The BBC has had a difficult week, and the revelations as to how Martin Bashir’s interview with the then Princess of Wales was secured are indeed troubling. There are issues here of apparently inadequate editorial supervision of journalists and of the culture of the BBC at the time, including its attitude to those who raised concerns internally. It is legitimate to ask whether the picture painted is of a BBC that no longer exists or whether these deficiencies persist, and, if the latter, to consider whether regulatory or even legislative changes are needed. The most damaging effect of this episode however may be the loss of trust in the BBC it causes.
This is a challenging time for the BBC anyway – questions about its funding model as subscription services grow, changing habits of viewers who would rather stream at their convenience than watch what’s on, and the proliferation of online sources of news and entertainment all have to be responded to. Certainly in relation to the last challenge, the BBC has been able to rely on the high degree of trust viewers tend to place in its content. More than a few of us go to the BBC website to check the veracity of what we see online. That trust is a precious and fragile commodity. It matters because authoritative and properly researched journalism from public service broadcasters like the BBC is a large part of the antidote to ‘fake news’ - the opinion, speculation and often delusion masquerading as fact on the internet in particular.
We need that good, trustworthy journalism to thrive, not to be undermined by cases like this one. There are many of course, including in politics, who complain about the BBC and sometimes they are right to. It’s worth noting though that every Government complains at some point about the BBC’s bias against it. A few who would like it dismantled altogether. I am not among them. You only have to watch US TV news for an hour or two to know how lucky we are to have the BBC. For all its flaws, it is an important component of our national brand and of our ‘soft power’, as well as providing news we can trust. It must continue to do so.