Sunday, October 14, 2007

BBC's Sir Michael Lyons Interview on Andrew Marr

Fascinating interview with the BBC's Chairman of the Board of Trustees - the round table guardians of the BBC - in expectation of a crunch meeting this wednesday, when this global institution will learn its fate.

In the new economy, it will be smaller; a default from securing less money from the government.

Anyone, anyone, worth their salt in programming, broadcasting and net thingamajigees will be studying this outcome.

For its true that when the BBC sneezes collectively many institutions reach for a handkerchief.

It was a robust performance from the Chairman; what would you expect, but I disagree on one crucial point.

Sir Michael would rather BBC journalists, the top flight ones, not discuss the BBC's affairs in public. Servicemen and civil servants, even the private sector would possibly understand this.

To paraphrase Sir Michael, he wants that debate to happen internally and that it has an impact on the public's confidence when they hear what really should be an kept in house.

He's right!

Tust and some
But throughout the interview he emphasised the trust factor required of the public.

Those two issues rub. If you can't be honest and open with your spouse, how can I trust you darling.

The BBC has a marriage of millions, not just with its employees, but those who pay for it.

So I may choose not to engage as a shareholder, but I should, I believe, have the option of hearing what's being said; participating in the debate.

The perception I supppose is that there has not been enough. This is Labour's territory.

Go through the land with a rolling travelling show asking people what they think.

A good honest open frank discussion. Not a Mactaggert, though incisive as that is.

Not a yearly one-off public 'fess, but a chance to have your say.

Then, then, if you want to get on with your public policy. . .

You could argue programmes like Newsnight continually push that kind of debate. You might ask whether that's beeen enough?

Trouble is, and you only have to look at some of the BBC blogs to get an idea of some people whose idea of a contribution is to lob a cynical grenade into the fray.

Lots of collateral damage. Is it worth it?

Are the two ideals mutually exclusive?

"Jim we're going to have to let them say something".
"Yes but how efficient will it all be in the end"

The heart of the matter
At heart you sense a couple of things.

Of course any manager would prefer to manage its public face and also respect the mechanism of employer-employee trust.

That's why you won't hear google men and women speak anything but good tidings about their company.

For employees who often feel they're not being listened to, dropping tiddle bits of info to the press is a resort, before if anything you go nuclear and put your face to critical messages.

In physics as in good PR, any seasoned media practitioner will say: If persuasion fails, force is then applied. It's a negotiating position looking for your break point.

Moving on, the cuts will hurt, anyway you look at it, but it's also worth considering this: the BBC is a huge and brill institution. Channel 4 is a huge and brill institution. Channel 4 operates at least within its newsroom on a fraction of the news budget BBC uses.

That doesn't make it right to chop at the BBC, but it illustrates there is a working practice to be met, which will not tear the heart out of this august institution.

Often friends and colleagues muse over what could be done with a BBC blanket. I'm not suggesting IM6 Videojournalism is the norm for everyone, but it is cost efficient and works.

The debate about the BBC's future should be "extremely transparent". For, if anything, it the BBC benefits from hearing from people like you and the solutions you might have to offer.

Once, managing PR was acceptable, but the world has changed. A new open source dominates, where people want and demand to be part of a conversation. That does not amount to anarachy.

Take on board the lesson of how Linux - open souce software - became so mighty.

Trust, that very word is what governs an instiution I have been a member for 14 years, Chatham House, which created the Chatham House Rule.

So, it's possible to engage with people with reciprocal trust, with the effect that they will stay stuum. There's still a wad of things I won't talk about because of this.

If people do feel secure in their jobs, they'll tow the line - even within the army ranks. but it's an old tactic which we will never be rid of.

When you feel threatened, when change beckons, when an unknown future sits at odds with traditional ways, anything you say regarding the direction of a company that doens't look to feed it, will make people nervous.

Consider those who have been part of the structure for a good while; it is a second home, and its about to be, well, made smaller. Big Brother -who stays and who goes, except you don't decide

If it's not broke why fix it.

On the other hand if its's not broken, how do you know the underlying structure doesn't warrant a look and a bit of modernising.

Link here for David's work at the BBC in the early 90s and here for one of his news features for Channel 4 News.

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