Wednesday, 5 August 2009

what's wrong with Aunty?

An extraordinary revelation today that the BBC has asked the newsreader George Alagiah to step down from his role as patron of the charity Fairtrade. Alagiah has explained the decision in a letter to Fairtrade and writes:

“My senior colleagues at the BBC have come to the conclusion that being the official patron of the Fairtrade Foundation is no longer compatible with being a high-profile journalist in BBC News. They believe that Fairtrade represents a potential conflict of interest which could undermine my impartiality.

“In the many years that I have been your patron there has not been a single complaint (that I am aware of) to the BBC, so you can imagine how taken aback I was by the decision.”

This ludicrous decision taken by the BBC is made all the more nonsensical when one considers the way the BBC indulges other presenters. Consider, for example, the case of Jeremy Clarkson one of the three presenters of the BBC programme Top Gear. Clarkson continually seems to overstep the mark in his role as presenter with offensive and political comments. A list of some of Clarkson’s indiscretions can be found here and they include several personal, derogatory comments about Gordon Brown and jokes about murdering prostitutes. I happen to enjoy watching Top Gear, although I find the constant attacks on those concerned about climate change and road safety rather tiresome.

The BBC does seem to operate double standards. Plenty of the BBC’s top presenters and journalists, including Clarkson, have been allowed to pursue other activities which could be regarded as prejudicial to their ‘impartiality’. Earlier this year the BBC dropped the journalist Carol Thatcher from The One Show because of an overheard off air comment which was regarded as unacceptable. I am struggling to understand why it is OK for Clarkson to describe the Prime Minister as a c**t to a BBC audience but Thatcher’s offence was deemed worthy of suspension.

Forgive me for a touch of cynicism at this point but could it be that the double standards pursued by the BBC with regard to its presenters is due to viewing figures? Top Gear pulls in large audiences and Clarkson is seen as key to the success of the show. He knows it and the BBC know it and so Clarkson can push the boundaries confident that no one is going to risk the wrath of the punters. The same could be said for the treatment of Jonathan Ross over his phone call prank with Russell Brand last year.

Now I’m not arguing that Ross or Clarkson should have been sacked, but I am suggesting that there is an inconsistency in the way the BBC treats its presenters. The demands made of some presenters in the name of ethical integrity are clearly flouted by others with impunity. The loser is a highly respected charity responsible for helping many of the most needy people in our world and a journalist seeking to support that work. Is this what the BBC has come to mean by a Reithian ethos?

1 comment:

Chris said...

Spot on, Phil. Beggars belief, really.

Sadly the Beeb has its "celebrities" - Humphrys and Paxman to name but two - who, by padding their own personalities, actually detract from the Corporation's public service remit.

But the days of public service broadcasting are long gone.