July 25, 2007

Expect Grade Inflation Here

How badly has the BBC's reputation been damaged in its game-show scandals and false allegations of prima donna behavior by the Queen? Its executives now will teach courses on honesty to its staff -- apparently a subject with which the BBC lacks familiarity:

John Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman will be required to join Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, on a mandatory new training programme to teach honesty to BBC staff.

The Safeguarding Trust course is being set up as part of the damage limitation exercise by the corporation after the revelation that six children's and charity television programmes had misled viewers.

Mark Byford, the deputy director general, giving evidence to a Commons Culture Select Committee yesterday, said all employees, no matter how senior or famous, would have to attend the course if involved in making programmes.

Mr Byford, who was giving evidence with Caroline Thomson, the chief operating officer, said: "Everyone must be reminded about what the BBC stands for and what trust is."

First, speaking as a former mid-level manager, the best course in honesty is a good and public firing for dishonesty. If an employee lies and perpetrates frauds, immediate termination usually sends a pretty clear message to the rest of the organization. If, as in this case, an entire business unit conspired to act dishonestly, lopping off the first level of management sends an even clearer message.

Believe me, a few people getting their desks cleared out by Security has an impact on the rest of the staff, especially when the people fired are rather high-level managers and executives. Word gets around .

Besides, if the BBC acts dishonestly, it's because it has dishonest people -- and they will not be moved to honesty through management lectures. BBC executives can hand out all the internal training certificates they print, but if they still have dishonest staff at the end of the day, the only thing they will have learned is to cover their tracks better. If they want to take this seriously, BBC executives should set up an anonymous tipline that reports to an independent panel with the authority to conduct investigations and publicize the results. And once the investigations reveal dishonesty, the terminations can commence forthwith.

That's not even the best, or worst, part of this story. The BBC is a news organization as well as an entertainment company -- and it's funded through forced public contributions. What does the need for Honesty School say about the BBC's commitment to truth in its reporting? What does it tell the British taxpayer and license holder about the value they have received for subsidizing an organization that not only acts dishonestly, but then has no clue how to cleanse itself?

An organization with responsibility to stockholders instead of living off of government subsidies would know how to handle this situation. Honesty School is nothing more than a desperate dodge to fool people into the next con game.


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Comments (8)

Posted by Dan Collins | July 25, 2007 7:29 AM

Technically, the Queen is the prima donna, but I take your point.

Posted by Bennett | July 25, 2007 7:32 AM

If you haven't learned honesty by the time you're old enough to be employed by the BBC, it's probably too late to expect much of a change. It's all situational ethics, that's what most journalists seem to believe in these days. It doesn't seem to matter if the "facts" are unknown or even wrong as long as the "narrative" is right (according to Evan Thomas, Newsweek reporter, in his explanation of the media's rush to judgment in connection with the Nifong/Duke rape scandal).

Posted by Rovin | July 25, 2007 7:46 AM

Of course an "Honesty School" here in the states would never work-----unless it was the size of Texas.

Posted by NahnCee | July 25, 2007 8:39 AM

If the Beeb has as high a percentage of employees named "Mohammad" as I think it does, I'm certain that their definition of "honesty" is quite different from mine. Isn't one of the precepts of Islam that it's alright to lie to non-believers, and it's also OK to lie to promote Islam.

The Beeb probably cannot fire employees named "Mohammad" even should it want to -- and I'm not at all convinced that their reflexive anti-American bias is not welcomed by the English persons in charge. Therefore, their only other option is to try to explain what the concept of "honesty" is in the West and why it would be a good idea to behave that way, since presumably these people have never had access to that information before.

Posted by docjim505 | July 25, 2007 10:24 AM

Bennett hits the mark. The problem is that "honesty" - reporting facts as they are known and admitting when they are NOT known - is not part of the average reporter's ethic. These are people who grew up during the '60s and '70s and want to change the world. Well! You don't change the world doing something as pedestrian as merely reporting facts. The Greater Good must be served! If that means that some facts must be omitted while others are stressed, or even made up from whole cloth, then that's OK.

I think that there's also a personal motive at work. ANYBODY can report facts or quote a source. It must be rather hard for a "professional" journalist to admit that his job can really be done by a bright eighth grader. So, what separates the "world class" journalist from the rawest cub working at the Podunk Daily Bugle? A nose for the news! For the sensational! A grip on the pulse of the public and a sure knowledge of what they WANT (or need) to know about! Now get out there and earn that Pulitzer! Get the exclusive! And if you don't actually leave your stool at the bar just down the street from your office when you're writing about events two thousand miles away, that's OK. Serve the greater good and SELL PAPERS!

Posted by lexhamfox | July 25, 2007 12:41 PM

Ed, do a little research on British media and you will find that there is plenty of government and independent oversight and many different avenues for employees and the public to file complaints and provide feedback. The BBC's core mission is also to educate... you don't seem to be familiar with the regulations, the oversight, or the content. The BBC continues to provide better news and programming than any other outlet. As long as the left and the right are bitching about bias, the BBC are probably getting it just about right. I'm glad the phone in competitions are on the way out... they are completely irritating despite the funds that they raise for numerous good causes and charities. The BBC has uncovered most of these issues on their own after reviewing over a million hours of programming and performing a rigorous review of their content. The Queen promo which quite rightly received so much criticism was outsourced. The BBC will continue to evolve and will continue to have issues but no other news organ receives anything like the independent oversight that the BBC receives. Funny Ed.... if you were really so outraged at dishonesty then let's see you write about Lord Black and the bitch Amiel.... I doubt that will happen and I doubt those shareholders will be able to recover all their money.

Posted by Sue | July 25, 2007 1:23 PM

They are wasting their time. If you don't know what honesty is by the time you're 5-7, you will not be able to learn.

Posted by MarkD | July 25, 2007 1:43 PM

They are wasting their time. Credibility, once lost, is very hard to rebuild.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

They should be fired, and sued for the damage they've caused to the BBC's reputation. Were that to happen, I'd rethink my opinion.