Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Is the BBC a healthy institution? ...or fundamentally sick at heart?

Dawn Airey

I don't for one minute underestimate the seriousness of what has been uncovered at the BBC. The way Mark Thompson has approached it demonstrates how seriously it is taken.



We have a very privileged position as broadcasters and we have to represent things accurately. I feel for the BBC because 99 per cent of its output is impartial and of high quality. But you only need one little thing to destroy or damage its reputation.



I think what Mark Thompson is doing by taking the issue unbelievably seriously is absolutely right, in the same way that Michael Grade decided to hold an inquiry into premium-rate phone lines in March and to make the findings public. In every organisation the responsibility lies ultimately with the chief executive.



He has been clear and determined. He is not trivialising this. He absolutely understands the privileged position of the BBC and that this is potentially hugely damaging to the brand. What's key now is how he deals with the situation. In the same way as many other brands that have had difficulties, it is how you deal with the complaint.



While I have a huge amount of sympathy for the BBC it is a wake up call against the casualisation of the industry. Not just for the BBC, but for the entire industry. I've been working in television for 22 years and it was impressed on me from day one the enormous responsibility that goes with creating content.



I imagine some of the indies will be very unnerved by this. There are a lot of extremely successful, rich companies whose future relies on them continuing to get commissions.



There's a huge amount of affection for the BBC. But it's a wet, grey summer and it's particularly wet and grey over Broadcasting House.



The BBC absolutely still has a place in the broadcasting world. I think the BBC is in pretty good shape for the future. It is involved in every aspect of the new broadcasting world order - they would argue that is the only way they can remain relevant.



The BBC is a big beast, but robust competition is always good.



Dawn Airey becomes the director of ITV global content on 1 October



Kelvin MacKenzie

The BBC is great institution - a mental institution. The inmates have been running the asylum for too long. The fundamental issue is that not enough work is being done by the senior management; all the work is being done by people at the bottom of the ladder, and they are all young kids fresh out of university who don't understand that what they are doing.



They could learn a lot from their country cousins in radio. The reality is that there should be some reverse ageism: the BBC should fire everybody under 30, and nobody should get to work for the BBC until they have worked in other areas of industry, so they understand discipline and know that there are limits. Everyone comes in thinking there's a party called the BBC Party that runs Britain. It doesn't.



Mark Thompson is lucky to have a job, but the same thing would have happened under Greg Dyke, but 10 times more. Greg Dyke took commercial values which were quite inappropriate to the BBC.



We need some very boring people at the BBC. We don't want to see Jonathan Ross paid £18m for some half-hearted work. The BBC needs to get out of the commercial arena and make something that's appropriate for middle England.



I love Eddie Mair's interview with the director general on the PM programme. He rogered rigid Mark Thompson, who at the end of his day writes his pay cheque, which just goes to show how low the director general is in the pecking order.



The staff should fear the director general. He should have a power and a majesty that make people think they have to work hard to impress the guy.



This is a wake-up call for most of the television industry. There will be managing directors of television indies who have their buttocks very firmly clenched. You'll be able to recognise them by their pinched expression.



The BBC Trust has given Thompson an opportunity to show that he's a tough guy. If Thompson proves he can walk the walk and talk the talk, they'll stay with him. But they've got a new chairman and a new organisation, and my suspicion is that they are just waiting to see if he can do it.



I reckon Thompson can't do it - he's too much of a civil servant. I think Thompson is fighting for his job. If another 10 of these incidents come out, the BBC Trust would have to let him go and bring in an unpopular iron man. Thompson was the wrong choice for director general. The BBC should have picked Jenny Abramsky, because she puts the fear of god up colleagues, and that's what the BBC needs right now - to be scared of somebody. The director general is not their mate.



Kelvin MacKenzie was editor of 'The Sun' from 1981-93

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