Editor's blog: ourBeeb in The Observer, and BBC Jubilee coverage

Henry Porter's searing critique of the BBC's lack of openness and accountability struck a chord with The Observer's readers, and with the purpose of ourBeeb. But how do we best make our case to the institution - through petitions, or argument?

Dan Hancox
12 June 2012

A hat-tip to this big piece by Henry Porter in Sunday's Observer, which takes the BBC to task over the lack of accountability and openness in their selection of the new Director General, and gives ourBeeb a plug in the process, for having the kind of public debate he says the BBC itself should be hosting. Porter zeroes in on the BBC's Jubilee coverage as an exemplar of what he sees as its complacency and vapidity:

It was atrocious, feeble-minded, vacuous and without the slightest merit, except, I suppose, the outside broadcasting people put the cameras in the right places. The ignorance on display was shaming; presenters got the coronation date wrong, Nelson was resurrected to fight at Waterloo and one of them seemed completely at a loss to know when the Palace of Westminster was founded, which matters when it has been at the centre of national life since Parliament met there in 1295, and was somehow the symbolic way to mark that eccentric parade of boats.

But worse, the coverage was incurious about the relationship between the British people and the monarchy, which, if you think about it, is something akin to the relationship between the British people and the BBC. Both institutions are at the core of our sense of identity and inspire miraculous levels of trust, which is what makes the BBC's response to criticism of the coverage of the jubilee pageant seem seriously wanting. Spokespersons were struck dumb, no executive would go on the radio to take responsibility for the pageant coverage and Mark Thompson issued a statement congratulating all those involved in the four days of the jubilee. Officially, there wasn't a problem and that verdict is symptomatic of the BBC's age-old susceptibility to complacency.

The comments on Porter's piece are quite entertaining too, if lacking some of the nuance we are so grateful for in your comments here:

Its as laughable as Pravda was in the Soviet era.

The rumour is that John Birt is coming back with a bloody big axe.

Either privatise it or democratise it.

In other news, 38 Degrees have been circulating a petition (for a change), calling on the BBC Trust to protect BBC independence. Its full text is as follows:

Dear Lord Patten and the BBC Board of Trustees,

Please make sure that you safeguard the independence of the BBC when you select the next Director-General.

The BBC’s global reputation rests on its independence - please don’t do anything which could put that in danger.

As a call to arms (or rather, a call to signatures), this is so vague as to be entirely pointless, isn't it? How do we measure independence? How can or should the BBC prove its independence? Is it up to them, or up to us to insist on accountability? It's not unrelated to the debates around the BBC's coverage of the NHS reforms, and to the abstract but persistent arguments about what constitutes bias (see John Hully's great argument here) - of which we have more coming, soon.

The thing that irks me most about the 38 Degrees petition is the same thing that irks me about most petitions: it is neither right, dignified or useful to go down on bended knee, and plead with an unaccountable elite to have mercy on an institution which we the people are paying for.

Especially not in the Queen's Jubilee year!

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