Monster pay-offs, mismanagement and lies…is this the BBC laid bare?

Bet you thought BBC – known to Brits sentimentally as ‘Auntie’ – was an acronym for British Broadcasting Corporation. Well might it have been until last Monday, when it transmogrified into Backstabbing, Bitching and Cantankerousness in a frenzy, all performed in the best, possible taste, of course.

Before the probing House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), old Auntie’s knickers became so twisted, the principal antagonists appeared to be verbally trying to throttle each other with the elastic – a blustering Lord Patten, chair of the BBC Trust, in one corner, festering in the other, ex-Director General, Mark Thompson, now boss of The New York Times.

Played out live on BBC Parliament, it made unedifying viewing – an acrimonious, real-life, corporate bare-knuckle fight laid bare. And, though a chill aplomb was somehow retained, the sparring was far nastier than any ruckus that’s kicked off down EastEnder’s Queen Vic, BBC viewers’ favourite soap pub.

The nub of the issue was: who knew what about a £1M-plus golden goodbye to one-time Deputy DG, Mark Byford, which, based on the current Euro=£ exchange rate, is probably enough to buy Greece.

Thompson accused Patten of misleading Parliament over the pay-off, but the last governor of Hong Kong – remembered by the Chinese as ‘Fatty Pang’ – denied the charge, insisting it was before his time as chatelaine of Auntie’s mansion.

LORD ONLY KNOWS: Patten denied knowledge of the £1M pay-off to Byford

LORD ONLY KNOWS: Patten denied knowledge of the £1M pay-off to Byford

The problem for both combatants, however, was that this left yet another fetid odour overlaying the stench of iffy severance largesse doled out to Corporation managers, like £700,000 – plus £55,000 she wasn’t entitled to – to Jana Bennett, director of TV and ‘Vision’, who once ordered a £100 bouquet for Jonathan Ross, as he mulled a humongous, £18M, chat-show contract Byford practically begged him to autograph.

All is endemic of a culture of outrageous palm-greasing that’s infected the Beeb, as it seeks to shed an overload of managers, many with no links to programming.

But the Patten-Thompson spat descended into such a pea-soup fog of colliding egos, alleged memory lapses and conflicting versions of the truth, the committee’s robust chairman, Margaret Hodge, intervened and said emphatically, ‘I’m not having any more lies this afternoon.’

Just for good measure, she added, ‘At the best I think what we have seen is incompetence, a lack of central control, a failure to communicate. At its worse we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open.’

Ouch! This wasn’t a schoolma’am admonishing a couple of errant fifth formers for telling porkies about who broke a window in the gym. It was two of the most august presences in the history of British broadcasting sitting before her, each adamantly insisting on the righteousness of their take on how the UK’s chief purveyor of entertainment runs its business (or, conversely, frittered away a sizeable chunk of its annual £3.7bn in public funds, a.k.a. the Licence Fee).

As Lord Michael Grade, himself a former Chairman, said on BBC2 Newnight later that evening, ‘The BBC doesn’t understand the value of money’.

ACCUSER: Ex-Director General Mark Thompson accused Patten of misleading Parliament

ACCUSER: Ex-Director General Mark Thompson accused Patten of misleading Parliament

Sometimes I’m unfairly accused of being anti-Auntie, but I’m not. It is still the platinum standard broadcasters, worldwide, aspire to and its output – on TV, radio or online – is extraordinary.

In fact, its flair for serving up riveting drama, documentary and cultural shows was never better illustrated than by last week’s delights… Simon Schama’s The History of the Jews, gritty, tear-jerky Midwives and the Last Night of the Proms, all veritable televisual feasts.

No, my gripes with the behemoth Beeb are: it’s too rich and powerful for the public good; its current affairs coverage is skewered by an overweening Left-liberal bias (try getting a newsroom job if you haven’t worked for The Guardian); and its venal officer class inhabits a parallel universe no responsible company’s shareholders would tolerate if they uncovered such gross incompetence and nefarious abuse of funds.

Meanwhile, the BBC Trust, specifically under His Haughtiness, Patten, cannot simultaneously be Auntie’s cheerleader and regulator, because that’s a contradiction of roles.

It is clearly unfit for purpose and should be ditched, with the BBC placed under the protection of Ofcom, which regulates Britain’s other, state-run broadcaster, Channel 4.

The excrement hit the fan when the Jimmy Savile paedophile scandal exposed other dark, recesses within an organisation purporting to be the nation’s moral arbiter, but where mutual feather-bedding became the norm

For an insight into this we are beholden to Lucy Adams, the BBC’s outgoing head of HR, whose defence of grotesque pay-offs was: it’s ‘custom and practice.’

ENOUGH'S ENOUGH: 'No more lies', demanded Committe chairmn, Margaret Hodge MP

ENOUGH’S ENOUGH: ‘No more lies’, demanded Committe chairman, Margaret Hodge MP

Apart from in the murky domain of banking piracy, it is patently not and certainly isn’t replicated in other public service sectors, because never forget that’s exactly what Auntie is.

Ms Adams’ crass ignorance of the real world is, I suppose, understandable from someone paid £420K p.a. – more than twice the salary of another public servant, the Prime Minister – to run the Beeb’s personnel department, where Dinah Rose QC found evidence of bullying and ‘a strong undercurrent of fear’.

Therefore, it was unsurprising, too, that Ms Adams appeared to have suffered a ‘memory lapse’, because she told MPs a memo she claimed at an earlier PAC hearing never to have seen might have actually be drafted by her.

Ouch (again)!

But, after the tsunami of revelations about Beeb management’s magnanimity to each other, how much more evidence is required before it’s decided enough is enough?

As the London Daily Telegraph noted, ‘On perks, salaries and bonuses, too, the BBC hierarchy appeared to operate according to its own rules, with members of the privileged club rewarding each other with incomes commensurate with their egos rather than their talents.’

So where does that leave Patten, already savaged over his handling of the Savile case, the Digital Media Initiative fiasco – in which the Corporation wrote off £100M – and bizarre choice of pondering George Entwistle as DG, who vacated his office after just 54 days with £475,000 in his back pocket?

Anywhere else, such cackhandedness would require Patten’s head on a platter.

But Auntie’s no ordinary organisation. Unlike Caesar’s wife, it always considered itself above suspicion…until now.

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Where The Guardian leads, the BBC is sure to follow

Whither next the BBC, some political and media pundits ask, while others – mainly motley, disgruntled members of Joe & Joanna Public, fed up with a diet of dog-tired repeats – may cavil and demand, ‘Why doesn’t the Beeb just wither?’

Rather like the National Health Service, Brits long retained a misty-eyed nostalgia for old Auntie, though – again like the NHS – they are fast realising it has become a misbegotten one, based on faith rather than reality.

The old tenets, as decreed by its founding father, Lord Reith, a man whose Scottish piety inspired a vision of broadcasting neutrality and integrity which formed the basis of the BBC Charter, have been whittled away and usurped by a self-serving, Left-liberal cabal.

So, while much of the BBC’s arts, magazine and drama output remain a tour de force, in the sphere of current affairs it sees itself as gatekeeper of the country’s political and moral conscience and, listing heavily to the radical as it does, it perpetuates an agenda that is arrogant, posturing and intensely self-serving.

To many this is not the role of a once-unique, public service broadcaster, propped up by an annual viewing tax (e.g. the Licence Fee) of billions, imposed on every telly-owning household in the land, even if its occupants limit their small screen entertainment to Sky News, ITV, Channel 4 or 5, The Shopping Channel or the countless other platforms that have mushroomed since the advent of the digital free-for-all.

Auntie has also become ultra-protectionist – almost neo-Stalinist – in its secrecy and sensitivity to criticism. For instance, The Balen Report of 2004, which investigated allegations of BBC bias in its Middle East coverage, was a blatant cover-up and never given a public airing. It caused the Corporation to spend hundreds of thousands (again of taxpayers moolah) fighting legal challenges to make it come clean.

It even took a recent Freedom of Information request from the online news site, The Commentator, to force the Beeb into disclosing which daily newspapers it bought. This revealed that, while the BBC procured between 40,000 and 50,000 copies of most of the day’s dailies, it bought 59,829 copies of the Guardian – a substantial proportion of the ailing paper’s print run.

The figure suggests that, while newsrooms automatically buy all the hard-copy media, employees order the Guardian for themselves.

As MEP Daniel Hannan points out, the bastion of the far-Left takes a number of assumptions as givens: i.e. police are racist, businesses are corrupt, Israel is a wrong, US Republicans are extreme, the welfare system is ungenerous, immigration is desirable, austerity and growth are contradictions.

However, readers have a choice of options which may reflect their personal prejudices and vote with their pockets when buying a newspaper. They have no such freedom of expression when it comes to watching – or switching off – the BBC. It’s pay up or be damned (and possibly face a prison sentence if you withhold your Licence Fee).

To hark back to my earlier reference of The Guardian’s influence in BBC newsrooms, one insider admitted this is no co-incidence. For not only does Auntie use this paper as a recruitment tool – thus ensuring it attracts only like-minded, Left-leaning thinkers – The Guardian’s editorial stance is often the one most popular with the Corporation’s news coverage decision-makers. And they tolerate no democratic counter-arguments.

As Hannan reported anecdotally when he tackled one editor on her failure to give airtime to that portion of the population – possibly a clear majority of Licence Fee payers – who think Britain would be better off outside the EU, she replied: ‘That’s their opinion, but we have to reflect the economic facts.’

‘She genuinely couldn’t see that hers was just as much an opinion as her viewers,’ he noted.

At sometime in the future – hardly likely under the tutelage of the next Director General, George Entwistle, a BBC apparatchik of long standing – the Beeb’s self-protectionism will be a busted flush and it will be forced to live in the real world, raising its own funds, minus the tax-payers’ crutch.

If and when it does, Auntie will only have herself to blame for lumbering viewers with Guardian-spun, pro-Left, anti-Establishment bias.

PS: It was hardly surprising the BBC’s outgoing DG, Mark Thompson, was quickly anointed boss of the New York Times, the self-styled ‘paper of record’, otherwise known as The Guardian of the USA.