Sunday, 11 November 2012

Does the BBC bell toll for "Newsnight"?

The decision of the BBC's Director-General to fall on his own sword marks at least a partially-honourable example of accountability in public life, which Dave and his ethically-challenged cohorts should do well to note.  A poorly-researched report which trashed the reputation of a senior Tory donor, and the apparent lack of editorial control within "Newsnight" are sufficient, when the spotlight is trained on editorial and personnel incompetence, to warrant a raft of resignations and reforms.

When the medium becomes the message, and public discussion focuses on what appear to be sloppy journalistic and editorial practices, then even the stoutest defender of the BBC needs to sit up and take notice.  There is a raft of evil still waiting to be dragged into the public realm, and this approach to the issue makes it more rather than less likely that the opacity of bureaucracy, the arrogance of politicians and the incompetence of supposedly responsible agencies will be illuminated.  Instead, the crisis in child protection and the conspiracy of silence will be less probed than the media story which has emerged almost as a proxy for areas that there is too much murkiness and suppressed guilt about already.

Not that this means that the BBC should be immune from criticism and probing.  "Newsnight" has rapidly deteriorated in recent years from a flagship of political and analytical journalism into a fringe programme, personality-driven and with an agenda that appears to have become designed to seek attention, to reflect on its presenters' foibles, and to create much sound and fury while not actually holding politicians and others to account.  From a late-evening appointment view, it has fallen into the trap of being an excuse to switch over to the radio where the analysis is far superior on "The World Tonight", and less obsessed with the metropolitan reticules and generating its own mythology.

Therefore, perhaps the time has come to put it out of its misery - as it does nothing as well as "Channel 4 News" or indeed the plethora of other media outlets that maintain a real-time presence.  A parish magazine for London neurotics is not necessarily a good use of the licence fee, especially as its premise of more detailed analysis has been overtaken by the expansion of access to information.  Thirty years on, a great reputation is being tarnished - and it brings obloquy on the remainder of the BBC.

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