The BBC's win and fail of the week

BBC Broadcasting House

11 May 2020

It’s that time again. The BBC win and fail of the week. This week was one of strong contenders, but unfortunately more of them were to be found in the failure pile. 

As always we asked you to be the judge and no prizes this week’s BBC win. This was our shortlist:

  1. The proportion of teams reaching BBC’s 50:50 gender balance target increases
  2. Coronavirus: UK failed to stockpile crucial PPE (Personal protective equipment).
  3. The BBC will allow local commercial radio stations that are struggling to deliver a full news output during the coronavirus pandemic (through illness or isolation) to broadcast its local news bulletins.

The 50:50 project, which aims to increase women’s representation in BBC media content and journalism has made strides on gender representation over a few years, causing Nina Goswami, the BBC’s Creative Diversity Lead for 50:50 and News to say that this ‘suggests cultural change is taking hold at the BBC’.

Of the 600 teams that take part in the scheme, those that have reached the milestone is up from around a third (34%) to two-thirds (66%) since 2017. If you can only manage what you measure, then the BBC is leading in this. To our knowledge, there are no comparable schemes in the private media sector (with Project Diamond being voluntary leading to a lack of adequate data some say), showing the BBC’s ability to adapt and at least take steps to gender equality (though more on that later). While Channel 4, another public service broadcaster does have a ‘target of 50/50 gender split across the top 100 paid by 2023’, there do not appear to be gender targets for the rest of the workforce.

Similarly, the BBC is using its resources to help local radio, through offering news bulletins that they cannot provide during the crisis. And this is a great help to local radio stations with less resources - as well as to the communities they serve.

Of course the winner, as expected, with 85% of the votes was the BBC Panorama investigation into PPE failings. Going into detail on the timeline, speaking to a public health expert who is, in the BBC’s own words a ‘long-standing critic of the government’, and highlighting how the government ‘downgraded its guidance on PPE’ in March, the show shocked all who watched. 

Of the several revelations from the programme, one particularly shocking part was the documents from within the NHS Supply Chain which revealed that of the one billion items of PPE delivered ‘over half the items are surgical gloves. These are not the items there is a shortage of. And this number has been doubled by counting them per glove rather than per pair.

It continued, ‘the second-biggest item are plastic aprons. These have short sleeves and do not offer as much protection as medical gowns. One A&E doctor on Panorama described these aprons as “like something you would expect a dinner lady to wear. It’s like a pinny, it’s plastic, it’s flimsy. You put it round your neck. It does nothing.”

The list goes on, and you can read a brilliant summary here.

Yet even with all of these revelations, it was notable that the Panorama didn’t explore why this had happened and what decisions had been made by who, creating this complete system failure. It is happy to reveal facts, but refuses to highlight a system that enables these circumstances, or even hint at it. 

It leaves us lost in a wilderness of huge incompetence, when actually it was an ideology of privatisation and cost cutting that has led to this inadequate planning, this web of a supply chain and ultimately, avoidable deaths of loved ones. To learn how this happened, we really recommend reading John Lister’s piece for the Lowdown instead.

Now on to the failures. This week there was a panoply of options including:

  1. BBC Politics tweeting a get-well-soon card to Johnson instead of focussing on Britain's death tolls surpassing Italy's.
  2. Male experts are dominating on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC News at Ten and across the media at a rate of 2.7 men for every woman.
  3. No BBC Reporter asking a question regarding TUC's press conferences on Union concerns for a post-Lockdown plan, as highlighted by Aaron Bastani.

The top spot this week goes to the tweet about a get well soon card with 61% of the vote. It seems a joke that BBC Politics would choose to tweet a card to Boris Johnson on the day over Office for National Statistics figures which revealed that the UK had hit 30,000 deaths. This scandalous fact wasn’t covered at all on the BBC’s Politics twitter feed the entire day as Michael Walker noted. Their downplaying of this news was echoed in a piece entitled ‘Coronavirus: Can you compare the UK with Italy?’ Another more recent piece is titled ‘Italy death toll tops 30,000, highest in EU’, noting within the article that the UK is of course not part of the EU anymore therefore can’t be included in this count.

But unfortunately it isn’t a joke.

How can our public service broadcaster be so benevolent in its coverage of the coronavirus failures we’re seeing?

So benevolent that people like Owen Jones have started to praise Piers Morgan for holding the government to account.

A public service broadcaster that relies far too heavily on governmental support and upholding the status quo of profit over people. 

We need a BBC that is accountable to us, those who fund it and rely on it, with citizens who sit on the board representing a wider citizens panel that reflects us. We need a board that has no government appointments. And we need a BBC that is fairly funded by us all, so that the government doesn’t start bearing its teeth, as we saw when Oliver Dowden implied in a letter to Director General Tony Hall that the BBC Panorama was not of the ‘highest standards’ with regards to ‘impartiality’.

It needs all this and more. But we can only get there by fighting for a BBC that works for us. To help get there, join the campaign: It’s our BBC.

BBC Broadcasting House

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It's our BBC

It's clear that many in this government want to dismantle our BBC, and Rupert Murdoch's global media empire would benefit if he gets his way.

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The BBC is a national treasure, a public service we want to be proud of, with world class programmes and services. But the government is meddling in it and attacking it - with funding cuts of 30% since 2010.

If we don’t defend our BBC, we’ll end up with nothing but Facebook and a Fox News style media, which will damage our democracy and hand yet more power to billionaire moguls.

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Dear Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP and Rt Hon Prime Minister Boris Johnson,

We call on you to protect OUR BBC for the future.

  • Make sure the BBC stays a publicly owned and funded broadcaster which makes programmes for everyone. The BBC is the best of British, from Eastenders and the Archers to Match of the Day, from Planet Earth to the World Service, Radio 1 and 1Xtra to Radio 3 and 6Music.
  • We need a proper process to make sure the BBC has fair, sustainable funding, while protecting vulnerable groups. Just like the NHS, the BBC needs to work for everyone no matter where they live or what their background is. The government should stop funding cuts and pay for over 75s, as they used to, along with low income groups.
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