now executive chairman of ITV.



Mr Grade has also defended the BBC during its worst crisis since the Hutton report into the suicide of the weapons inspector David Kelly which raised questions about the BBC's journalistic standards and its impartiality in coverage of the Iraq war



Mr Grade pointed out the scandal of fake phone-in competitions was not confined to the BBC. The abuses, shown up in a report by the regulator, Ofcom, were also uncovered at GMTV, ITV and Five.



At White City, however, recriminations continued. An angry email from Mark Thompson, blamed a "small number of staff" for putting the BBC's hard-earned reputation for honesty at risk



The BBC also confirmed that it has suspended several senior executives over the abuse of phone-ins, but declined to name them. They are said to be at the level of executive producer or higher. A statement said: "We can confirm a small number of staff have been asked to step aside from their duties."



It added: "This should not be taken to mean that we have already made a judgement in the case of the staff concerned. This is in line with BBC's policy and procedures and is consistent with our duty of care to individuals."



Mark Pritchard, a Tory MP, has written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, demanding a "wide and deep" criminal investigation into the phone-in abuses. Another Tory, Andrew MacKay, told MPs that people had "lost trust" in the BBC.



Reasons for the corporation to be proud



The Archers



The longest-running soap opera in the world, and a bastion of Radio 4 since its launch in 1950. It is loved and loathed in equal measure, but even its critics know the theme tune.



World Service



It broadcasts in 33 languages and attracts 183 million listeners per week.



Website



BBC online was the pioneer of the news website and now has more than 13 million users worldwide, with more than two million web pages: still a leader - if not the leader - in its field.



Children's Programmes



From Listen With Mother to Jackanory to the thoroughly modern CBeebies, the BBC has long devoted special attention to quality children's programming.



Current Affairs



With programmes such as Today, Newsnight and Question Time, and their respective heavyweights, John Humphrys and Jim Naughtie, Jeremy Paxman and David Dimbleby, below, the BBC is unrivalled in its coverage of serious current affairs.



Sporting Events



The BBC has fought against commercial sharks to keep sport, clinging on to Wimbledon - where Venus Williams, below, won the women's singles this year - and golf's Open Championship.



Sir David Attenborough



Sir David has been the voice of natural history for more than 50 years. He has helped put biodiversity on the agenda and draw attention to climate change.



Costume Drama



From The Forsyte Saga to I, Claudius and Pride and Prejudice, BBC period dramas have been highlights of the television schedule for years.



Woman's Hour



It's as British as the changing of the guard and draws listeners in droves. The show is meant for a female audience but is listened to by women and men alike.

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