News reaches me from the BBC Director General’s meeting with staff on the corporation’s decision not to air the DEC appeal for humanitarian assistance.
I wasn’t there so others may have another view (feel free to post it here) but more than one source has confirmed this version of events…
“This was probably the most cynical piece of news management I think I've experienced at the BBC…..Thompson and Byford and their minders used every trick in the book to suppress genuine criticism and deeply felt anger directed towards them from BBC staff (as witnessed during two bruising encounters with staff at the BBC Arabic Service and BBC Monitoring last week).
To start off with, they buried news of this important meeting. A small notice was posted in the BBC weekly paper, Ariel, more than a week earlier and no further mention was made. There was no email sent out to staff to say it was happening. This is an astonishing omission given the seriousness of the allegations against Thompson and the level of staff criticism about this decision. Someone fortunately sent me a link on Wednesday to an announcement which was hidden on the Internal Communications website, otherwise I wouldn't have found out about it. (I was told it had been on the front page of the BBC intranet site Gateway on Thursday morning, but I doubt many members of staff would have seen it there and it was too late anyway).
If you were lucky enough to stumble on news about the meeting, you had to contact IC to ask to attend, and only then would they tell you about the venue. A number of my colleagues emailed on Thursday morning and were told it was full. This is an interesting concept, because the venue was in fact TC6, a huge studio at TV Centre that could hold at least 400 people. What they laid on was about 12 round tables with white tablecloths, which could have seated at least 12 people each but had only four to six chairs per table.
A nice "Audience Management" lady with a clipboard (with our names on - not on the list? no entry!) told me they had made places for 100 people. A couple of unsuccessful applicants who came along anyway were taken to a "holding area" and then allowed to fill empty seats. This bizarre gala dinner layout was, by the way, especially tailored for this meeting and it was cleared away afterwards. There were two red chairs allocated for Thompson and Byford on a stage on one side, but they never used them. Instead they wore radio-mics and stood, quite aggressively and confrontationally right next to the front table
Questions got an answer from both Marks, sometimes they had more than one stab at each answer. Their spiel was exactly what was expected - not about not wanting to be seen taking sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, it's just that this is a "controversial" issue, an "on-going" news story, "consistent with 30-40 years of BBC policy", would do the same even if it wasn't Israel-Palestine. we would do the same even if Israel wasn't involved; there are no "innocent victims of war" in this conflict; Aid agency employees are not angels, but ambitious individuals who knew the BBC's position but called the appeal anyway.
Thompson said the Trust would rule in about two weeks whether the decision was correct and the complainants had pledged to take their case to judicial review if they failed with the Trust.
During the 80 minute session, several speakers managed to land punches from the floor, a few examples of which are below:
- Do they think all the resources we've put into covering Mid-East story have been wasted, if the audience cannot make their own judgments about things like this? (er no, but they had to do it anyway)
- Since when was our impartiality so fragile that we shied away from negative reaction for something we considered important?
- Why wasn't there an announcement before and after the film and a strap running through the film saying it wasn't BBC editorial content? (MB had apparently suggested this too, but MT said it was never done like that with DEC appeals)
- Was it worth the catastrophic damage to BBC reputation in the Middle East? (apparently it'll blow over - like Jerry Springer - apparently MT has an annual meeting with evangelical Christians and the atmosphere is improving)
- If as they claimed we were damned-if-we-did/damned-if-we-didn't on this one, why did they choose the option which meant not helping people?
- Why didn't they consult people meant to know about the Middle East who could have told them what a disaster this would be? (apparently because they wanted to protect them from taking this difficult, divisive decision)
- Weren't they worried about safety of staff in the region after such a provocative decision? (yes, but never mind, they'll look after them)- Aren't we putting the perception of impartiality over the need to provide food, clothing, shelter for needy people?
After this meeting the Arabic Service staff circulating petition deploring the decision and seeking its reversal."
Watch this space…