BBC lacks ‘understanding’

THE FORMER controller of marketing and communications for BBC News has criticised his former employer for the way in which it handled the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair.

Richard Peel said it was evident certain individuals lacked a clear “understanding” of the content being broadcast, and that the BBC could not hide away from that.

Speaking at a Coventry University media lecture, Peel – who is now the Corporate Affairs Director for Camelot – said: “The BBC can’t hide, but it tried too.  You can’t bury any kind of output.  It goes out 24 hours a day through a whole raft of distributions and channels.

“It doesn’t matter whether two people or 200 people complained about that content; it was something that should have been recognised as an issue.

“I think in those circumstances where you know something has gone out and wasn’t what it should have been, the BBC should have been prepared for an almost immediate onslaught.”

Peel questioned the authority of the BBC’s Director General, Mark Thompson, and his effectiveness at fulfilling his role, adding that ultimate responsibility had to stop with him.

Thompson claimed he had been made aware of the offensive messages left on Andrew Sach’s voicemail a day after it had been broadcast on the Radio 2 programme.

The Director General who was out of the UK at the time on holiday cited a lack of phone contact as the mitigating reason as to why he had been unaware of the furore for so long.

“Anyone who is on holiday has got a phone, or nowadays a Blackberry.  I would never go anywhere without having access to my emails.  It is really quite easy to contact people,” said Peel.

The evident discrepancies in the communication process were due to what Peel described as the broadcaster’s “legion of different referrals”, and considered these to be detrimental.

“There needs to be someone who has direct access to the Director General who has the power and authority to say to people in the organisation: ‘I want this tape now.  I want an explanation as to why it has gone out’.”

Peel added: “There was a time when the people at the centre of the BBC would have an absolute understanding of what was going out.  They would know the content and be able to alert the Director General very quickly about the issues around that content.”

He referred to the Andrew Gilligan fracas when the former defence correspondent for the BBC’s Today programme claimed the government had “sexed up” its dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The then Director General, Greg Dyke resigned over Lord Hutton’s damning verdict, and following his departure in January 2004, the acting BBC Chairman, Lord Ryder said the corporation “had to move forward” in light of Lord Hutton’s report.

Peel felt the matter could have been handled with more urgency at the time, only to be hampered by a rigid framework, and said lessons clearly hadn’t been learnt since then.

“The BBC made a similar mistake with Gilligan when the Director General took about three weeks before he listened to the output.  I think it is an example of where the structures aren’t right, and the referral processes aren’t right,” he said.

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