The Daily Mail's loathing of the BBC has this week given the world a 'scoop' which has turned out to be utter nonsense; yet with a tiny, buried apology, the damage is done.
On Monday, the Daily Mail ran the front-page splash you see above. The Daily Star followed it up, while Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski 'slammed the BBC’s behaviour as “staggering and highly deplorable”.'
Today, the Mail took the piece off the web, and printed this apology:
"A front page story and editorial comment on July 23 wrongly suggested that the BBC was instructing its staff to set up personal service companies in order to avoid or evade paying the correct amount of tax.
"While it is true that the BBC have asked hundreds of workers to set up personal service companies, we accept that neither the BBC, nor its chief financial officer, Zarin Patel, have told members of its payroll (or freelancers) to avoid or evade tax and apologise to them for any such suggestion."
And that was it. Two paragraphs, at the bottom of page 2 – not even a fraction as prominent as the splash. The damage has been done, and is barely un-done by the apology.
Part of the central ethos of ourBeeb is those of us who care about the BBC – and that is most of the country, I would suggest – should be able to criticise it. We pay for it, and we want the best for it – for ourselves.
With the Murdoch empire on the rocks in Britain, we had hoped 2012 would mark a new era of greater media openness and accountability, where the BBC would not be forced constantly into a position of meek, defensive silence, for fear that any admission of weakness would lead to a complete dismantling of the corporation.
Over the few months that ourBeeb has been running, we have had senior executives at the BBC send us their private support, and offer to write for ourBeeb, only to get cold feet at the last minute and apologetically withdraw.
It is this week’s travesty of a ‘scoop’, from a persistent, poisonous enemy of the BBC, the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, which reminds us why it is still so hard to have an honest, pluralistic debate about the future of the Beeb. So, thanks very much, Mr Dacre.