Let Women Save the BBC; Behind the Scenes, Female Executives Warned That Machismo Would Get the Corporation in Trouble. with the Charter Up for Renewal, Will the Boys Now Listen to Them?

By Cox, David | New Statesman (1996), February 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

Let Women Save the BBC; Behind the Scenes, Female Executives Warned That Machismo Would Get the Corporation in Trouble. with the Charter Up for Renewal, Will the Boys Now Listen to Them?


Cox, David, New Statesman (1996)


Greg Dyke's troops may no longer be blocking the traffic in Portland Place, but peace has not returned to the BBC. On the contrary, as the world's gaze turns away, conflict is deepening. Loyalties are being questioned, alliances are being forged and cards are being marked.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Utterly devoted to the king across the water are the Dyke loyalists. They pledge total support for their lost leader's vendetta against Tony Blair. Elated by apparent public support and the WMD inquiry, they believe they can even yet bring down the Blair regime. What, they ask, does one reporter's mistake matter, when BBC journalism revealed that Britain went to war on a false prospectus?

Ranged against the Dykeists are those who think that Hutton must be forgotten. Otherwise, they fear, the BBC will remain mired in the worst disaster ever to befall it. They point out that the corporation did, after all, screw up. If No 10 was unfairly let off the hook, too bad. What matters now is putting the BBC back together again, not winning a battle that should never have been allowed to start. And that means seeking calm and closure.

Some in this second camp are remnants of the pre-Dyke era, brought in during the late 1980s to support John Birt, then deputy director general, in his ruthless purge of sloppiness and bias. Dyke's "cut the crap" BBC had little use for their philosophy. In its place came a culture of competitiveness. The BBC would be out to win, in whatever game it found itself. Life was going to be fun again. Most of the staff loved the sound of it, and Dyke became the most popular DG ever.

Some of the Birtists fled. Others, by now derided as uptight sissies, cowered in corners, appalled to see judiciousness and restraint give way to macho pugnacity. An alternative theory of news emerged. Rather than fussing about sobriety and impartiality, news should make waves and rock boats. Newsmen boasted that if the Tories were incapable of opposing the government, then the BBC would do their job for them. Politicians were all liars; the journalist's job was to expose and humiliate them. In Alastair Campbell they encountered a pugilist at least as testosterone-driven as their own boss. Once he threw down the gauntlet, only one outcome was possible--a fight to the death.

Now, the Birtists believe their day has come again. But they have been joined by another, much more important group who share their distaste for the tyranny of virility. One feature of the Birt era was a stern commitment to gender correctness. This has borne fruit in the emergence of a female boss class. Most of the Beeb's top brass are now women--the director of television, the director of radio, the controllers of BBC1, BBC2 and Radio 4, the director of communications, the director of strategy and the director of policy, to name but a few. Almost the only area free from petticoat power is the locker-room news division.

In spite of this lacuna, the BBC gynocracy can still muster impressive journalistic credentials. Today's muscle-men took on the government and lost, but the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, was forced to make a humiliating climbdown in October when he tangled with The Secret Policeman. This unimpeachably painstaking, humane and witty expose of racism in the force was made not by the newsroom tough guys, but by Glenwyn Benson's factual department.

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Let Women Save the BBC; Behind the Scenes, Female Executives Warned That Machismo Would Get the Corporation in Trouble. with the Charter Up for Renewal, Will the Boys Now Listen to Them?
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