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Public confidence in the BBC

The general’s resignation over an ongoing scandal is an example of responsibility

 he BBC is a British public company with a global reach. For that reason, any false step that affects its reliability has repercussions that extend far beyond the world of journalism in the UK, where the gap in terms of credibility with other media is huge. Last year an opinion poll showed that the BBC is the medium most trusted by 59 percent of British people, far ahead of any other television network, not to mention the written press.

In the course of one decade, the resignation of two director generals on account of scandals related to shortcomings in professionalism and journalistic ethics is a serious matter. Particularly when the most recent resignation, that of George Entwistle, is connected with a false assertion made on a mainstream news program, Newsnight, that a former top Conservative politician had been involved in a case of child abuse. The previous scandal, a few weeks earlier, had to do with how the network had, for many years, covered up the notorious pedophilia of one of its star presenters, the late Jimmy Savile.

As was only to be expected, the media pack belonging to the magnate Rupert Murdoch is now in full cry around the BBC, which not long ago was unsparing in its criticism of the telephone-hacking practices in general use throughout the Murdoch press.

But, as was pointed out by the chairman of the BBC Trust, the Conservative politician Chris Patten, the BBC organization does need “a thorough, radical structural overhaul.” Probably one particularly desirable change would be a separation of the positions of principal executive and head of content, which have so far been joined in the post of director general. This is a structural situation that was already scheduled for reexamination in 2017.

In any case, the resignation of Entwistle, who had taken over the post only 54 days earlier, as well as the temporary suspension from functions of the head of news and of her deputy, and, more in general, the high degree of introspection in search of internal failures, all demonstrate the professional and moral stature of the BBC.

On the other hand, after less than two months in the post, Entwistle has departed with a golden handshake equivalent to 560,000 euros, his yearly salary, a sum that comes out of the 4.3 billion euros per year of television license fees, which have to be paid by all British television owners, whether they watch the BBC or not.

We can only add that it would be satisfying indeed, were the Spanish public television systems to show anything like this level of ethical responsibility for the journalistic rigor of their content, and were they to show anything like the BBC’s independence from political control. Even amid its troubles, the BBC is still an example.

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