BBC News Scandal: How Big of a Threat to British Journalism?

By Quinn, Ben | The Christian Science Monitor, November 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

BBC News Scandal: How Big of a Threat to British Journalism?


Quinn, Ben, The Christian Science Monitor


Disciplinary action is underway today against BBC staff involved in a botched report on its flagship current affairs show, as the corporation struggles to get a grip on one of its worst crises and perhaps the greatest challenge to its prestige in its 90-year history.

The scandal, which led to the resignation of the new BBC director general on Saturday after just 54 days on the job, and which may yet result in the departure of the chairman of the independent trust that governs the news organization, centers on two separate items prepared for the Newsnight current affairs TV program.

One, broadcast on Nov. 2, wrongly alleged that a senior conservative politician from Margaret Thatchers administration sexually abused boys. That error was grave enough in itself, but the damage to the BBC was exacerbated by the fact that it was already facing questions about why it had shelved a Newsnight investigation into sex abuse allegations against one of its biggest stars, the late Jimmy Savile.

Amid widespread fallout from the controversy, many fear that Britains public broadcasters tradition of independence is under threat and that commercial competitors and political critics could use the opportunity to lobby for change. Conservative members of Parliament are already using the crisis to bolster arguments against the license fee, which is levied on television set owners as a means of subsidizing the BBC. However, others are concerned that the public service broadcasters world-class investigative journalism could somehow be reined in or compromised.

There is so much pressure on commercial media at the moment that it's vital that the BBC keeps its place in British national life not just as the dominant news source, but one that is a high quality news source, says Charlie Beckett, a former senior BBC producer who is the director of POLIS, a think-tank at the London School of Economics for research and debate into international journalism and society.

Part of that function is taking risks and being prepared to challenge authority and go against the consensus view sometimes. …

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