Yes, the BBC got it wrong, but its journalism is as robust as ever
JOURNALISTS love to write about other journalists. I can say that because I am one. We especially love to write about other journalists messing up, because it makes us looks better.
But this whole wailing and gnashing of teeth about how the BBC is fundamentally broken, and how its flagship current affairs program Newsnight needs to be canned and how trust in the world's most famous public broadcaster will evaporate has to stop. It hasn't, it doesn't and it won't.
Don't get me wrong: Newsnight cocked up. Twice. In very close succession. This is obviously appalling for the innocent victims of those mistakes - the prey of paedophile Jimmy Savile, as well as Thatcherite politician Lord McAlpine who is definitely not a paedophile - but it should not be taken as an inevitable outcome of a corporation that has lost its way. They are results of very human errors that blight all institutions that are under constant external scrutiny and internal pressure to do more with less and faster.
The errors in editorial judgment from the coalface should have been pulled up by the bloated management class that sits in endless meetings at Broadcasting House. This is where the true fault lies, and this is the real problem with the BBC.
I worked as a reporter on Newsnight over summer last year. The standards of journalism were exceptional. It's not without its flaws - too many middle-class white men in endless discussions about the euro, if you ask me - but the producers, reporters and editors I worked with are among the most experienced, thorough and dedicated I have met. This is true of the vast majority of BBC journalists, who could certainly teach a thing or two to the more mediocre elements of the Australian media.
The BBC has been put under tremendous financial strain in the past couple of years. At the World Service, where I spent a large portion of my 11-year BBC career, virtually all the support staff and hundreds of journalists were lost in an effort to cut costs by 20 per cent.
The result was producers doing administrative tasks such as paying stringers and booking satellite feeds instead of finding stories, verifying and reporting them. At Newsnight, producer and reporter jobs have been slashed too. Same result. That's why a major investigation into a potential political paedophile was contracted to an outside journalist working for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Between the cost cutting and the lamentable management structure I'm surprised there haven't been mistakes of this magnitude earlier. The Newsnight acting editor who was at the helm for the McAlpine fiasco was under tremendous pressure. Her boss had been stood aside pending the investigation into his shelving of the Jimmy Savile story. Her co-deputy had just left for another broadcaster. Suddenly she was alone during one of the rockiest periods facing the program. I note that replacements have been found immediately for all the management class who have been stood aside over the past week, but who was sent in to help Liz Gibbons when she went from a management team of three to one? No one. That, sadly, is typical BBC.
We also need to remember that none of this has happened in a vacuum. Politicians, including Boris Johnson writing on this page on Tuesday, are loving the chance to stick the boot into a program that has bedevilled them for decades. Many MPs, particularly on the right, have an ideological issue with the BBC.
The same goes for the Beeb's competition, the newspapers who have recently been the focus of uncomfortable scrutiny in the Leveson inquiry into press standards. You can almost hear long-time BBC loather Rupert Murdoch cheering as the focus shifts from his newspapers' phone-hacking ways to Aunty. Sweet revenge for the pollies and the journos, but let's bring some perspective.
Yes, Newsnight failed, but the rest of BBC journalism is as robust as it has ever been, as is evidenced by its own coverage and revelations of the Savile and McAlpine affairs. The world would be much poorer without the rigour and dedication of the majority of BBC journalists, including those on Newsnight.
Yes, senior BBC management needs a cleanout. Getting rid of the BBC lifers and losing a layer so their inflated salaries can be put back into quality journalism would be a good start.
The BBC deserves much of the scrutiny it is getting, but let's not lose sight of the fact that the real scandal here is how a man was allowed to abuse children for decades, while hundreds of people in positions of power turned a blind eye. The BBC lynch mob would do better to turn some of their plentiful attention to investigating this, instead of scorching an institution for their own ends. Not doing so is yet another kick to the guts of the people who are, after all, the real victims of this whole sorry episode.
Madeleine Morris worked as a reporter and presenter for the BBC for 11 years. She now lives in Australia.