Soon after having to apologise to The Queen, and being fined by the regulator for another offence a BBC inquiry has identified cheating on six television and radio programmes. This involved staff members posing as winners of various phone in competitions. Large numbers of viewers, who were charged for their calls, believed that they were participating in genuine competitions. (More details may be found in a report, “BBC phone-ins chose fake winners” by Andrew Pierce in the London Daily Telegraph, 18 July 2007, and in the BBC Trust’s statement.)
It is of course to the BBC’s credit that it has acted concerning these competitions. A more important issue is the application of proper editorial standards particularly when damaging information is released. Lord Hutton had identified this in his report on the suicide of Dr. David Kelly, for which he was ridicules by a former ABC Media Watch presenter, as we noted here on 3 April 2006. The other problem is bias. Again it is to the Corporation’s credit that, unlike some other public broadcasters , it accepts that this is a problem.
In the meantime, veteran BBC reporter Robin Aitken, wrote in The Australian on 23 July,2007 (“Left's long march overdue BBC end”) that the British public broadcaster's commitment to eradicate a liberal bias could influence the ABC. He recalls that it is said that the moment of maximum vulnerability for any empire is that point when its rulers decide that reform is needed. “Mikhail Gorbachev thought he was going to renew the Soviet system; instead he became its undertaker…[T]he BBC has decided to examine its record of impartiality and if it is serious about that, the consequences will be profound. What is more, if change comes to the BBC expect a domino effect: other public broadcasters around the world, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation included, could find the reformist pressure irresistible,” he writes.
Mr. Aitken is the author of “Can We Trust the BBC?” (Contonuum, 2007)