Today must be one of those days when Mark Thompson feels as if he can please no one. The BBC director general is under fire after he was photographed entering Downing Strreet, where he received a dressing-down from Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s director of strategy, over the corporation’s coverage of the government’s spending cuts.
The offending item was a briefing note (inadvertently revealed by Thompson) from Helen Boaden, BBC News director, revealing the subject of the meeting and that she recently had lunch with Andy Coulson, who expressed concern “that we give context to our Spending Review Season”.
BBC staff and Labour MPs have rightly questioned whether such behaviour is consistent with the corporation’s political independence. A senior BBC staffer said: “What the fuck’s he doing going in to see Hilton anyway? Management and editorial should be completely separate.”
The latest row over BBC impartiality began after Thompson declared, in an exclusive interview with the NS, that there had been a “massive bias to the left” in the past. The director general’s words have handed the BBC’s critics new ammunition with which to assault the corporation.
Today’s Daily Mail gleefully asks: “Is the ‘biased’ BBC now trying to cosy up to the coalition?” The fact that Thompson was referring to the BBC of 1979 has already been lost and his comments now appear rather naive.
Meanwhile, he is accused of being too close to a government that is likely to cut the licence fee and which welcomes the continuing expansion of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
When the BBC can please neither its friends nor its enemies, something has gone badly wrong.