British Media Under Fire

By Katie WallaceBBC photo

At a time when the U.K. media is under ever-increasing scrutiny with the ongoing Leveson Inquiry probing  the phone hacking actions of News Corp., the British Broadcasting Corporation (BCC) finds itself awash in scandal with ethical inquisitions coming from both the public and private sectors. The BBC came under fire earlier this year when Miles Goslett, a freelance reporter, broke the story of the sexual abuse of hundreds of teenagers perpetrated by BBC children’s host Jimmy Savile.  The allegations claim that some of the abuse may have taken place on BBC property.  The story, which intensified when a rival television station aired an expose in October, says BBC host Savile preyed on young girls throughout his career in spite of persistent rumors denoting his lascivious behavior.

Initial investigations into a possible cover-up reveal that a Newsnight broadcast on Savile, scheduled to air on in December 2011, had been shelved.  Instead, during the same time frame, broadcast decisions were made to air three tributes on various BBC channels.  BBC Director General George Entwistle said in October that he did not believe management pressure led to the decisions.

To worsen matters for the BBC, the Nov. 2 broadcast of Newsnight aired a false claim stating that an unnamed Conservative politician abused young boys at a children’s home in Wales in the 1970s.   Pressure came to rest on Lord McAlpine as news outlets and Internet sites increasingly inferred that he was the unnamed abuser.  Lord McAlpine responded in a statement calling the allegations “wholly false and seriously defamatory.” BBC later apologized for its allegations, but appears to have done so only after the abuse victim came forward stating that Lord Alpine was not the man he identified to police in the 1990s.

The recent influx of information uncovered in the hacking scandal undertaken by News Corp. has increased public and private sensitivity to media impropriety.   The result of the most recent back-to-back scandals has been a blow to the overall reputation of the British media, which many believe to be at an all-time low.

BBC rival and News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, who was branded by the U.K.’s House of Commons as “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” took to Twitter to express his thoughts.  “BBC mess gives Cameron golden opportunity [to] properly reorganize great public broadcaster,” Murdoch tweeted Nov. 11. Prime Minister Cameron’s assistance may be unnecessary.  A domino effect of resignations, reorganizations and suspensions has moved swiftly among the top management at BBC.

The real question is whether  these departures will make any difference to the media giant in the long run.  At the moment, the handling of the issues only looks to  further weaken a strong brand and long-trusted media outlet.

Photograph by Tom Loudon under a Creative Commons license.


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