News Feature

By The Drum, Administrator

February 12, 2004 | 7 min read

Dyke outside BBC HQ announcing his resignation.

Heads have rolled since the publication of the Hutton Report earlier this month, and the jury is still out as to who really is to blame. And within a period of 24 hours the two top jobs at the BBC had a situation vacant sign next to the job titles. While most of the media maintain that Greg Dyke was the second sacrificial lamb to the slaughter, following chairman Gavyn Davies’ swift resignation, it is still unclear whether he was pushed or jumped from the wreckage. His enigmatic impromptu news conference outside the BBC headquarters in London was a spectacular production, with tears from office staff and a wobbly voiced short speech from Dyke himself. Dyke has since gone on to criticise the BBC and the Government for the Hutton Report, and a tell-all autobiography is on the cards as he moves from the seeming neutrality of the BBC out into the open commercial word.

So, while Dyke will no doubt earn twice the £494,000 per year wage that he was receiving at the BBC, where does he go from here? And how does the BBC manage to restore its reputation as the bastion of independence and neutrality in this weary world of commercialism and tell-all tales?

The resignation of Dyke begs the question of how well the two sides of the BBC handled their affairs following the publication of the Hutton Report. John Crawford of Halogen PR believes that neither side presented a sparkling representation of handling itself: “The BBC didn’t handle itself that well but, at the same time, I would argue that neither did Dyke. However, that didn’t really matter as the public reacted against the fact that the blame had been put onto one side, following the publication of the Hutton Report. There was an overreaction from the BBC but I do think that there needs to be changes. I am a firm believer that the BBC needs to be privatised; it is the only way that we can be sure of any independence. But that will never happen with this Labour government as they have messed up their chance with the Hutton Report.”

“It was a complete knee-jerk reaction from the BBC,” says Lindsay McGarvie, political editor of the Sunday Mail. “It is universally accepted that Greg Dyke had done a great job in transforming the BBC into what it is now. What the BBC should have done is sat back and been bullish about it, instead of giving in to the Government and acting quickly. I mean, it is still not clear whether he was pushed or resigned.

“What the BBC now must do is get out there and assert its independence by really pushing the Government on the issue of the 45-minute claim of weapons of mass destruction. I think that the Today programme is doing that, but the BBC as a whole needs to be really pushing at the Government so that it is not accused of being at the Government’s beck and call. Ideally, what it needs is a big story to re-establish its reputation as an organisation of great journalistic skills.”

But whom will the Government now appoint as director general and also chairman? McGarvie thinks that this will be a tough job. “You have to remember that the two of them were Labour supporters. It has always been that way, though. I think, ideally, what the Government will need to do now is find someone who is a crossbencher, so to speak. The Government is going to be criticised, however, with whatever decision that they make. But I don’t think that the BBC will ever become an independent body – the journalists at the BBC would never allow it.”

“I would say that the Government scored something of an own goal with their handling of the BBC,” says managing director of Hatch Group, Graeme Jack. “They are going to have to regain their credibility, but at the same time get the public support on their side too. By taking on the BBC, they have, in effect, taken on the British public and have found that they can’t mess the public around.”

Jack agrees that the BBC will need to come out fighting if it is to win the battle against the government. He says: “If you consider it as a viewer, then I would say nothing has changed in terms of public perception. I don’t think that people will turn off from watching the BBC on principle. But what it needs to start doing is to go out making and breaking the stories instead of reporting them once they have occurred. Greg Dyke will be a loss to the BBC, there is no doubt about that, and the one great fear that I have is for the long-term consequences for the BBC – that is to say, diminishing news outlet. That, to me, would be a disgraceful turn of events.

“I think that Greg Dyke will come out of this fine. He has proven his worth both at the BBC and before that at TV AM. I can’t see him being out of work for too long.”

Jack Irvine of Media House International is, as always, forthright in his views of the events, agreeing that Dyke’s reputation remains, to an extent, untarnished: “Greg likes to be a populist with his ideas, and this has enriched his reputation. The BBC acted in a most craven like way to start with and I think that this is a major failing for the company. I don’t think the BBC seemed to realise the swelling of public support, and also the support from the media that was building. They simply misjudged the situation.”

Irvine believes that the lack of action taken by the BBC following the publication of the Hutton Report led to the BBC receiving a great deal of bad PR: “The Hutton report was jawdroppingly one sided. I would have advised them to really pick up on that.

“At the same time, I don’t think that I would have advised the BBC to have all these middle-aged, crusty supporters gathering outside the BBC. That is also an indication of unrest in the BBC and makes it look weak. It is fighting back, though, and Newsnight and the breakfast news are beginning to really push their way back, which I can only say is a good thing. If I were the BBC I would be out to try and get Alistair Campbell for what he did. But I am sure that the Government probably feels the same way. Blair, Campbell and Mandelson should not have been seen to be crowing about their victory following the report being published. Instead, they should have maintained a dignified silence about it and taken the upper hand. But Blair has never really been able to control either Mandelson or Campbell and that is half of his problem. They have got him by the balls.”


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