When I was a student I had a summer job running the freezers for a frozen food company. The produce, peas in this case, would flow from the blanching machines along conveyor belts into the freezers where they would be frozen before being taken to the cold store ready for shipment to customers.
As the peas passed through the freezers they were blasted with freezing cold air by powerful fans, but since they had just come from the boiling hot blanching machines, they produced a great deal of steam, which of course turned instantly to snow. Keeping the freezers running at optimum levels therefore entailed maintaining a balance between the speed of the production line, the temperature of the peas exiting the freezers and the frequency of the defrost cycles we would run to keep each of the freezer ‘coils’ clear of snow.
Unfortunately, the person who ran the freezers on the shift before mine was rather lazy (I seem to recall using more colourful language to describe him back then!) and did not bother with running coil defrosts towards the end of his shift. By not running defrosts he was able to achieve higher throughput because the freezer was using all four freezing coils for longer periods of time. The only problem was that when I came on shift I would inherit snowed-up freezers which would require us to slow the production line in order to get them running at optimum efficiency once again.
The result was that his production figures were always better than mine, so he looked like the good guy and me the bad! As the production figures affected my manager’s bonus, this was serious. However, once I explained to my manager that his bonus was effectively being purloined by the manager of the other shift, a train of events were set in motion that rectified the problem.
I mention this as it was a classic case of the innocent looking guilty, while the guilty are hidden from view, which is precisely what seems to be happening at the BBC.
There is no question that the Newsnight report that smeared the reputation of an innocent man was an appalling piece of journalism, but to have John Humphreys, a cohort of MPs and numerous other ill-informed pen-pushers baying for the resignation of George Entwistle, the BBC’s Director General, within days of the event smacks of ignorance of the highest order.
In reality, all these people were doing was ‘playing to the gallery’ as there is nothing journalists and politicians like better than to be seen as the bounty hunter that successfully led the guilty party to the gallows. Sadly they rarely get their comeuppance when it is later found that the wrong person was hanged, because by then too many people have joined in the frenzy.
My point is not to pass judgement of whether Mr Entwistle should or should not have resigned, or whether he should or should not have been personally involved in the editorial decision of the Newsnight programme, but to question whether forcing him into resigning after only 54 days in the job is sensible.
In an insightful article in the Telegraph the veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson (who I respect greatly) points to two important truths: The first is that “the Director General - any director general – is no more aware of the day-to-day routines of broadcasting than the Prime Minister is of the way the civil service runs.” The second is that under Mark Thomas, the previous Director General, the BBC has seen a succession of cuts that have left Newsnight with fewer producers than ever before in its 32-year existence. Moreover, that in the past “Newsnight would never have thought of contracting out something as important as an investigation of a child-molestation scandal to an independent company; it would have been done in-house, by people who adhered to the BBC’s own standards.”
If John Simpson is correct, and if Lord Patten, whose judgement it was that Entwistle was the best person for the job was also correct, then it may be that the BBC has just lost the very person who could have been instrumental in sorting out the mess and restoring its reputation as the best public service broadcaster in the world.