A quick word about where we are on the BBC Bias row. Your emails to the main players in this little BBC drama have all been received with interesting results. Stewart Maxwell MSP who chairs the culture committee, the nearest thing we have to a broadcast monitor, got dozens of messages, according to his office and he is conscientiously answering them individually. Good for him, although I suspect he hates my guts now. But here is a man focussed on meeting public aspiration – needing votes, if you will – and working his socks off.
Contrast that with another public servant, Mr Ian Small, public policy chief of BBC Scotland, who is, in the absence of a Director or a Deputy Director able and willing to front up for a great institution, the nearest thing there is to a public face and voice of BBC Scotland. He has sent round an automated response, according to those of you who have contacted me. That tells you they are already in their bunker at PQ on the management floor, desperately deflecting and unable to find the words to defend their over-the-top reaction to a piece of critical research. When they don’t have an answer, they throw the automated response button which is the BBC corporate equivalent of saying F**k Off.
Yet again, they have misjudged the licence-fee paying public and opted to treat them with contempt. They have observed, rightly, that this is a piece of campaigning and decided to dismiss each and every one of you as worthless. But why is a campaigning individual worthless? Isn’t commitment to engage exactly what the BBC is constantly urging everyone to do… “Do text in and tell us what you think…here’s our email address…contact the programme…” To which they should add…”unless you’re complaining about something in which case, you’re a worthless loser.”
Small didn’t even deign to answer a single point, just put people off with an address where they can complain. And of course, we know what happens then…they take a year to respond, as they did over the Science Tower row, lie to the complainant and lose the case when the Trust find them guilty. But no one is reprimanded, no one loses their job and no one takes the blame. Brilliant! Why would they respond with grace and alacrity like Stewart Maxwell when there is no sanction, no penalty except a generalised embarrassment which bounces off the rhino skins at PQ.
It reminds me of a listener-led campaign to save Newsweek, a programme I presented. It was the third highest audience for any programme on Radio Scotland, after weekly GMS and seasonal football which trumps them all and through which the BBC buys an audience because they pay the SPFL for the rights. The Head of Radio Jeff Zycinski forced through the Saturday morning changes against public and internal opposition and later issued a message that “real listeners” backed the changes. In other words, all those hundreds of people, many of whom had been loyal listeners for decades who took the trouble to support the programme by writing in, were dismissed as what? Trouble-makers? Non-listeners? Just contemptible individuals not worthy of concern, obviously.
The BBC gets this so wrong. There must be PR and marketing people out there who immediately spot the glaring mistakes they keep making, notably the utter inability to communicate…and this is the world’s biggest communications organisation.
They erred in writing an intemperate letter to the researcher, shouldn’t have ostentatiously copied in his boss and should have taken care to reply to each complaint individually. If Stewart Maxwell can do it with one assistant, why can’t the BBC with hundreds of admin staff?
I don’t know what the truth is about this research – if it’s accurate or robust – but I do know the BBC has blundered badly in its response and has already lost any high ground it could have claimed. Thank God there is still some journalistic guts among my old mates at PQ. I hear Dr Robertson will appear on GMS in the morning explaining his work and it will be intriguing to hear what the BBC management response is. At least they haven’t been able to bully Radio Scotland into avoiding what has become a very tricky and unedifying episode for the BBC, thanks to all your efforts.