Another journalists’ strike at Pacific Quay, with claims about the workload and of bullying. I may add that if such pressures were not enough, hard-pressed journalists have also had to endure a torrent of abuse on alternative media and by email, not least from deeply misguided independence supporters.
I am a supporter of the BBC, albeit a critic of specific instances of superficiality or lack of balance in political coverage. I support them because the BBC has been a central feature of my entire life since the early 1940s and I owe it a debt I can never repay, least of all by the licence fee which, for me, would be cheap at ten times the price. Without BBC news, current affairs, music, comedy, drama, culture and popular entertainment my intellectual life – indeed my life – would have been immeasurably poorer. As deprived child in Glasgow, there were four lifelines to the life of the mind for me – my radio, which meant effectively the BBC, the free public libraries and museums, cheap, quality newspapers and the wonderful soapbox orators of the Glasgow Barras market. That world - the world of media - has now changed almost out of recognition, yet in spite of the new electronic media and channels of communication (which I have kept up with and utilise) the BBC is still central for me. BBC Four and the Parliament channel alone are superb examples of what a great public service broadcaster can do, what it can be.
However, my respect and gratitude are given to the programme makers, not to the governing body and senior managers of the BBC, who are responsible for much of what is undeniably wrong with it. The BBC produces quality output through its programme makers, its presenters, its journalists, its creatives despite the managers and governing body, not because of them. A generation ago, Dennis Potter, one of the glories of BBC drama, a dying man, supping from a flask of liquid morphine, excoriated the managers of the BBC in the era of Birtism – in his 1993 Croaking Daleks speech in Edinburgh. All that he criticised then is still present today: all that he forecast then is coming to pass now.
So I don’t support the BBC that engages in the gadarene pursuit of ratings, the BBC that pays megabucks to celebrity entertainers and presenters, the BBC that allows its most senior echelons to behave like kings of the universe, with salaries and perks to match, while they drain the life blood of resources from the front end people who keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed. I don’t support the faceless placemen and women who infest the higher governance of the BBC, drawn from the incestuous pool of the ‘great and the good’, remote from the lives and concerns of ordinary mortals. I don’t support the higher management in thrall to the insidious influences of shadowy, powerful interest groups, whether they be governmental, commercial, religious or political.
I also have nothing but contempt for the BBC that allowed Jimmy Savile to survive and prey on the young and vulnerable, and which tolerates behaviour from some of its ‘stars’ that is beneath the contempt of any thinking viewer. I despise the metropolitan laziness that draws its panellists on political programmes from the same rolodex of the usual suspects, complacently networking over London dinner tables.
I question the deeply reverential style adopted by the BBC when covering organised religion or the monarchy – a deferential mode of acceptance and support for institutions that are irrelevant to large swathes of the population, institutions that should be reported on objectively and questioned where appropriate.
Most of all, I question the competence of the present generation of managers to manage – to apply best modern managerial practices and techniques to the management of people in a time of budget cuts and resource pressure. I question the professionalism of my own discipline, Human Resources, as it appears to an outsider to be practised within the BBC, notably BBC Scotland at the moment, but I recognise the possibility – ever-present for HR departments – that they too are the victims of an oppressive management culture, incompetent in the management of change.
I unequivocally support the BBC trades unions on fighting for the security, dignity and respect owed to their members – the people who are the true heart of the BBC.