The information nation took its clues from all the soundbite gluttons
January was a strange old month, with a particularly odd final week. Frankly, when it takes b3ta to come up with the most pithily poignant comment on the past few days (Edit: Image down because people weren’t quoting the source), you know that something’s very wrong somewhere.
Reluctantly, I think that Lord Hutton probably did reach the right conclusions. The balance of those conclusions we can question, but given his terms of reference (to investigate the circumstances regarding Dr David Kelly‘s death: no more, no less) he couldn’t really teach us much that we didn’t know already. He wasn’t going to tell us about ‘sexed up’ dossiers. He simply said this:
- The BBC made some mistakes.
- The Government managed to convince the UK equivalent of a Supreme Court Judge that it didn’t indulge in a huge conspiracy over the naming of one of its most senior biowarfare experts, who had turned whistle-blower.
- The Ministry of Defence line managers could improve their communication skills.
- And overarching everything, it was a huge personal tragedy, and led to a man taking his own life.
The fallout from the report, though, seems to be disproportionate to even what Lord Hutton might have expected. No-one was sacked or has quit at the MoD, as far as I’m aware. But in the UK, we’ve been following with incredulity the serial resignations from the BBC – its chairman, its director general, and finally one of the reporters at the centre of the whole controversy.
Was this justified? To an extent. You don’t let one of your most controversial journalists sound off, unscripted, on an agenda-setting news programme. And, if you receive a complaint about something they say or write, it should really take more than a “But it’s true!” from said journalist to set your mind at rest. But as Jon Snow points out, let he who has never filed a report cast the first stone. And in any case…
Full stop. It’s a strange enough institution. Originally a company set up to regulate radio transmissions, it was taken into Government hands soon after its formation. It’s supposedly free of Government influence, yet it has a Government-appointed chairman and a World Service funded by our Foreign Office. It’s kept afloat by regular reviews of its charter and – I nearly forgot – ten pounds a month from every TV-owning household in the country. Those outside the UK probably don’t understand why we love it so much.
But your cultural life, and certainly my cultural life, would be much poorer without it. From the mainstream to the slightly inaccessible, it sets out to try to please all of the people with something that it does. It generally succeeds. Young and old alike love it. It gives credibility not just to ‘BBC English’, but to many of our other cultures and languages. The UK at large needs it, and as an astute NTK pointed out on Friday, the UK Internet needs it too.
It doesn’t strike gold all the time, but in the world where we can and do create our own TV channels, it manages it more often than most. The BBC asserts that ‘Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation’. In comparison, the clanging cymbals of the other broadcasters go ‘Yeah But No But Yeah’.
We need the BBC to be strong. We need it to be as free of Government influence as its strange composition can allow. We need it to be free of commercial influence too. But most of all, we need the BBC to exist. From Songs of Praise to Dick and Dom, it influences us in ways too numerous to really understand. Let’s hope that the Culture Secretary remains true to her words. Let’s hope that diamondgeezer isn’t a great prophet. Let’s hope that the “soundbite gluttons” don’t win at the expense of truth, honesty, integrity, and the greatest casualty of the last week – trust.
For now, let’s just hope.