Friday 28 March 2014

Media Quotes of the Week: Are subs vital or a luxury? and let's put journalists first not digital

Fraser Nelson on the Spectator blog: "I’ve worked for newspapers that have unwisely cut back on sub-editing. It seems to work, at first, because there is no immediate cliff-edge drop-off in quality. But the rot accumulates. Errors creep in that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Sloppy writing goes unchecked, flabby ideas go unchallenged. And even then, the newspapers don’t suffer immediate penalty – readers who have been with the same title for years put up with a lot, before cancelling their subscription. But when they do, the reputation for quality is hard to win back. The management respond to falling revenues with even more cuts, which sends even more readers into despair. This is what I call the cycle of doom."

Neil Fowler in InPublishing: "If we are to have a sensible view of the role of sub-editors, we must acknowledge that the funding model of news has changed. The luxury of having time and resource to rewrite and fact check every reporter’s story has gone. That doesn’t mean that copy should not be checked and revised when necessary, but it does mean that there needs to be a great deal more of ‘right first time, every time’."

David Yelland ‏@davidyelland on Twitter: "Kudos to Editor @davedins for reminding us The Sun is about fun (not boring politics like what I filled it with!)"

Comedian Mark Steel blogs about his disastrous gig at the Sports Journalism Awards: "There all sorts of reasons why a comedy gig becomes a disaster, some of which are beyond your control and some of which aren’t. It can’t have helped that John Inverdale introduced me with the words 'He’s just completed a sell-out tour of Croydon.' But maybe it’s fitting that sport, with its inbuilt uncertainties and fluctuations, should provide such a stinking 16 minutes. And just as the most viewed sporting clips on youtube are disastrous goalkeeping errors, shambolic run-outs, and athletes tripping over, in its way this night was funnier than if it had gone to plan. The image of Terry Venables frowning with part derision and part extreme bafflement is comedy at its purest. So I suppose afterwards I should have done an interview in which I apologised to my fans, promised I would get back to the training ground to prepare for the next gig, insist I wasn’t even considering resigning, and then blame everything on the referee."

Catherine Bennett in The Observer: "But how does Hacked Off's brilliant exploitation of celebrity, for its own sake, help advance the case against media celebrity exploitation that is, in the opinion of Hacked Off's star supporters, so severe as to require the end of the free press? Mick Jagger's right not to be ignorantly gossiped about could depend upon the answer."

Steve Hewlett in the Guardian: "The idea of decriminalising TV licence fee evasion is hardly new. After all, the idea of poor people being locked up for not being able to pay for television – I mean, it is only television – will strike most people as at least too harsh and quite possibly really wrong."

Harold Evans tweets on plans to sub the Northern Echo in Wales:

Piers Morgan ‏@piersmorgan on Twitter: "Tell me about it.. > RT @BBCWorld American dream, which promised the good life, is now a nightmare for the unemployed"

Roy Greenslade in the Guardian on local tv: "In a near 50-year career, I have watched people retreat from news, and most notably local news. The idealists, and there is nothing wrong with idealism, seem to think that, if people are turning their backs on print, then give them the news on TV. History suggests otherwise, as the regional television news programming offered by the BBC and ITV down the years has shown. Gradually, audiences have deserted and, as a consequence, the resources devoted by mainstream broadcasters to such output have been reduced."

The Grey Cardigan on coriander and the Guardian, on TheSpinAlley: "I AM beginning to think that the Guardian, now allegedly safe for perpetuity after selling off its holding in AutoTrader, is now just taking the piss. I refer the honourable reader to the front page blurb of today’s newspaper: 'Do something,' it implores. 'Go busking. Bake macarons. Forage for cocktails. Play ping pong.' Click on the website and one of the most-read articles is: '17 recipes for leftover coriander'. Forage for fucking cocktails? Worry about leftover coriander? Don’t these hipster twats realise that normal people are far too busy drinking beer and playing bingo to be concerned with such humdrum matters?"

Neil Benson, Trinity Mirror's regional editorial director, in a statement: "In an era when audiences want access to live-up-to-the-minute information across a variety of platforms, our working day will no longer be built around our print products. The new structure gives us the capability to produce more digital content all day and every day, while still producing brilliant newspapers."

GuardianObserver NUJ on Twitter: "Web first? Digital first? Put quality first - by employing journalists rather than cutting jobs"

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Print journalists who don't use Twitter are as out of touch as the judge who asked 'who are the Beatles?'

I've written an article about why print journalists should be using Twitter for the latest issue of InPublishing magazine. You can read it here.

Friday 21 March 2014

Media Quotes of the Week: From police make their own news in local press to UK papers slammed over 'callous' coverage of L'Wren Scott's death

The Grey Cardigan on TheSpinAlley:"TORQUAY Police tweet from last night: 'An Historic momentfor the team. We have just published our own story directly to @TQHeraldExpress website with a picture. Amazing.' So that’s the police, posting their own stories directly onto the website of the Torquay Herald Express, without any intervention or examination by journalists. Amazing? No, fucking terrifying."

Roy Greenslade on his MediaGuardian blog: "I can see some virtue in the women's institute posting about their latest jam-making exploits or the scout troop reporting on its takings at the annual fete. And it could prove a boon for the myriad of sports teams anxious to see their players' names and faces up in lights. But the police are different. It may be fair enough to post stories on road detours and missing dogs and warnings about weather conditions. But this story was ill-advised on so many levels - libel and contempt (quite apart from leaden copy and bad picture-cropping). Really, I think the Herald Express and Local World need to think more deeply about allowing the police free access to their websites."

David Montgomery chief executive of of Herald Express publisher Local World, on HoldTheFrontPage: "What it illustrates is that communications is no longer the preserve of professional media owners. It’s just facing up to reality. The local publisher has a responsibility to orchestrate and manage content in different ways. You have to provide a gateway for communities and community institutions. We should give them a platform."

NUJ Ethics Committee in a statement: "The NUJ is strongly opposed to the idea of the police, or any authority or commercial organisation being able to publish directly to the local newspaper. It is the job of journalism, through local media, to hold local authorities, including the police, to account to local people. It is not its role to act as a conduit for the views and opinions of those authorities. If local authorities or the police wish to communicate directly with local people they should set up their own channels of communication."

Will Hutton in The Observer: "No university worries that it is incorporated under a state-backed royal charter. Rather, a charter protects academic freedoms. A charter-backed Independent Press Standards Organisation would offer the same for journalism and the flow of free information. Accusations that this ends centuries of press freedom hide an uglier truth. The British press does not want to be the provider of trusted information for citizens in the public square: rather, it wants to be free to shape the square and the character of the information it supplies, with as little redress and accountability as possible."

Garry Kasparov ‏@Kasparov63  on Twitter: "All the major opposition news websites were just wiped off the interet in Russia. No court order, simply blocked. Welcome to China."

John Harris in the Guardian: "Can you imagine what would have happened if Twitter was around when John Lennon was shot? What great blizzards of nonsense will eventually mark the deaths of Bob Dylan, Bill Clinton, John Major or David Bowie? And might it be the mark of true greatness to breathe your last and somehow escape all this, remaining as controversial in death as in life? That certainly applied to Margaret Thatcher. It will also surely be true of Arthur Scargill. And, come to think of it, Tony Blair."

Alison Hastings, Chair of the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee, on John Sweeney's undercover Panorama programme on North Korea: "Discovering stories in difficult or dangerous places is one of the BBC's greatest strengths. There was a real public interest in making this programme in North Korea but, in the Trust's view, the BBC failed to ensure that all the young adults Panorama travelled with were sufficiently aware of any potential risks to enable them to give informed consent. This was a serious failing, and the BBC is right to apologise to the complainants."

Vincent Peyr├Ęgne,WAN-IFRA CEO, on the organisation's press freedom report on the UK: “The lack of any real guarantees enshrining press freedom continues to expose journalism in the United Kingdom to great uncertainty, as there is nothing benign in a system that invites even the possibility of tighter restrictions on freedom of expression.”

Joan Smith in the Guardian on the coverage by UK newspapers of the death of L'Wren Scott: "Several of them actually boasted about the fact they had obtained photographs of Jagger as he was told of L'Wren Scott's death. The Daily Mail's front page showed Jagger, his mouth set in a rictus of grief, alongside a headline declaring: "Moment Mick heard L'Wren was dead". What looked like the same picture appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror ("The moment Jagger heard girlfriend of 13 years had hanged herself") and the Daily Star ("Moment Jagger was told of lover's suicide"). Whether this was the precise moment that Jagger heard the news or a short time afterwards, as seems more likely, hardly matters. It's as if the intense public debate about media ethics over the last three years never happened. Fourteen months after the Leveson report accused sections of the press of wreaking "havoc" with people's lives, some editors are behaving with the same callous disregard for grief which was highlighted during the inquiry."

US tabloids also came in for criticism from HuffPost Media:

Friday 14 March 2014

Media Quotes of the Week: From did the Daily Mail kill Bob Crow? to why we need whistleblowers

Did the Daily Mail Kill Bob Crow? Headline on Guido Fawkes blog which claimed: "The Daily Mail newspaper published a deadly hatchet job on union leader Bob Crow last night just hours before his death from a heart attack, it emerged this morning."

SubScribe: "Crow's sudden death yesterday laid a hypocrisy trap for the self-righteous Press. Unless you are Hitler or Saddam Hussein, newspapers will generally be kind to you on the day you meet your maker. The knives may come out a day or a week later, but a level of restraint is customary on day one."

Max Hastings in the Daily Mail on Thursday: "Last year, two days after Baroness Thatcher died, Crow expressed a fervent hope that she would ‘rot in hell’. There seems no reason why others should not now judge him as he once judged others. Crow was a Marxist, Trotskyite, socialist — call him what you will, he was never sure himself — who saw class war as an ongoing smash-and-grab raid, in which his own function was to blackmail and bludgeon the keepers of the public purse to give his members whatever he could get for them, at whatever cost to innocent bystanders and taxpayers."

Adam Boulton ‏@adamboultonSKY 1h on Twitter: "Tony Benn after Bob Crow a sad week for the populist left and 'National Treasure' collectors."

Daily Mail leader"Imagine the public outcry if we had a law making it a criminal offence to read the Mail or any other paper without first having bought a subscription to the Guardian. Unthinkable, of course. Yet the extraordinary truth is we already have a very similar law in Britain, which makes it a crime to watch ITV or other channels without first handing £145.50 to the BBC."

Guardian deputy editor @paul__johnson on Twitter: "What a terrific idea from the Mail's leader column."

The Daily Telegraph in a leader: "It is evident that the traditional way of funding the BBC since its foundation in 1922 is coming to an end. The Government is proposing that non-payment of the licence fee should no longer be a criminal offence. This is not before time: some 12 per cent of all cases in the magistrates courts are licence-fee prosecutions. Once the law is changed these will become civil matters – as for not paying an electricity bill."

Emily Bell on Comment is Free on the lack of diversity in journalists hired for new startups: "It is not just the four new (and still exciting) breakout projects of the year: Vice, Quartz, Buzzfeed, Politico, Grantland - these, too, are led by white men, and filled with more of them. It is as if Arianna Huffington never happened. Or as if diversity of leadership and ownership did not really matter, as long as the data-driven, responsively designed new news becomes a radical and successful enough departure from the drab anecdote laden guff put out by those other men."

Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times [£]: "There are many indulgences within the BBC and most of them concern the amounts paid to staggeringly useless executives who seem to feel that if they weren’t toiling away for the public benefit they’d be swaddled in mink by the private sector: yeah, as they say, right. The astonishing thing is that even the Jimmy Savile business — the incompetence, the evasions, the sheer lack of intelligence, the back-watching, the sudden defenestration of a director- general and the utter scorn poured upon the over-remunerated upper echelons of the corporation — has not disabused them of this notion. I don’t think anything ever will. I suppose that if you are a BBC manager, psychologically it is necessary to kid yourself in this manner, otherwise you could hardly go on."

John Humphrys in the Radio Times on cuts to the Today budget on BBC Radio 4: "The problem was that when the previous regime was faced with having to cut its budget under huge pressure, and reasonably so because of the way we saw money was being chucked around - in some cases irresponsibly, big pay-offs to people who shouldn't have had them - you look at your own programme and you think, 'Bloody hell, we could have done with that'."

Kim Fletcher in the British Journalism Review: "Some of us fought hard to prevent ‘content’ becoming the default description of pieces you can read. We failed utterly. An industry that took pride in ‘stories’, ‘features’, ‘articles’ and ‘journalism’ is now happy to reduce its activity to the provision of something with so little obvious appeal it might as well come by the bucket. I have often told friends about an “interesting piece” I’ve read. I’ve never thought that I have “consumed great content”."

IFJ President Jim Boumelha on the murder of Swedish journalist Nils Horner in Afghanistan: "We urge the relevant authorities in Afghanistan to carry out an immediate and detailed investigation into this terrible incident and to ensure those responsible pay for their crime. This appalling murder once again demonstrates the major challenges that continue to face journalists and freedom of speech in Afghanistan and the urgent need for the country's authorities to find ways to provide journalists with the protection they require."

Peter Preston in The Observer"The Mail helped break open the sad, slimy saga of the Met and Stephen Lawrence:  The Guardian cracked open the deceptions of undercover policing. Last week's Ellison review is, in many ways, a testament to both campaigns, and to the fact that – however much rival papers may snipe – they are brothers for purpose under the skin. Now, after Leveson, police channels of information are closed. Officers who talk to journalists can be intimidated, sacked, charged. Yet without whistleblowers in blue, neither campaign would have made such progress. When the heart rots in private, nobody knows."

Friday 7 March 2014

Media Quotes of the Week: From the journalists who have more Twitter followers than their papers to why does anyone still pay for the Guardian?

From a survey by Newsworks: "The Daily Telegraph's football correspondent Henry Winter has 652,000 followers, more than the 427,000 people who follow the main Telegraph account. Likewise, The Times columnist Caitlin Moran's 490,000 followers on Twitter is nearly three times the 172,000 people who follow The Times."

Steve Dyson on HoldTheFrontPage on Newsquest's subbing hub in Newport: "For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the Welsh unit is not yet good enough at handling multiple weeklies’ pages – let alone those of prestigious daily titles like the Northern Echo, Bradford  Telegraph & Argus and The Press, York."

Glenn Greenwald on his new venture First Look Media , in the Guardian: "I think I see us as a model not the model. There are different ways that journalism can innovate and get better. But I hope that some of the things that we do will inspire people to work out how to do journalism the way that they want. And to be fearless."

Les Hinton ‏@leshinton on Twitter: "Surprised at muted Fleet St follows of @guardian story on UK Yahoo webcam spying. It’s extraordinary. People really care."

Jeremy Clarkson on Piers Morgan in the Sunday Times [£]: "He’s trying to argue his CNN show failed because the Americans didn’t take kindly to his misguided attempt to spark a debate on gun control. Nonsense. His show failed because the viewers hated him. Everyone hates him. And that’s a big problem when you are trying to play the fame game. You can upset some of the people some of the time and survive — thrive even. But if you upset all of the people all of the time, you will fail. And he has. And I couldn’t help but notice that as the news broke, it stopped raining and the sun came out."

Piers Morgan ‏@piersmorgan on Twitter: "Dear old @JeremyClarkson warned I wouldn't like what he's written about me tomorrow. I just read it, and LOVED IT! Quite fabulously bitchy."

Dame Colette Bowe, outgoing chair of Ofcom, quoted in the Sunday Times [£]: “I would say I do not think the press should be subject to statutory regulation in any form whatsoever. I would regard that as a grave error for this country and this society.”

The New York Times runs a correction 161 years after it ran the story that inspired the Oscar-winning film '12 Years A Slave': "An article on Jan. 20, 1853, recounting the story of Solomon Northup, whose memoir “12 Years a Slave” became a movie 160 years later that won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, misspelled his surname as Northrop. And the headline misspelled it as Northrup. The errors came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives.”

Grey Cardigan on TheSpinAlley: "I know I’m always banging on about this, but the stupidity of recent generations of newspaper managements in pursuing an imaginary digital revenue source at the expense of their print products which still, to this day, make 90%-plus of the profits, is simply baffling. Why would you strangle the golden goose? Why not do the sensible thing and maintain the quality of your core product while exploring digital options? What happens when that core title goes under? How many people will be flocking to the Lancashire Evening Post website when there is no more Lancashire Evening Post? It just doesn’t make sense."

News UK chief Mike Darcey speaking at the Digital Media Strategies conference , as quoted by the Guardian"Chasing online advertising  revenue at scale requires a deep, free online proposition and this in turn undermines the incentive for people to pay for print editions. The Guardian web proposition is so good I wonder why anyone continues to buy the Guardian edition in print at all. They must be very wealthy people."

Guardian Media Group chief excutive Andrew Miller, also at the Digital Media Strategies conference, as quoted by : "If we could do a paywall of course we’d do it. We’d love to, but that horse has bolted."

[£] =paywall

Wednesday 5 March 2014

BBC bosses and Parly select committees: The merry-go-round that never stops, by John Mair

George Entwistle faces select committee

John Mair, in a new book Is The BBC In Crisis?,  traces the recent history of the BBC and its appearances in front of parliamentary committees. He argues the side show has become the main show – a modern day spectacle.

The BBC has become the spectacle not the spectator at its own feast thanks to television and the rise of select committees in parliament. Far from simply reporting the story, the Corporation has too often become the story with month after month of BBC VVIPs appearing blinking in front of MPs and cameras.

This month, the Culture Select Committee, next the Public Accounts Committee, next the Foreign Affairs Committee. The merry-go-round simply never stops. It is a public spectacle or gladiatorial contest with no seeming end in sight. Watching the Beeb squirm is a spectacle sport of our times.

In 2013, BBC executives appeared before select committees a total of sixteen times (Patten 2013). Back in the Dark Ages – a decade ago in 2004 – there was just one annual trip from Portland Place to Westminster. The chairman of the BBC governors and the director-general would simply appear and amplify on the Corporation’s annual report for the select committee on culture, media and sport.

The then-Chairman, Gerald Kaufman MP, a former journalist and no slouch at self publicity, press released their conclusions in advance: After thorough discussion, the Committee has agreed a unanimous report. We do not believe that the status quo is an option for the BBC. Our recommendations are aimed at assisting the development of proposals that will take a strong and independent BBC, but also an accountable, open and efficient BBC, into what is an uncertain future for broadcasting.  The current review of the BBC’s royal charter is possibly the most significant in the Corporation’s history (Culture, Media and Sport Committee 2004).

This all has a familiar ring to it in 2014. Back then, parliament itself would debate royal commission reports such as Annan in 1977 and Peacock in 1986 into the BBC, broadcasting and the licence fee plus their many early-day motions to let MPs praise or damn the Corporation for perceived triumphs or misdemeanours but, by and large, the two Estates remained separate.

No more. The road from W1 to SWI has become a well-travelled one and not always in peace. Director-General Mark Thompson did not cover himself in glory when threatening to shoot the Salford BBC baby at birth if no increase in the licence fee in front of a select committee in 2005. That was just the beginning of the nightmare. Think of poorly prepared then-D-G George Entwistle struggling to account for the Savile affair to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (in the Thatcher Room of Portcullis House!) on 23 October 2012. It was a lamb and slaughter as the Guardian reported.

Asked how many cases of sexual harassment the corporation knew about, he stumbled before answering there were ‘between five and 10 serious allegations’ relating to the Savile period. Later he changed that to ‘between eight and 10’. This was not the sure-footed response needed to impress a committee that wrung a ‘most humble day of life’ apology out of Rupert Murdoch a year ago. It made it easy for Tory MP Philip Davies, no BBC loyalist, to land a blow. He accused Entwistle of a ‘lamentable lack of knowledge’ about the allegations of child abuse by now well-aired across every media outlet including the BBC. 

Davies quizzed him about what he knew about an alleged ‘paedophile ring at the BBC’ and wanted to know who was responsible for bussing vulnerable schoolgirls to Savile shows. ‘I don’t know,’ Entwistle said, explaining the Corporation was trying to piece together documentation in relation to this. Asked who allowed underage children to go backstage with Savile, Entwistle responded: ‘We are trying to answer the questions in the same way’ (O’Carroll 2012).

Entwistle’s time as D-G lasted just another three weeks after that. Think of BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten of Barnes losing his temper with Philip Davies MP calling his question about his daily routine ‘impertinent’ and asking: ‘Do you want to know my toilet habits?’ on 26 November 2012 and
think of the worst spectacle of them all – the Six Not So Wise Men (and one woman) lined up, uncomfortably cheek by jowl and passing several bucks about executive pay-offs in front of the Public Accounts Committee on 9 September 2013. Live on the BBC’s Parliamentary Channel, the BBC News Channel and many other non-BBC outlets. 

That single session did the Corporation much harm. One exchange between Margaret Hodge MP, the Chair, and Lucy Adams, the BBC Director of HR, illustrates the sheer bad temper and combative nature of the event:

Chair: Just to be clear on that, because I am not having any more lies this afternoon, may I ask the NAO whether that document – the 7 October document, of which we were all given a copy – was also passed to the witnesses? Did they know what we were talking about?....

Lucy Adams: Yes, it was submitted by the Trust; it wasn’t a document that I had seen. I apologise to the committee that I wasn’t able to identify that document at the time. There was no attempt deliberately to mislead the committee. I immediately clarified upon parliament’s return that I recognised the document as one to which I had contributed. In the committee meeting, I was clear that I couldn’t with absolute certainty recall that document, but I was also clear that I was involved in advising Mark on the terms for Mark Byford. I have never sought to deny my involvement in that (Public Accounts Committee 2013).

The spectacle will be televised

Ironically, the BBC has created the transmission mechanism for its own appearance at the spectacle. Not just the massive News empire that is a relic of John Birt as Director-General with its big set piece built radio and television news programmes but the BBC News Channel, created in 1998 as BBC News 24, providing wall-to-wall news, twenty four hours a day seven days a week. That outlet is simply a sausage machine with a voracious appetite for content and stories. BBC bosses making a not very good fist of it in parliament live (and in later packages) is manna from heaven for them.

But worse there is the BBC Parliamentary Channel and Democracy Live both set up by the Corporation to try to bridge the democratic deficit between citizens and legislators. BBC Parliament – a channel run by the Corporation since 1998 – does what it says on the label. It features wall-to-wall UK Parliament, the Houses of Commons and Lords, the three devolved assemblies, the European Parliament, the London Assembly and all select committee sessions live and recorded. So too Democracy Live, the BBC News Online website launched at a cost of £3 million in 2009, streaming all parliamentary output live to the internet continually. 

There is now no hiding place in cyberspace for any politician or witness who appears in front of a parliamentary committee anywhere in the UK or Europe. It is a political anorak’s dream.

So, parliaments of various sorts in the last decade have become the focus of the spectacle called accountability and transparency and the BBC has played its part in transmitting that spectacle and sometimes being the stars, albeit unwitting, of it all.

How did we get to where we are?

Select committees of parliament are newish boys on the Westminster block. They have existed only since 1980. Their purpose mainly is to shadow all government departments, interrogate their decisions and spending and report appropriately. They are, or should be, the legislature’s check on the executive.

Initially, they were anodyne and toothless but they soon found their range, especially when the Blair government took office in 1997 with its huge parliamentary majority. There was no real role in the chamber for backbench MPs so they might as well join a select committee and make a name for themselves/cause trouble on that. Committee rooms were a rare backbench platform. They could be a route to the ministerial red box (and car) for wannabe ministers but more often they were the refuge of the never-will-be-ministers, or hose who once were but never will be again..

Select committees realised their power lay as much in ‘naming and shaming’ institutions and people as in carefully drafted and considered reports which would only gather dust on secretaries of state’s shelves. The power of the press release and the spectacle of a live televised hearing were much more attractive than hours spent in line-by-line drafting of reports. Rather than long-term strategic questions they moved towards the simple headline-grabbing tactical ones.

In 2014, we have reached the position where some select committees are like the BBC’s own Newsnight in redux but slower. An event or news story happens – in broadcasting, to the police, to the banks – and often within a week the representatives of that institution find themselves in front of the parliamentary watchdogs answering difficult questions. It has rapidly become part of the warp
and weave of British public life. Newsnight does the story that night, select committees do it the week after

Along with the rise of the select committee as spectacle there has also been the rise of the select committee chairs (and some members) as stars. Give them a spotlight and they will find themselves under it. Keith Vaz MP is no shrinking violet. His Home Affairs Select Committee has become a publicity platform for this former minister in and out of parliament. Police misbehaving? They will be called to face his committee. Bulgarian migrants ‘swamping’ the UK? Vaz will be there at Luton airport to greet them-even if they are in single figures. No stone is left unturned by the Vaz PR machine.

Margaret Hodge MP is another ex-minister turned tormentor (of ministers and others). Her Public Accounts Committee has a wide remit on all government and public spending. She has used that to the full and most clinically in the last three years on the £3.65 billion of TV licence payers’ money
funnelled to the BBC. John Whittingdale MP was a Conservative Party spokesman on broadcasting in Opposition. Ministerial office was not to be his. Instead, he has turned his Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee into a running show on media matters; the de facto Parliamentary Media Show.

Newsnight in redux? The CMS select committee

The CMS select committee has become a televised Star Chamber. Most notably when it summoned Rupert Murdoch, the media uber mogul, to explain and justify phone hacking to them on 19 July 2011 after the closure of his News of the World. Murdoch’s opening gambit then was a master stroke in dissembling. ‘I would just like to say one sentence. This is the most humble day of my life.’ This
did not prevent him from being closely examined by the rottweiler of that committee, Tom Watson MP.

Mr Watson: Mr Murdoch senior, good afternoon, sir. You have repeatedly stated that News Corp has zero tolerance to wrongdoing by employees. Is that right?

Rupert Murdoch: Yes.

Mr Watson: In October 2010, did you still believe it to be true when you made your Thatcher speech and you said: ‘Let me be clear: we will vigorously pursue the truth—and we will not tolerate wrongdoing’?

Rupert Murdoch: Yes.

Mr Watson: So if you were not lying then, somebody lied to you. Who was it?

Rupert Murdoch: I don’t know. That is what the police are investigating, and we are helping them with.

Mr Watson: But you acknowledge that you were misled.

Rupert Murdoch: Clearly (Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee 2011).

On the other side of the committee and the House, Louise Mensch MP was much gentler than Bruiser Watson:

Louise Mensch: Mr Rupert Murdoch, you are the Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corp. You are the head of the global company. The buck stops with you. Given these allegations, indeed, when you opened the session, you said that this was the most humiliating day of your life.

Chair: Humble.

Louise Mensch: Oh, I’m sorry – humble. I beg your pardon. That was a mistake. You said that it was the most humble day of your life. You feel humbled by these events. You are ultimately in charge of the company. Given your shock at these things being laid out before you and the fact that you didn’t know anything about them, have you instructed your editors around the world to engage in a root-and-branch review of their own newsrooms to be sure that this isn’t being replicated in other News
Corps papers around the globe? If not, will you do so?

Rupert Murdoch: No, but I am more than prepared to do (Culture, Mediaand Sport Select Committee 2011).

Through the CMS Select Committee, Watson became the scourge of News International and, as a result, rose to Deputy Chair of the Labour Party. He later fell. Mensch decided parliament was too boring and small for her and retreated to the USA.

The CMS Select Committee has regularly turned its attention to the BBC in the last three years, as a search of Hansard reveals:

1. The BBC licence fee settlement, 15 December 2010: Mark Thompson, Director-General, and Sir Michael Lyons, then-Chairman of the BBC Trust, gave evidence.

2. The BBC Digital Media Initiative, 15 February 2011: Mark Thompson, Director-General, Erik Huggers, Director of Future Media and Technology, BBC, and Anthony Fry, Trustee, BBC Trust gave evidence.

3. The BBC Licence Fee Settlement and Annual Report and Accounts 2009- 10, 19 May 2011: Committee report into this – as this had done for the previous decade.

4. One-off evidence session with outgoing BBC Director-General, 19 June 2012: Mark Thompson gave evidence of his achievements over the previous eight years and any setbacks, staff remuneration and the future of the BBC.

5. The BBC’s response to the Jimmy Savile case, 23 October 2012: Director-General George Entwistle gave evidence about the two independent reviews; the safeguards and vetting procedures that would have been in place when Jimmy Savile was appointed by the BBC.

6. Priorities for the new Director-General of the BBC, 25 April 2013: On 2 April, Lord Hall started as the BBC’s new Director-General. The committee held an early evidence session three weeks later with him to consider his priorities for the next few months.

7. The select committee questions BBC Director-General Tony Hall and BBC Trust Chair Lord Patten on the BBC annual report, 22 October 2013.

So, at least seven separate inquiries and reports into the BBC in less than three years. Whittingdale’s committee is not done They are now holding a wide ranging inquiry into The Future of the BBC, ahead of its current royal charter ending in December 2016.

Accountable to the public?

Since 2011, the Public Accounts Committee and its investigative arm, the National Audit Office, have started to take a close interest in the BBC and BBC finances in at least three areas:

1. Evidence from the BBC on its efficiency savings programme, 21 November 2011.

2. BBC severance packages: Oral evidence, July and September 2013.

Two public hearings on executive severance packages resulting in a damning report on 16 December 2013 which made five tough recommendations

• The BBC should ensure that severance payments do not exceed what is absolutely necessary.

• The BBC should remind its staff that they are all individually responsible for protecting public money and challenging wasteful practices.

• To protect licence fee payers’ interests and its own reputation, the BBC should establish internal procedures that provide clear central oversight and effective scrutiny of severance payments.

• The BBC executive and the BBC Trust need to overhaul the way they conduct their business, and record and communicate decisions properly.

• Given its overarching responsibility for the stewardship of public money, the BBC Trust should be more willing to challenge practices and decisions where there is a risk that the interests of licence fee payers could be compromised.

• The BBC Trust and the BBC executive need to ensure that decision making is transparent and accountability taken seriously, based on a shared understanding of value for money, with tangible evidence of individuals taking public responsibility for their decisions.

3. Report on the BBC move to Salford, 16 October 2013.

My Lord … another committee

As if that’s not enough, the House of Lords also has its own wide-ranging Communications Committee with a remit that includes the BBC. Their inquires have included:

1. BBC charter inquiry: BBC Chairman and the D-G gave evidence 18 July 2005.

2. BBC Trust: Mark Thompson gives evidence, 26 April 2011.

3. What will be on the box? Lords question BBC and Channel Four, 27 November 2012.

As part of their inquiry into media convergence, the Lords Communications Committee put questions to two public service broadcasters (PSBs), the BBC and Channel 4.

And even more…

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee looked at and reported on the Implications of the BBC World Service Cuts, in April 2011. And in the House of Commons chamber itself … on 21 October 2013, MPs took part in a general debate on the future of the BBC. Parliamentary scrutiny has clearly come upon the BBC with a vengeance in the last decade.

Spectacle of gladiators at the Coliseum?

So the spectacle of the BBC big-wigs up before the parliamentary beaks has become everyday. But is spectacle the best metaphor for the position in which the BBC finds itself? Could it be that a better parallel might be ancient Rome and the Coliseum in which gladiators fought off all-comers including wild animals like lions. The gladiators or swordsmen had to impress the audience with their ability to fight for their lives. Their job was not just survival but to achieve popular acclaim through the skills used in that. Through fight after fight the gladiators could buy their freedom. Is that what faces the Corporation over the next two years in the struggle for charter renewal and a decent licence fee

Just as in ancient Rome, what is happening in the Coliseum/parliament is there for the entertainment of an audience. In this case, licence fee payers informed and inflamed by a largely hostile anti-BBC national press. Leading the hate brigade, day after day, the soi disant voice of Middle England, the Daily Mail, a direct competitor to the Corporation in news and online provision (where MailOnline is trumping the BBC News Online into a cocked hat) and a vintage vehicle for BBC bashing. Two headlines on the PAC hearing and report on Executive pay offs in 2013 give a flavour: ‘Thompson was firing away like a Spanish man o’war entering Gibraltar harbour’ (Daily Mail, 10 September 2013).

And ‘Liars! MPs say BBC bosses lied to parliament about obscene pay-offs. There couldn’t be a more serious charge, but don’t expect any contrition’ (Daily Mail, 17 December 2013). Others in the ‘balanced ‘British press were equally shrill. For instance, ‘BBC chiefs deny “losing the plot” over £1million pay-off’ (Daily Express, 10 September 2013). And ‘Accusations fly as BBC bosses argue over payoffs’ (The Times, 10 September 2013). Newspapers feast on the spectacle of the ‘BBC in
the dock’ for commercial and journalistic reasons like sharks or lions circling the wounded beast. In an ideal world they would like to see no BBC in ‘their’ market places to lessen their descent into oblivion. Only the sheer quality and popularity of their programmes, their range and the trust it engenders ensures the BBC’ssurvival and that of the licence fee.

Egging on the crowds in this virtual Coliseum are rabble rousing politicians, usually Conservative. Home Secretary Theresa May – her intervention on local BBC Online News was noted earlier. Grant Shapps MP, the Conservative Party Chairman, called in October 2013 for the BBC licence fee to be ‘top-sliced’ next time round i.e. bid for and used by other public service broadcasters. His call did not fall on entirely fertile ground

The most persistent fly in the Corporation ointment is Rob Wilson, theMember of Parliament for Reading East. He has turned BBC bashing into his profession. No opportunity is missed to berate the national broadcaster. Unfortunately for them, he is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chancellor
George Osborne who will probably be as crucial in setting the next licence fee as he was the last. D-G Mark Thompson and then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had to go to Osborne’s office after their lightning ‘negotiations’ in 2010 to get his approval before going public,

What next for the spectacle?

Old BBC hands when confronted with the current panoply of woes shrug their shoulders and say: ‘It will blow over, it always does.’ Alas, this time the issues and problems may be more deep-seated.
In June 2014, the Dame Janet Smith report into the activities of Jimmy Savile (and others) within
the BBC and the culture of the Corporation is due. That is literally a time bomb waiting to explode.

How many more times will the new BBC brahmins be called back to the Portcullis House gladiatorial arena? When and how will the spectacle end? Probably not until 31 December 2016 and then most likely in tears ...