Thursday, July 19, 2007

Let them eat lies

During the BSE crisis and Edwina's egg scare there were a lot of column inches devoted to restoring "consumer confidence" but comparatively few that asked "is our food safe to eat?" so when the BBC start going on about restoring the public's "trust" in the brand I am immediately reminded of these past reactions to PR disasters / health hazards.

Whilst for some it might be a dilemma to decide whether it is better to be trusted or be trustworthy for me I'd rather be someone principled and straight forward than simply thought to be so. I wonder whether the board of Trustees will be focusing on restoring trust or ensuring the organisation is worthy of our trust.

It's not just semantics - what will they do if they discover more wrongdoing? Expose it, investigate it, try to purge the BBC of problematic people or sweep it under the carpet, knowing that further revelations could damage the brand irrevocably. Or perhaps they'll weigh up their chances first and see what they can get away with.

Right now there are BBC staff who know of mendacity and are keeping it to themselves, possibly worried for their jobs, or their co-workers. Possibly just frightened of adding to the crisis. None of them are helping the media become a more transparent and reliable source of information. It's completely understandable to be afraid for your job or of the reaction of your colleagues but it's also true that sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing.

When it was thought to be the case of one lie I had some sympathy. Blue Peter had technical problems and at the last minute made a silly mistake rather than take the harder path, but when it turns out to be systematic lies on flagship programmes then that's another matter and cannot be put down to bad apples but a managerial culture..

PinocioThe mud slide started with the revelation that the BBC had tried to stitch up the Queen. Now, it's one thing swapping round footage of striking miners to make it look like they attacked the police when they had defended themselves, it is quite another to try to sensationalise a story against the Queen's interest. They may realise now that she is not someone to cross, did Paul Burrell teach them nothing?

You can lie about Chavez but not about our own elites. For them it's all about what kind of lies you tell, and about whom. For me I'd like us to strive to be as honest as we can be. Self critical and willing to give our "opponents" their due. After all even the BBC's director general has said that casualisation and poor management has put lower ranking staff in an impossible position when they are out of their depth or witness to unethical behaviour.

As an aside it's hilarious to see papers like the Daily Telegraph holding their hands up in mock outrage when just yesterday they were being investigated for elections offenses in regards to the Ealing Southall by-election - on top of a long history of poor acquaintance with the truth.

The unexpected side effect of these phone in quizzes that have been polluting the air waves for so many years now is that any media lie that can be brought out into the open is going to be taken one hundred times more seriously. It's something we should use to our best advantage whilst we can. I know it's a long shot - but surely it's worth a try.

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