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8 January 2016

Does the BBC have questions to answer about Stephen Doughty’s resignation?

Left-wing critics of the Corporation should be careful: they may get exactly what they ask for.

By Stephen Bush

Earlier this week, I appeared on the BBC to say positive things about the reshuffle (mostly). Beforehand, one of the producers rung to discuss whether I could do it – and what I thought about the reshuffle. The presenter, Clive Myrie, had a pretty good idea how I’d answer the questions before I answered them – although I think my decision to use not one but two convoluted metaphors came as something of a shock.

Elsewhere, the BBC is under fire for inviting another Stephen, junior frontbencher Stephen Doughty, onto the Daily Politics, in full knowledge that he was going to resign live on air, and scheduling it for maximum “impact”. 

Are these two stories examples of the same type of behaviour – or did the latter cross some kind of line? Some people seem to think so, with raised by the Corbyn-supporting blogger Quizzical Eyebrow:

But I also don’t believe that it’s the job of the BBC to ‘make an impact’ in the way that the Daily Politics team clearly set out to do. The blog, now deleted, twice mentions making a big impact. Yes, the journalists will argue, this is precisely what we intend when we break stories. We want to make public something that has current importance, to bring it the maximum attention.

Are they right? Well, that’s certainly closer to the early spirit of the BBC – and if you listen to old radio broadcasts or watch the surviving parts of the BBC’s early election night specials (1955 and 1959), the coverage is much more staid, much less scripted – and, unsurprisingly, ripe to be gazumped by its more exciting commercial rivals, as the Corporation was so decisively by ITV in the first decade of its life.

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There’s certainly an argument to be made for a BBC far closer to the ideals of John Reith, its first Director-General. The problem then is that what the left is arguing for is a BBC a lot like the one that some on the right dream of: paid for by almost everybody, watched by almost nobody, able to be eliminated without a murmur by its opponents in the right-wing press. People wishing for a staid BBC should think very carefully.