Monday, 12 November 2012

Unsworth, Van Klaveren, Johnson, O’Connor – the whole of my BBC career is flashing before my eyes!

Yes, I know that’s a list of names that will probably mean nothing to you – and I was determined to find something else to write about this morning – but they keep cropping up in news reports: for me, it’s been the equivalent of biting into a chocolate Madeleine dipped in tea.

You’re unlikely to be in the least bit interested, but, nevertheless, here’s a quick run-down: Fran Unsworth has been made acting head of news, Karen O’Connor has been made acting editor of Newsnight, Adrian Van Klaveren is the controller of Radio 5 Live who was asked to run Newsnight temporarily while the Savile fiasco was investigated (and was in overall charge of the McAlpine fiasco), Peter Johnston is the BBC’s Northern Ireland supremo, who Adrian Van K reported to in the run-up to broadcasting the grotesquely libellous McAlpine smear item.

I worked with the first three in the TV newsroom (Unsworth very fleetingly – I know little about her), and I had dealings with Peter Johnson when I was running Interactive TV.

First, Karen O’Connor, who has been given the supremely horrible task of editing an utterly discredited programme where morale will be non-existent, and whose every second of output will be subjected to microscopic examination by Fleet Street, other broadcasters and every right-winger in the country for any hint of another balls-up. Still, she’s an Aussie and tough as old boots, and I suspect she’ll enjoy the challenge, in a funny sort of way.

As for Van Klaveren and Johnston – I’m still shaking my head, wondering just how their finger-prints ended up all over the McAlpine disaster. Apart from their likability and competence, my impression of both of them was that they were consummate careerists, the sort of BBC employees who seem to have been born with an in-built sonar device which tells them how to navigate the BBC’s swirling managerial waters with Ben Ainsley-style deftness. And now it looks like they’re both in danger of being sucked into the maelstrom.

How did that happen?

I’m as mystified as I was when erstwhile news director and consummate political operator Richard Sambrook got moved sideways to the World Service after the Hutton Report into Andrew Gilligan’s “sexy dossier” comments on the Today Programme.

Van Klaveren and Johnston are anything but incompetent. And I’m 100% certain that neither would deliberately put out an item just because it smeared a former top Tory in order to deflect attention away from Newsnight’s current miseries. These aren’t the sort of clueless junior execs who’d actually need to refer anything of this nature upwards – they’d just know instinctively that the story wasn’t strong enough to run with.

It’s reported that poor old George Entwistle slammed his front door shut when he arrived home after resigning. Well, I can’t really blame him. With the people he had in place overseeing Newsnight, there was no earthly reason why he would have needed to have any involvement in the story.

There’s been a lot of moaning about complicated BBC management reporting lines. Well, you bet – they’re ridiculous, and always have been. But, in this instance, while the chain of command was ludicrously extended, it’s not as if nobody knew who they needed to refer up to, and it’s not as if the people at the top of the chain were addle-headed ingénues.

On Saturday, I was bemused – like the rest of us – as to how George Entwistle could possibly not have heard about Newsnight’s plan to smear McAlpine. Today, I’m genuinely mystified as to how two such competent executives didn’t manage to head this one off at the pass.

The acting DG has the report into the McAlpine catastrophe prepared over the weekend by Ken McQuarrie. I’ll admit, I’d love to get my hands on that little item!

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