Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Excerpt from Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General, speaking to his staff on Wednesday afternoon, 18 July 2007:

I joined the BBC in 1979 and spent years working in production. I have never been involved in a deception of the public. It would just never have occurred to me and I know it would never occur to the overwhelming majority of the people watching me this afternoon either.

On Newsnight that evening (BBC2 10.30pm), in a recorded interview, Mark Thompson spoke to Gavin Esler about how he aims to restore trust in the BBC:


Gavin Esler: I asked the BBC's Director-General, Mark Thompson how damaging he thought these cases of deceit really were.

Mark Thompson: I think they're really very serious indeed actually. We've looked at about a million hours of television and radio over the last two and a half years - a vast amount of output. The overwhelming majority of the output we looked at seems to be entirely trustworthy, entirely honest. I believe the overwhelming majority of my colleagues in the BBC have got very high standards, and understand the BBC's values about truth and honesty with the public. We found a small, but totally unacceptable, number of cases where that has broken down. And - not for personal gain, not for reasons of malice, but because of a misguided attempt it would appear in most cases to keep a programme on the air or deal with a production issue - I'm afraid some of our colleagues have done things which are totally unacceptable.

Gavin Esler: Some of these programmes are jewels in the crown of the BBC: Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children in Need and a World Service programme.

Mark Thompson: What I've tried to do today with all of my colleagues in the BBC, and indeed with our suppliers, is to say this has to stop - it has to stop. Deceiving the public is never the right thing to do. There's no excuse for doing it. And in the end, from now on - I thought this was clear before, but absolutely make it clear now - from now on, if it happens we will show people the door.

Gavin Esler: You've introduced a culture of change into the BBC. There's a lot of young inexperienced producers in the BBC, you've spread too thin doing too much. As Michael Grade put it, people are not being trained properly.

Mark Thompson: We have, and the BBC has always had, a lot of young production staff. It's true on Newsnight, it's true on every programme we make. And I meet young producers and researchers. I also meet young 'indies' who've got very very high values. But I want to say as a result of this relatively small number of instances, I don't want to take any chances with culture or with training. And one of the things I've announced today is you know of the fifteen thousand, sixteen thousand, people inside this organisation who deal with editorial matters, with content, and for our suppliers and for the freelance and casual sectors, we want to make sure that everyone understands what we require, and also what our values are.

Gavin Esler: Have you really got to the bottom of this, or do you think there could be more cases?

Mark Thompson: I don't think we have quite finished. I mean you can appreciate looking at, and trying to understand and trawl through, the volume of content we're talking about is a Herculean task. We have found the overwhelming majority of these cases we have found and we have voluntarily disclosed. If we find more serious breaches of this kind we will disclose them. But I want to say, you know, that process should continue and we should understand exactly why each case happened. If we can make redress or recompense to members of the public if there's any loss in these, we will try and do that as well.

Gavin Esler: There could be compensation?

Mark Thompson: It's possible. The character of many of these "competitions" as they were really quite small scale, often token or even spoof competitions. And we're not talking in any cases about big money, big prize money or anything like that, or indeed about in virtually all cases even premium phone lines. So they are rather unlike some of the other issues which have come up across the industry. But we will do that. At the same time Gavin though, what we also have to do is make sure that we relentlessly put in place all of the safeguards we need, through training through absolute clarity with our editors and our editorial leaders about the fact that compliance with our values is not a kind of nice-to-have or a voluntary option. It is absolutely required. And more than that. It's the duty of the people who lead our production teams to have an eye to the culture of the people in the production team. But also I would say that the other part of this is to support junior members of staff. You know we want to be in a position where if there is a problem - let's say a technical problem with a programme - that any member of the production team feels they can confess there's a problem, they can share the problem, and share it with their boss on the programme, but if necessary share it with the public. It's much better to make a clean breast to the public if it's a problem than think the best thing is to take some Herculean and disastrous you know step into thinking if we deceive the public in some way we'll get away with it.

Gavin Esler: But that makes my point. There's been a management failure. Have you considered your position? Have you considered resigning?

Mark Thompson: I think what I want to say is this. Given the scale of what the BBC does, you know 400,000 hours of broadcast output, millions of web pages every year, we will - the nature of broadcasting, particularly live broadcasting is - we will see some serious mistakes. I think the way to judge me, the way to judge the whole leadership of the BBC is how we react to those mistakes and whether, if we discover weaknesses in our system, we've put things in place to reduce or eliminate those weaknesses entirely. That's what we're going to do. And I will be judged, the BBC Trust have made it very clear to me today that they will judge me and they will judge my colleagues on our success in taking this utterly seriously which I assure you we do. But then over the coming months putting in all the steps in place to make sure that these instances either never happen again - which of course is the ideal - or that that the chances of them happening is reduced to absolutely as small as it humanly can be.

Gavin Esler: Do you accept that the BBC licence fee is based on trust from the British public and tonight many people will be saying why should we trust the BBC?

Mark Thompson: Well I believe that in these instances we've let the public down very badly. What I would say is I hope that the public would also recognise that what we've done today, and what we've done over the last few months is try to be very open and honest about this issue. Both about the fact that it exists, to explore, I think more thoroughly than any other broadcaster I'm aware of, exactly to what extent this problem exists, how widespread it is, and also that we are totally committed to putting this right and in this respect fully winning back their confidence.

Gavin Esler: Thank you very much.

Mark Thompson: Thank you Gavin.

No comments: