Goodness gracious, what would Reith have thought?
Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, would certainly not have shared the bemusement that many have felt at the extent of media coverage and public outrage focussed on the Sachsgate scandal. He would have viscerally appreciated why the national conversation has been dominated by reaction to two boorish entertainers, handsomely paid by the public purse, using the public airwaves to humiliate a young woman in obscene phone calls to her grandfather, a much-loved actor.
The clarity of Reith’s original mission for the BBC to inform, educate and entertain pointed to some degree of moral purpose which still shapes people’s expectations of the organisation. Since the last renewal of the BBC’s charter at the beginning of 2007, the Reithian mission has given way to six, rather more mushy, “public purposes“. These could justify almost any activity the BBC chooses to undertake – and, inside the BBC, they do, if we are to judge by Russell Brand’s and Jonathan Ross’s antics and the tardiness of the management’s response.
What is strange is that this is still the case, given everything that has happened in recent years: Hutton, Queengate and the phone-in scandals. Last week’s events are an object lesson in how an organisation in reputational crisis fails to learn the lessons of its previous mistakes. Banks, take note.