'The rot set in at the BBC 30 years ago when Oxbridge clever dicks ousted seasoned journalists'

Comment by former BBC journalist Michael Cole

I am sad to see the BBC in crisis but not surprised. The rot set in years 30 years ago when the Oxbridge clever dicks ousted the seasoned journalists who had made BBC News trusted around the world.

I saw it happen. When I joined the BBC in 1968, the senior journalists were people who’d learned their trade on regional and national newspapers. They would rather have died than broadcast an unchecked story, as Newsnight did, disastrously.

Richard Baker read the news but it was those unseen journalists the viewers trusted. Twelve million was the average audience for the TV evening news.

Current Affairs, full of would-be intellectuals straight from university despised the news hacks but envied their audience figures.

News had to be brought down. First, it was moved from Alexandra Palace to TV Centre. Then it lost its independent budget and was subsumed into the television service. This allowed Current Affairs to infiltrate people with impressive degrees but not a clue about news.

No wonder BBC bulletins today struggle to get an audience of two million. Anyone wanting more than the BBC’s left-ish agenda watches ITN or SKY.

The BBC’s most respected bosses of the past 40 years became journalists outside the BBC. Ian Trethowan, Director General 1977-82, told me he began by cycling around Wymondham, Norfolk, collecting the news. Greg Dyke trained on the same weekly newspaper group as I did. Michael

Grade was on the Daily Mirror when we first met.

None went to university, nor did John Humphrys, whose interview with George Entwistle revealed that the Director General had not seen the Newsnight report, smearing a senior Tory as a pederast, prior to transmission. Humphrys acquired his skills on the Western Mail but his interview did for his boss, who resigned later that day.

Did Newsnight make any checks before broadcasting its defamatory story? I know the man targeted but not named in that report. His brother is a friend. I could have told Newsnight with certainty that it had the wrong man.

When the News of the World was alleged to have hacked Milly Dowler’s mobile, its proprietor Rupert Murdoch was so devastated he closed the paper, throwing hundreds out of work.

Newsnight is visibly dying of shame. It’s a ghost of its former self. Exorcism would be a kindness.

Absurdly overpaid BBC news bosses are now “stepping aside”.

Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, hints of sackings. He should consider his own position. He’s been there throughout this debacle. He appointed Entwistle.

To regain the trust of the public and respect of the staff, Entwistle’s successor must be untainted by a BBC system in which buck-passing is an art form.

The new Director General must have solid journalistic experience at a high level. A degree from a posh university guarantees nothing. For too long, the BBC has been the private playground of the exam-passing classes. That must stop.

Only a top journalist from outside the Corporation can impose the rigorous standards needed to restore the BBC’s reputation for truth and accuracy, earned over 90 years but now in great danger.

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