My relationship with the BBC has changed a lot over the years. I was the sort of geeky sod that’d happily listen to Radio 4 LW on my old Grundig radio. The stuff I managed to watch seemed gloriously anarchic at times. This is the corporation that along with Channel 4, popularised alternative comedy. BBC2 was so good at one point that I actually considered it inconceivable that anything funny could be born elsewhere, although Father Ted went a long way to robbing me of that notion. The Young Ones, Red Dwarf, Blackadder and Hitchhikers are just a few examples.
Most people go through points in their life in which everything changes, and things never seem quite the same again. Kids, deaths, that sort of thing. We all go through it. I used to argue that the most significant change in the BBC’s life was the David Kelly affair. Before that, the corporation seemed to be closer to the true guardian of democracy we’d all like it to be. It was certainly more balanced in its coverage of global affairs, and didn’t seem to have any taboos.
Problem is, the Savile revelations make it very difficult to look at a point in the Corporation’s recent history and see it as entirely altruistic. It clearly has no problem covering problems up, even having the gall to run things like child protection campaigns while other parts of the organisation were running cover for Savile (or at the very least, not looking into the “green room gossip” too closely).
The most charitable assessment I can give of the organisation is that like many big organisations, one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, information is compartmentalised or doled out on a limited basis, but there are still good people trying to do the right thing. Even after David Kelly, we’ve seen examples of the BBC still taking on the establishment. The recent Newsnight attempt to out a high profile paedophile shows that there are people that still care.
The problem is, those people are easily railroaded. In the case of Newsnight, Messham’s astonishing mistaken identity retraction was all it took to turn an earth-shattering story into a potential source of litigation, allowing the named individual to escape any further scrutiny.
Realistically, while there have always been good people at the BBC, there has always been too much establishment control. I’d love to imagine some halycon age, but the reality is that the place has been riven with scandal, for one reason or another, from the day I was born.