Darcus Howe - sticks up for the BBC

If the BBC is in trouble, it will undermine the rest of British broadcasting

I have spent the past 25 years of my life in the broadcasting business, having worked at ITV, the BBC (radio and TV) and Channel 4. Always, the BBC was the core around which all else functioned. For example, at Channel 4, all the chief executives had worked at the BBC: Jeremy Isaacs (former producer of Panorama), Michael Grade and Michael Jackson (both former BBC TV directors of programmes), and now Mark Thompson (formerly BBC director of television).

The second-line leadership is also drawn largely from the BBC, as are most of the independent sector programme-makers. Unless you understand that, you cannot understand the BBC.

It is equally important to understand that, prior to Greg Dyke's entry as director general, the big ship was listing badly. John (now Lord) Birt had introduced the internal market by diktat. He did not take the staff along with him, leaving disenchantment in every nook and cranny of the organisation. Scores of experienced staff left. Dyke had begun to resettle the BBC. He was as good as any of his predecessors and probably better than most.

But always at such moments of transition, when the old is finished and the new not quite established, an organisation is vulnerable to an imp or two. Enter Andrew Gilligan to practise his trade clumsily in a crucial area. The rest is history. Lord Hutton - a third-rate law lord, compared to others who sit on the Privy Council, such as Lord Steyn - honed in on where the BBC was vulnerable. He had no sense of its strengths.

The demoralisation of the staff, from captain to cook, is complete. Just as the BBC in better times was able to lift the broadcasting industry, so now its sad condition is likely to undermine the rest of British broadcasting.

If Hutton had seen this background, Gilligan would have been viewed in context: an imp at large and no more than that. All the talk of editorial controls and systems is so much tosh. I couldn't believe my ears when editors of newspapers boasted of their perfect systems. How, I asked myself, had I been so badly and so often misquoted and maligned when I was involved in radical activism?

The truth is that, on the issue of the Iraq war, the gods - Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair - have been insulted. They and their authoritarian clique will stop at nothing to score the tiniest of points. Not even the mighty BBC is to be spared.

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