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STANDING UP FOR AUNTIE

25-07-2007

BBC

Britain's esteemed national press didn't miss the opportunity to stick the boot into Auntie Beeb as revelations of lying emerged. But Mick Temple warns - never trust a journalist.

There's no doubt that the revelations about the BBC's phoney phone-in contests and the dodgy editing of the Queen's photo-session with the 'world-renowned' photographer Annie Leibovitz have damaged the Corporation’s reputation for probity.

But some of the criticisms have been hard to stomach.

The Times, with admirable restraint, called it 'television treason'. Off with their heads!

The Daily Telegraph found it 'deeply shocking' - this from the paper that employs Simon Heffer, an excellent writer, but one who is to rational, considered opinion what Dan Brown is to great literature.

The Sun Says... well, I'm sure you can guess.

Newspaper columnists, too many to mention here, queued up to lament the declining standards of the BBC. Some of these columnists work for newspapers whose standards of accuracy, especially when compared to the BBC, are often laughable.

The worst newspapers make up quotes and sometimes even stories, and a supine 'independent' Press Complaints Commission tickles then gently with a feather duster when a complaint is upheld, which is rarely.

We don't trust our press and print journalists regularly appear at the bottom of MORI's annual public opinion poll on the professions, unfairly in my opinion.

I'm actually a big fan of our press - at its best, tabloid or broadsheet, no country can beat us.

Broadcast journalists fare much better in such polls, and the BBC is the main reason why.

The standards set by the BBC are largely responsible for the superb range of news programmes we have in the UK - Sky News, ITV News, Channel 5 and Channel 4 News offer something for most people - and the BBC's historical commitment to accuracy and world-wide reputation for excellence are major factors keeping those news providers on their toes.

There are many things I don't like about the BBC - there's not enough room here to list them all - but at the heart of its relationship with the British people

is the concept of 'trust'. And that has undeniably been damaged by the scandals.

No doubt heads will roll. But what upset me most was the BBC's response to all this. Ever since the Hutton Report the BBC seems to have lost all confidence in itself and the Director-General Mark Thompson must bear the brunt of the blame.

He is not a charismatic man and he has been very poor at defending the BBC's record. Big mistakes were made, but the BBC is too important for Thompson to allow its opponents to throw darts at it.

The BBC's opponents would love the market to take complete control of broadcasting - we don't need public service broadcasting in today's multi-channel environment, they tell us.

Yet imagine watching American style news every day on every channel.

More pertinently, given where most of the criticism came from, can you imagine some of our press making the same mistakes and worrying for more than five minutes about it? The BBC will recover from this but the attacks on its privileged position vis-à-vis the licence fee will continue.

Its future may depend on leaders who care enough to defend it more vigorously when future attacks come.

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