Peter Mukerjea: Never let a crisis go to waste…

19 Nov,2012

By Peter Mukerjea


The UK media the last week has been dominated by the events at the BBC. Yes – the BBC. First, with allegations, made by over 450 people, who have now come forward after three or four decades, on a TV celeb – the late Jimmy Saville, a one-time Radio Jockey and TV show presenter at the BBC. They have accused him of sexually abusing them as children when they had come across him during their visits to the BBC.


Several other TV celebrities have been arrested and bailed in this connection and a public enquiry has been commissioned by the Government. The enquiry is headed by a respected news man called Nick Pollard – former Head of Sky News who was also later appointed by me as a consultant / advisor to NewsX in its early days, for over a year. Nick’s report and findings are now awaited.


Meanwhile, last week, the very recently (barely two months ago) appointed Director-General of the BBC resigned as a result of a poorly and inaccurately produced daily News programme, Newsnight, where there were accusations saying that a Lord McAlpine had, many years ago, sexually abused children who were under the care of the state at the time. The news programme producers had not bothered to check their facts and simply went ahead and named him, and of course he denied it. As a consequence of this level of inaccuracy and irresponsibility, the Director General resigned and a few others have been suspended pending further internal enquiries.


Now, we’re talking of the BBC. One of the most respected, most watched news organizations in the world and they got it wrong and did not have enough measures in place to ensure that the story they ran with was checked for accuracy. And the man at the top took immediate responsibility and stepped down. That certainly wasn’t the case for the head of another news organisation where phone-hacking was conducted on an industrial scale.


Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” These words have been heeded by all those people who are detractors of the BBC and find its existence to be completely against their free-market, anti-regulation ideals. They are certainly not allowing this situation at the BBC to go to waste. So they exaggerate the sins at the BBC and simultaneously minimize the crimes of their friends at another news organization currently under investigation, even though the police have now identified more than 4,000 people as possible victims of phone hacking, including the families of dead soldiers, relatives of people killed in terror attacks and a murdered schoolgirl.


The media seem to be getting polarized – those for the BBC and those against.


The Newsnight programme screwup has provided the perfect veil for an attack on the BBC and what we are witnessing is a coordinated assault on its reputation and output. The BBC is by far the biggest and best broadcaster in the world and to try and delegitimize or dismantle the BBC based on two screwups by the same news programme is grossly unfair given that over the years there have been a series of award-winning programmes watched by millions around the world – and consistently, year after year. Figures released by the BBC confirm that over 96 percent of the people in the UK consume BBC programmes each week.


An Ofcom (the office of the communications regulator in the UK) survey in Nov 2011 stated that 59 percent of the people said the Beeb was the news source they most trusted. The next was ITV News at 7 percent! “No newspaper reached 2 percent,” the reporters added.


I believe that the BBC, despite its many faults, should be protected from its right-wing enemies so as to preserve high-quality, non-partisan public service broadcasting. Earlier in the week gone by the Director-General was publicly taken to task by no other than one of his own employees in a one-on-one radio interview. Which other news media company would entertain that? Not many, I would think. The BBC have accepted their mistake, lost their DG and paid an out-of-court settlement of 185,000 Pounds (almost Rs 1.5 crore) to the falsely accused Lord. All of this goes some way to preserve its reputation and dedication to honest, fair, unbiased, incisive reporting. Maybe this crisis will enable the BBC to emerge, as a better, bolder and more robust news organization that what there is presently.


I also wonder how many news organizations in India would take this approach – pay a fine, take the rap and follow up diligently with an internal enquiry if they report on a story where the reported facts are wrong and have been aired unchecked. Not many, I don’t think – at least not in a hurry. But let’s live in hope that maybe, just maybe, one day in India we will get DD to a similar state of play and be seen by the world as having a world-class broadcaster which reaches out to the free people of the largest democracy in the world.


Either way, it’s a good reality check and a lesson in not letting a crisis go to waste.


Peter Mukerjea, celebrated media professional and former CEO of Star India, mulls frequently for


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One response to “Peter Mukerjea: Never let a crisis go to waste…”

  1. Sai Nagesh says:

    Hey Pete, We are a long way off. The Government has no credibility and hence any institution owned by it has no takers (except for the SBI & LIC !!). As far as private guys go, they first have to stop shouting & screaming on the screen, stop sitting on judgement, do responsible reporting, follow through a story to it’s ending rather than using it only for sensationalism & TRPs….the situation that u wish for ( and all of us too !) a long time away !!