So after the BBC’s reputation has been dragged through the mud due to an alleged cover-up (of a pedophilia scandal within its ranks) and shamefully incompetent reporting (falsely accusing a member of Parliament of being a pedophile), what’s the best way to restore trust in Britain’s venerable but troubled news institution? Easy: by becoming less transparent to the public.
Yes, that’s the idea presented by Francesca Unsworth, who was recently appointed acting head of BBC News after the previous boss, Helen Broaden, stepped aside. In an email to BBC employees, Unsworth asked employees not to tweet about the organization’s problems, noting that “It would be helpful if some of our problems were not played out publically across social media and in the pages of the national press.”
Somewhat paradoxically, she added: “We need a collective and collegiate sense of all pulling together to restore trust in the BBC’s news output.”
Of course, it’s not like this attitude is totally incomprehensible. For any other corporation or organization of the BBC’s size, the idea of closing ranks and tightly controlling information during a scandal is probably reflexive -- but the BBC isn’t just any corporation.
As noted, these scandals revolve around the BBC’s essential function as a journalistic institution, and are damaging because they cast doubt on its ability to report the news accurately and fairly, especially when the news concerns the BBC itself. In the scandal which started it all, the BBC allegedly quashed a pedophilia story about a popular entertainer, Jimmy Savile, who was a BBC fixture for decades. In other words, it was (apparently) a cover-up. Now Unsworth is asking employees -- including reporters -- not to publicize any additional damaging information: in other words, ordering more cover-up.
Stranger still, all this is delivered with an air of Orwellian double-think -- the art of simultaneously embracing two contradictory ideas. Rounding out her paradoxical missive, Unsworth concluded: “For the moment, we must focus on what matters most; delivering great journalism for all of our audiences,” while cautioning, “We now need to restore some equilibrium to the organisation.”
“Report! But don’t report!” No wonder the BBC is all screwed up.