5. BBC culture In this thesis, I examine the BBC's organisational culture as a factor in its relationship with politics – but the BBC's organisational culture has long held fascination as an object of study in itself. This fascination exists because the BBC has a corporate culture which is now, or has historically, been seen as strong, coherent, 'value-imbued', widely-held, and confident; capable of being reified as a “'BBC ethos', even... a 'BBC type'”.1 The strength, coherence, consistency, and persistence of this organisational culture can all be called into question. Some see the unity over time of this corporate identity as questionable. For Tom Burns, the BBC did have a strong corporate culture built around the 'Reithian consensus' – but this consensus was called into question by a competitor culture, a culture of 'professionalism', at the same time as increased unionisation led to more dissonant, particularistic claims. Descriptions of separate and competing 'baronies' within the BBC call into question the corporate culture's unity across divisions. Those in Drama, for example, gripe at the remarkable trajectories of those from News & Current Affairs, a cross between the BBC's Praetorian Guard and its Brains Trust.2 Others see the strength of this corporate identity as variable over time. Anthropologist Georgina Born argues that the managerial reforms pursued by former Director-General John Birt have led to “the only values that are essential to the BBC, those specific to its core activities”, being “undermined”, whilst those of Birt's successor, Greg Dyke, were “necessary, well judged, and highly productive”.3 This chapter is not as richly textured as the accounts of Burn, Briggs or Born. For reasons of comparability, focus, and space, it focuses on three aspects of the BBC's 1 Burns 1977, p. 44 2 Born 2005, pp. 69, 78 – 79. 3 Born 2005, pp. 250, 6 organisational culture: the degree to which values are shared across the organisation, the existence of action-guiding norms which enshrine those values, levels of turnover, and relationships with other, competing cultures. I find a high level of agreement on the key values of independence and due accuracy and impartiality, and extensively-revised procedure regulating the implementation of these values. Levels of turnover were lower than those found in RAI. Most intriguingly, I do not find levels of contact with politics that were, in a quantitative sense, much lower than those found at RAI: BBC executives reported meeting with politicians as much as executives at RAI. The key difference is instead a qualitative one: BBC executives tend to initiate such contacts as part of an overall lobbying strategy. The BBC's stated values The three values at the intersection of legal requirements and the BBC’s own statement of values are independence, impartiality, and due accuracy.4 The value of independence is listed in the BBC's Statement of Values: it is also to be found in the current Royal Charter and Agreement. The 1996 Charter stated that there shall be an “independent corporation... to provide broadcasting services”;5 the Agreement provided, for the first time, a guarantee that the BBC “shall be independent in all matters concerning the content of its programmes and the times at which they are broadcast or transmitted and in the management of its affairs”.6 These guarantees follow, rather than establish, convention. The 1924 Crawford Committee recommended that “the Commissioners [sic.., Governors] should be invested 4 BBC 2005, p. 2 5 Charter, preamble. 6 Agreement, Article 2.1 with the maximum of freedom which Parliament is prepared to concede”.7 By 1951, the Beveridge Committee on Broadcasting was able to note that, whilst the government's formal powers over the BBC were “absolute”, “it has become the agreed policy of successive Governments… that the corporation should be independent of the Government in the day to day conduct of its business, including both the making of programmes for broadcasting and general administration”.8 Due impartiality, rather than its close cousins of balance, objectivity and neutrality, has been the rather studied choice of term used to regulate the BBC’s output on matters controversial and otherwise. The concept appears in broadcasting law almost fully formed. The original BBC Agreement made no mention of due impartiality, a requirement unnecessary in a period when the BBC’s independent news production was limited. Only after the war did the concept of impartiality emerge as the guiding light for the BBC’s news coverage. Labour’s 1946 White Paper on Broadcasting Policy argued that the decision to allow the BBC to broadcast on controversial matters had been made “in the belief that the Corporation would ensure that such subjects would be treated with complete impartiality”.9 ‘Due impartiality’ became a requirement for the new-born ITV eight years later with the 1954 Television At, and the BBC gave private assurances to the Postmaster-General that it too followed the policy of treating controversial subjects with due impartiality.10 By the mid-seventies “the requirement of impartiality” had long been “a matter of interior conscience, not external command”.11 7 Great Britain. Broadcasting Committee 1925. 8 Great Britain. Broadcasting Committee 1949, §28 9 Parliament. 1946, §20 10 Munro, C.R. 1979, p. 10 11 Curran, C. 1975. It was a paradoxical measure of the success of this broadcasters’ watchword that the 1977 Annan committee felt able to write that “the notion of due impartiality is under siege… attacked by sociologists who point out that no-one can be perfectly impartial”, and regarded warily by those who “see it as a snare spread over the broadcasters’ output so that politicians and others, with the aid of programme recordings and stopwatches, can trap the broadcasters by showing that they are giving inadequate coverage to the views which their critics favour”.12 The term survived, and was incorporated into the 1990 Broadcasting Act and the later Communications Act of 2003. The BBC’s formulation – the most detailed, and an improvement on that formulation offered by the Annan committee – states that impartiality requires “a wide range of subject matter and views broadcast over an appropriate time scale [which should] reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented”13 ‘Due impartiality’ is impartiality “adequate and appropriate to output”, and “does not require the representation of every argument or facet of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view”.14 It does not “narrow news coverage to a series of indisputable facts”15 but allows “professional judgements”.16 Due accuracy is a “core editorial value”17 and a legal requirement of the BBC.18 More than just “getting the facts right”, accuracy requires the weighing of competing or 12 Great Britain. Committee of Inquiry on the Future of Broadcasting 1977, §17.8 13 BBC, “Editorial Guidelines”, p. 26 14 ibid, p. 27 15 Patricia Hodgson, quoted in Gardam 2004. 16 ibid, p. 16 17 ibid. 18 Agreement §5.1c conflicting material.19 As before, ‘due’ means ‘adequate and appropriate to the output’, and does not require a ‘God’s eye’ view of the facts. The above values – independence, due impartiality, and due accuracy – are the three values most often claimed by the BBC, and most relevant for a study of its relationship with politics. But “no agreement on standards at senior levels of the BBC has any value if there do not exist effective means of communicating those standards to those who have to put them into practice”.20 How do the principal stated values of the BBC find expression in the work of the Corporation, and do they command widespread agreement? The BBC’s lived values From the frequency with which the BBC’s own terms were incorporated into law, it should come as no surprise that the level of interpretation and effort spent on communicating the BBC’s core editorial values is high. Three aspects are relevant. First, all of the core editorial values are subject to detailed exegesis in the Editorial Guidelines. Second, effort is put into disseminating these values, their requirements, and how to put them into practice. Third, and consequently, understandings of these values have become more widely shared than was the case twenty years ago. The BBC began to codify its policy on core editorial values over forty years ago. The first formal statement of editorial policy was found in the 1959 Code on the Use of Violence. Over the next thirty years, the BBC would adopt a variety of policies, subsequently collected in 1987 in the first edition of the Producers’ Guidelines. These guidelines, now known as the Editorial Guidelines, cover a variety of topics, from the achievement of core editorial values to the BBC’s treatment of war and religion. The latest edition, 19 Editorial Guidelines, p. 16 20 BBC 1973, §9 revised in June 2005, is over two hundred pages long, longer than guidelines issued by the Australian or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and four times longer than Rai’s Codice Etico. These guidelines go considerably beyond legal requirements, and constitute a detailed exegesis of the BBC’s core editorial values. Effort is also put into ensuring that the content of the Editorial Guidelines are widely publicised. Online courses in editorial policy are mandatory for all staff involved in programme-making,21 and an Editorial Policy Team is available to producers 24 hours a day.22 Courses at the BBC’s forthcoming College of Journalism will deal with general editorial values as well as specific instruction on particular issues. Have these interpretations of the BBC’s key values, and the effort put into publicising them, led to a high degree of consensus on their application? On the value of impartiality, the situation today seems different both to that at the time of the Annan report, and to the situation during the 1980s. The criticism of impartiality voiced in the seventies – that since each of us carries ineradicable unconscious biases which inevitably manifest themselves in what we say, and so, the true test of a programme should not be its quality or presentation, but rather its ability to represent – was not present. By the mid-1980s, an emerging consensus on the importance of the values of due accuracy and impartiality co-existed with disagreement over what those values required. Patricia Hodgson, who, as the BBC’s Director of Policy and Planning, had been involved in the creation of the Producers’ Guidelines, argued that impartiality “was what individual journalists chose to make of it in the mid-eighties”.23 The introduction of the Producers’ Guidelines was initially resisted. “Everyone thought this was the most sinister thing that 21 Minutes of Editorial Policy Meeting of Thursday 14th October 2004, available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/ , accessed Friday, 31 March 2006 22 Editorial Guidelines, p. 10 23 Interview with Patricia Hodgson had ever happened”.24 Yet within one to three years, writers and producers came to accept the Guidelines as authoritative. They did so because “they began to see that the guidelines were protection for them, not control”.25 Debates about the requirements of due impartiality and accuracy continue. A number of interviewees noted that the BBC has difficulty in achieving impartiality on issues which fall outside the range of opinions represented by parliamentary parties. The BBC’s attitude towards the United Kingdom Independence Party was cited as an example of BBC failure to achieve impartiality.26 I would suggest, however, that continuing debate is not evidence of disagreement about the concept of impartiality, or about its requirements, but evidence of critical reflection on a value already accepted. As for the value of independence, the BBC has never adopted the view that pursuing independence from politics requires a rigid separation between broadcaster and politicians. “The existence of the BBC is an act of political will… Clearly you want to make sure that as many people in the House of Commons and the House of Lords understand your case and will argue for it”.27 Most obviously, the BBC is subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. The role of the whole Parliament in the oversight of the BBC is negligible; ministers' gentle refusals to delve into matters of the Corporation's day-to-day conduct have meant that discussion of the BBC has focused on regional aspects (television reception in Wales, Gaelic broadcasting), matters of commercial and media policy, and isolated laments about the decreasing importance the BBC places on broadcasting parliamentary affairs. 24 Interview with Will Wyatt 25 Interview with Hodgson 26 Interview with Peter Ibbotson 27 Interview with Wyatt Parliamentary oversight of the BBC is almost entirely carried out by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.28 Since 1997, at the request of the then- Chairman Sir Christopher Bland, the BBC has presented its Annual Report to the Select Committee and taken questions during the course of a morning or afternoon. The Chairman, Director-General, and Controller of Policy are always present; other Governors or members of the Executive Board attend as and when required. In 1999 and 2004, the Committee also took evidence on the future funding of the BBC and the Charter Renewal process. On only two occasions have Directors for particular services given evidence: Roger Mosey (Director, BBC Sport) gave evidence on television rights for cricket in 2005, and Ken MacQuarrie (Controller, BBC Scotland) appeared in front of the committee in 2005. Formal contacts outside parliament complement limited parliamentary oversight. In the period leading up to licence fee or Charter negotiations, the DG and Controller of Policy will meet with their sponsoring department as a courtesy to inform them of the background to the BBC's bidding process. Outside of these periods, a Public Affairs staff of around fifteen lobbies the government over changes in the law which may affect the BBC. These efforts are most pronounced during periods of licence fee or Charter review, when a separate Charter Review Task Force is formed. Other, less predictable legislative changes may also affect the BBC: one interviewee gave the example of proposed amendments to the law on terrorism which would have the effect of criminalising reporters who filmed or interviewed from terrorist training camps.29 Members of the Public Affairs staff's political affiliations are known by managers (“You asked. You 28 Although the Public Accounts Committee took evidence from BBC executives in 2004 and 2005 over the BBC’s investment in Freeview, and in 1999 over funding arrangements for the World Service. 29 Interview with David Jordan couldn't afford to have undeclared interests or backgrounds”30) and consciously balanced. Semi-formal contact – “formal in the sense that they were BBC invitations and there would be BBC people present, and what was said would be reported back”31 – completes the picture of official relationships between BBC executives and politicians. Semi-regular Governors' Seminars and lunches involve representatives from business, politics, academia, and civil society: “three vice-chancellors, a couple of professors, captains of industry... as well as going away pissed, they'll feel they've been listened to”. 32 A rough estimate of the frequency of contact is given by Patricia Hodgson, former Director of Policy and Planning: “You'd only see the PM once every two or three years... Chair of the Select Committee, once every eighteen months, probably... Your sponsoring minister, DCMS – you'd see them of course every few months on business, informally, once a year or so”33 As in Rai, the Director-General must maintain familiarity with politicians. “As DG it's your job to get to know cabinet members, leaders of the opposition, and so on”. 34 The key difference is that political contacts for Directors-General of the BBC must be balanced across the parties, on behalf of the Corporation, and must never betray any partisan affiliation or ideological bent. Informal contacts between the BBC's senior executives and politicians are, by their nature, harder to gain reliable information about. Given the disproportionate percentage of graduates from elite universities in both organisations, it would be unusual for such 30 Interview with Patricia Hodgson 31 ibid. 32 Born 2005, p. 87 33 Interview with Patricia Hodgson 34 Interview with Will Wyatt friendships not to exist. The question must be whether such relationships are, first, evidence of a connection between the worlds of public broadcasting and politics that is more than merely contingent, and second, such as to compromise the BBC's reputation for independence. Whilst most interviewees reported some friendships with politicians, few, if any, seemed a consequence of their career at the BBC. Those politicians who were mentioned were only rarely involved in any way in the government's relations with the BBC. Tessa Blackstone, friends with former DDG Will Wyatt, became Minister of State for the Arts at the DCMS – but only after Wyatt had left the BBC. John Birt was friends with Peter Mandelson, who had been involved with the Labour party's communications strategy. Even where friendships are long-standing, executives exercise considerable restraint. Mark Byford describes his relationship with Geoff Hoon in the following manner: “Yes, he was at University, he was my lecturer in Law at Leeds. Do you still see him? Yes, but during the Hutton period I, and I think he, independently decided that during that time, you won't compromise the friendship, but also you won't compromise your own professional responsibilities and beliefs… We both knew why we weren't talking, and we've seen each other since… You're not searching out for friendships with members of the cabinet or members of the Shadow cabinet... [but] if they've been part of your hinterland, you don't have to abandon those”35 Journalists' contacts with politics are inevitably more frequent and more consuming. Controller of Editorial Policy David Jordan estimated that upwards of twenty programme producers were in regular contact with party media officials, on programmes from Panorama to BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show.36 These contacts involve co- ordination of the normal run of interviews conducted by any news organisation. They also, to some extent, involve criticism and bullying of news organisations in order to extract better coverage, practices identified by the Independent Review of 35 Interview with Byford 36 Interview with Jordan Government Communications.37 There is no evidence to suggest that the BBC enjoys higher levels of contact with special advisers or media advisers, nor that the BBC faces structural weaknesses when dealing with such. Indeed, the competition between different BBC news programmes suggests that BBC producers are price-setters, rather than price- takers, when it comes to getting politicians to appear (“the interviewees that have been on Today, World at one will not touch. Today won’t use an interviewee from the previous night’s Newsnight”38). Managers seemed happy that there existed “well trodden understandings” of how to take such calls; whilst ‘relationships were much more fraught’ during Alastair Campbell's time as Prime Minister's Official Spokesman, this was largely ‘personality-driven’, and efforts taken during the 2005 general election to deal more consistently with phone calls to producers seemed to have paid off. Most BBC journalists seem content to argue that government pressure on the broadcaster is a not a problem for the BBC; problems only exist if the BBC lacks the courage to tell the government 'where to get off'. The final strand which ties the BBC and the world of party politics lies in the nexus between BBC employment and political activity, of which the most visible expression lies in the number of members of Parliament who have worked for the BBC on a contractual basis. Of those elected to Parliament in the 2005 general election, eleven MPs had been employed by the BBC for a sustained period of time39, of whom two (Ben Bradshaw and James Purnell) had gone directly from the BBC to political activity. Less overt political activity has also, on occasion, caused trouble for the BBC: presenter Dermot O'Leary's 37 Phillis 2004 38 Interview with Morrison 39 They are: Celia Barlow (Labour, Hove); Ben Bradshaw (Labour, Exeter); Greg Clark (Conservative, Tunbridge Wells); Roger Gale (Conservative, North Thanet); Michael Gove (Conservative, Surrey Heath); Christopher Grayling (Conservative, Epsom and Exwell); Damian Green (Conservative, Ashford), Julie Kirkbride (Conservative, Bromsgrove), Chris Mullin (Labour, Sunderland South); and James Purnell (Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde). Taken from Dod’s 2006. co-hosting of a Labour party event in April 2005 led to an unofficial complaint from the Conservative party. Yet as with informal contacts between politicians and executives, the fact that such links exist is less important than the recognition within the BBC that such links need to be managed if they are not to damage the reputation of the Corporation. Candidates who stand for elected office must take unpaid leave to do so; the fact of their standing may affect what job they may return to. “To give an obvious example, you wouldn't be able to run for a political party and come back and work as a political reporter. But if you ran and were working as an engineer, there'd be no problems”.40 BBC guidelines on possible conflicts of interest state that: “It is crucial that in both their BBC work and in non BBC activities such as writing, speaking or giving interviews, [presenters and reporters primarily associated with the BBC] do not:- state how they vote or express support for any political party; express views for or against any policy which is a matter of current party political debate; advocate any particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate; [or] exhort a change in high profile public policy”41 The difference in the level of attention paid to these issues between the BBC and RAI is quite significant. Whilst in the case of the BBC, the minor political activity of a presenter employed in a non-news, radio-only capacity with the BBC provokes an official complaint and an informal recommendation to the presenter in question that such behaviour was perhaps imprudent, it is accepted in RAI that a presenter of domestic current affairs programmes (Michele Santoro) should leave the broadcaster to run as a candidate in European Parliament elections, and should then propose returning to RAI to conduct more domestic current affairs programmes (see Chapter 6). 40 Interview with David Jordan 41 BBC, n.d. Turn-over The following table presents levels of turnover for, roughly, the forty most important posts in the BBC, excluding the Board of Governors.42 Table 4: Executive turnover in the BBC Year 96 – 97 – 98 – 99 – 00 – 01 – 02 – 03 – 04 – 05 – 97 98 99 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 Changes 12 9 8 10 14 9 3 7 9 8 in post Posts in 36 38 38 38 38 38 40 40 40 40 sample Turnover 33.0 23.7 21.1 26.3 36.8 23.7 7.5 17.5 22.5 20.0 (%) Source: Freedom of Information Act request RFI2006000017, “Lists of Senior Management” There are three useful comparisons to make. First, the average rate of turnover for BBC executives (23.2%) is much lower than the comparable figure for Rai (35.9%). Second, there is no obvious pattern in changes in the level of annual turnover. The highest rate of turnover, seen between 2000 and 2001, follows the departure of John Birt as Director- General. The second highest rate of turnover, between 1996 and 1997, does not coincide 42 The posts are as follows: from the Executive Board, the Director-General, Deputy Director-General, Directors of Radio & Music, Television, BBC People, New Media & Technologies, Marketing Communications & Audience, Strategy & Distribution, Public Policy, and the Chief Operating Officer and Group Finance Director. From the Executive committee, directors of News, Nations & Regions, Sport, World Service, Factual & Learning, Drama Entertainment & CBBC. Controllers of BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4, Controllers of BBC Radio One, Radio Two, Radio Three, Radio Four, Five Live, Six Music, and BBC7. From BBC News and Current Affairs, the Head of News Gathering, the Controller Editorial. Policy; the Chief Adviser, Politics; the Head, Current Affairs; Head, Political Programmes; editors of Today, Newsnight, Breakfast News, the One O'Clock News, the Six O'Clock News, the Nine/Ten O'Clock News, and the Political Editor. with any major departures from senior management, and is more a result of changes in the editorial staff of major news programmes. Third, levels of turnover do not increase following general elections or, based on turnover between 1997 and 1998, following changes in government. However, the two highest annual rates of turnover were recorded before election years. It is not clear why this should be the case: it may reflect a desire on the part of editors to bow out before the onerous work of planning election coverage begins. Turnover at the BBC is therefore of a moderate level, and does not seem to follow a strong politico-electoral cycle. It is therefore unlikely to impair the BBC’s ability to resist political pressure. Relationships with other cultures Whilst the BBC's relationship with politics has already been covered in detailing the BBC's implementation of its core value of independence, its relationship with other players in the competitive British media ecology may still have an influence on the BBC's ability to resist political interference. Two links are important: the BBC's relationship vis- à-vis other broadcasters, and the BBC's relationship with print journalism. As a broadcaster, the BBC competes with ITV, Channel 4, and other news and entertainment channels on satellite and digital for ratings and prestige. As a producer of television and radio content, it competes with ITV and independent producers for technical expertise ideas, staff, and formats. Regular flows of staff, technical expertise, and, on some occasions, programmes have been the result of this competition. Consequently, those in broadcasting both inside and outside the BBC will have an understanding of the BBC's particular routines and foibles. As a monopolist, and, subsequently, a media hegemon, the BBC provided a reservoir of talent from which ITV drew before its birth in 1956, and which Channel 4 tapped in 1982. As Georgina Born finds in her interviews, “[Born:] People have described the duopoly period to me in terms of a common culture, because ITV was staffed by people who were ex-BBC or floating between the two...? Yes, there was a profession in common. There were drama people who never crossed the line, but they were the exception”43 With the requirement that independent productions make up 25% of the BBC's output, the growth of independent production created new opportunities for BBC and ITV staff to set up independent production companies and benefit from a new demand for independent production. Work histories of those in television broadcasting collected by the British Film Institute44 show the frequency with which television workers pass from the BBC to independent production or ITV, and vice versa. Increasing competition in broadcasting and production has had two consequences. First, the BBC has tended to be an exporter of television staff and practice. Most importantly from the point of view of the politics of broadcasting, the BBC has exported the requirement and practice of 'due impartiality'. Second, as competing terrestrial channels developed and independent production boomed, the level of unionisation within the television industry has decreased. Unions have therefore gone from a position of “considerable power” in the early eighties to reduced influence in the early naughties. Whilst union-led strikes remain a considerable factor during periods of retrenchment, unions have not provided a locus for politicised television as journalists' unions did in Italy in the seventies. 43 Born 2005, p. 40 44 Paterson 2000 The BBC's relationship with the print press is more distant. Were the BBC to act as a net importer of values and working practices from the print press, the more obvious the links between these two worlds of journalism, the easier it is for politicians to treat broadcasters as a tamer version of the essentially partisan print press. Yet whilst there has been some fluidity between competing broadcasters, there seems to be few linkages or fluidity in movements between print and broadcast journalism. Richard Sambrook comments that “very few members of staff were recruited from tabloid or Sunday newspapers”.45 A 1995 survey of British journalists found that the percentage of journalists currently working for the BBC was the same as the percentage of journalists who had started journalism with the BBC.46 Whilst this does not suggest that those who start out with the BBC continue on with the BBC, it does show that the BBC was not a major net importer or net exporter of journalists to or from print journalism. Antony Delano's (2001) work The Formation of the British Journalist 1900 – 2000 also argues for the existence of a relatively rigid demarcation between the 'different worlds' of broadcast and print journalism. Consequently, the BBC has good reason to argue that the journalism it practices is substantially different from the journalism practised by the traditionally partisan British press. This basis might risk being impugned if it came to pass that a particular news programme began an aggressive programme of hiring investigative journalists from Fleet Street – as, it is argued, happened during Rod Liddle's tenure as editor of the Today programme, and which formed a weak point in the BBC's defence to the Hutton inquiry. 45 BBC/6/0100 46 Henningham and Delano 1998 Conclusion Seen in comparative perspective, the effort expended on transmitting the BBC's values throughout the organisation stands out. Stated values are shared, and their concrete requirements spelt out. Whilst levels of contact with politics amongst senior management are not noticeably less frequent than those at RAI, the key difference is that BBC management's political contacts are organised and usually initiated by management, rather than politicians. The BBC's organisational culture seems well-suited to prevent successful political interference.