Last night, under pressure from senior ministers, George Entwistle, the director general of the BBC, handed in his resignation. The media were shocked because he hadn't even completed two months of his new appointment to lead the Corporation. Everyone recognised him as a man of honour and integrity. That's all well and good. But the BBC needed a firm, almost ruthless, hand as well as that integrity, in dealing with a very thorny issue: its history relating to a clear old boys protective, obscure network, where men treated women in an invisible and disrespectful way - and which is STILL going on with the clear signs of ageist and racist practices - and its dubious treatment of sexual abuse in its vicinity.
Without any shadow of a doubt, the BBC has always been run like a little colony: an old timers colony of outdated cultural practices based on a superior hierarchy of them and us, a closed institution, woefully lacking in transparency, where trying to contact any producer is almost like getting into Fort Knox. It is not so difficult to see why it's almost colonial culture still reigns because, with its worldwide tentacles it is used to conquering the airwaves and being the top dog.
People all over the world respect the BBC for its ease of handling crisis situations, its seemingly impartial but left leaning air, and its efforts to be an authority in the media. It has largely succeeded to a point where it has a stature all of its own, a beacon among broadcasters. Perhaps that is why it became complacent, arrogant and inside itself. Over the decades, it forgot the high standards of its first pioneers, especially John Reith, and has slowly evolved its own culture which has clearly been a white, male dominated one, particularly in the administration where key decisions are made. That was until the Jimmy Savile scandal engulfed them.
What has been the most disturbing element of this whole debacle is that, even before ITV showed its Exposure programme, it wanted the BBC to take some responsibility for what had happened on its premises ,and on its watch, and the single line statement released by the Beeb in response smacked of such arrogance. Basically they were saying: we are not at fault in anyway and we can't see anything to investigate, immediately trying to appear superior over the commercial broadcaster, and completely missing the impact ITV's programme was going to have on the public, which then forced them to react in a panic instead of being professionally proactive about it in the first place.
So, the sobering thought is this: if ITV had not shown that programme and exposed Jimmy Saville and what happened under the BBC's employment of him, would we ever have known the truth? Apparently not, because even with terrible damning evidence from one victim, the BBC still shelved the Newsnight programme which had begun its own investigation of Savile. That was only a woman speaking, no men of importance, and in that way she was dismissed by the boss of the programme. That is the frightening part of this sorry tale. Bloated with its own self importance, a kind of detached, cold BBC culture appears to be so entrenched in the Corporation, empathy and hard investigative journalism seems to be a thing of the past.
For someone like me, black, excluded and older female (the type you will NEVER see at the BBC, despite my licence fee) who has experienced the Corporation both near (appearing on some of its past programmes) and far (while growing up in Jamaica and listening to its World Service), it is a very sad time. My admiration and respect for it is not diminished though. I am not one of those ready to vilify the Beeb. It's actions are at fault, and actions can always be changed. All is far from lost for the broadcasting giant. It has merely been resisting change for too long. It can pull itself out of its self imposed mire, so long as it asks itself some key questions, and then strive to answer them honestly, transparently and with humility in the coming weeks. They would have to include the following:
What are the BBC's core values?
How are those values actually reflected among staff attitude, behaviour and objectives?
What kind of leadership does it require from its DG? Hands on or hands off? It really can't have both where there is a clear hierarchical delegation of duty and roles.
Why hasn't it appointed a woman as Director General yet, to get at least a different perspective of its mission and role?
Why, in a multicultural society, is its output so monocultural and exclusive?
What responsibilities does the Corporation have towards fee minority licence payers?
Why is the BBC still dominated by white males in its senior positions?
Why are minorities invisible at the top of the BBC that is funded by the public money?
Why are older women over 50 virtually absent from on-camera representation, while an 86 year old white male still occupies a prime spot in scheduling?
Why have there a marked absence of black female presenters, especially older ones?
Why has it been easy for sexual abuse to be rife on its premises? What kind of culture encourages the exploitation of the young?
What is the 21st century BBC, and should it change its structure and approach?
How will it regain public trust?
Where is the Corporation actually heading?
25 or 50 years from now, what should the BBC be proud of?
These vital questions won't provide all the answers the BBC might require, but they make an important start in changing the perception, culture, performance and objectives of a great Corporation that has simply lost its way. The recent Olympics coverage showed the diamond in the media that the BBC had become. Sadly, its gloss has cannot fix.
The question is whether the mainly male and white executives of the BBC are really up to the task to suit a multicultural nation!
©Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH) 2012
Emotional Health and People Management Consultant
"Happiness is a state of being. We are the ones who decide whether we wish to be happy or not, by the script we use inside our heads."