Sunday, November 11, 2012

It Wasn't Me...

So sayeth Bart Simpson and Shaggy, anyway. The reggae singer, not the Scooby Doo character.

Yesterday, the BBC Director General George Entwistle decided that even though the whole Saville/McAlpine/child abuse mess started before he was even in the job and he has no direct editorial control over Newsnight, he should take the bullet for the BBC's collective mistakes.

It was the act of an honourable man, throwing himself in the way of the criticism his staff and his organisation have received of late in the hope that by doing so it would free them to carry on doing their jobs out of the spotlight.

He could easily have sought out those directly responsible for the editorial errors that led to this mess and make an example of them. Nobody works to their potential when they are looking over their shoulders in fear however, so Entwistle decided that if anyone was going to go, it should be him.

Contrast if you will with those who are running newspapers in the UK. The phone hacking scandal centred around News International publications. Ultimately, the newspapers were under the control of Rupert Murdoch and his son James.

Both have consistently denied responsibility for the actions of those below them in the managerial chain, many of whom have subsequently either fallen on their swords or been dismissed. The Murdochs justified their stance on the basis that as heads of such a massive organisation they couldn't possibly have day to day control or knowledge of how their businesses operated.

Back in December 2010 when Bristol landscape architect Jo Yeates went missing, the UK newspapers were almost unanimous in pointing the finger at her landlord Christopher Jefferies, on no more scientific a basis than "he looked a bit of a wrong 'un".

Jefferies brought successful libel actions against several newspapers for the allegations aimed at him. Both The Sun (a News International publication) and The Daily Mirror were also found guilty of contempt of court for publishing information that could have prejudiced a fair trial.

All in all, a not particularly glorious period in the history of the British press.The number of editors, directors and CEOs of newspapers who resigned as a result of the potentially prejudicial errors in their reporting of the Yeates case? Zero. Not one.

And yet, some of those same editors and CEOs have been driving the agenda of blame aimed at the BBC over recent weeks. Hypocrisy doesn't even begin to describe it.

Clearly some of them could have benefited from taking lessons in corporate responsibility from George Entwistle. It is arguably they who should have been spending their weekend considering their position, rather than him.

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