Thursday, 29 October 2015

It's one law for Alan Yentob and another for Jeremy Clarkson, apparently

I saw most of this week's edition of BBC One's Imagine programme. I usually give it a miss, because I'm tired of watching Alan Yentob schmooze around the world in the company of his arts establishment muckers wrapped in a miasma of mutual admiration and self-regard. I really don't see why I should have pay for this man's pleasures, especially as he never, ever asks any of the questions I'd like to hear them answer (usually something along the lines of "Why is an untalented charlatan like you so successful?"). But as Botney's companion this week was the extremely talented novelist Howard Jacobson, about whom there is not the faintest whiff of charlatinism, and as the subject was The Merchant of Venice, which I'm about to read for the first time, I thought I'd give it a go. I failed to last the course.

The problem was not Jacobson, who was in good form. It was Yentob. More specifically it was the fact that the BBC Trust announced last week that it is investigating whether the BBC's "creative director" (no - not a bloody clue) had "compromised the editorial integrity of the BBC." This is how the Independent reported it (full article here):
Rona Fairhead, BBC Trust chair, said the body’s editorial standards committee was in discussions with Director-General Tony Hall over suggestions that Mr Yentob... had abused his position as chairman of the London charity [Kids Company], which was forced to close. 
Mr Yentob admitted that he had stood next to a Radio 4 producer when the charity’s founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, was interviewed on the Today programme. “If it was intimidating, I regret it,” he told MPs last week. 
Mr Yentob also called a Newsnight figure, thought to be editor Ian Katz, to ask him to delay a report criticising the financial management at Kids Company, and contacted Ed Stourton, the Radio 4 presenter, before a report on The World at One
The BBC executive has compiled a report into Mr Yentob’s interventions and assured the Trust that Mr Yentob had not compromised the BBC’s independence – but the Trust is still considering the matter. [I'm a bit lost here - I'm not sure which BBC executive is being referred to.] Speaking at the Society of Editors conference, Ms Fairhead said: “What we at the Trust have to be concerned about is, was the editorial independence of the BBC compromised?
Yentob claimed that he was present for the Today interview because he was keen to hear it - but, as the Telegraph's Michael Deacon pointed out, why didn't he simply do what the rest of us would have done in the circumstances, i.e. switch on a radio? They're readily available around the BBC, and I expect Yentob has access to one at home, and in his car.

Given that a possible breach of editorial integrity is being investigated at the same time as further revelations are emerging about successive governments' bizarrely lavish funding of the charity of which Yentob was chairman, and given that eyebrows have been raised about Yentob's expenses (£84,930.39 between April 2009 and 2014, according to The Times) I can't for the life of me figure out why he's still appearing on our screens. When the Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson admitted punching a producer earlier this year, the last three episodes of one of the BBC's most popular programmes - the most successful television programme (as Clarkson might put it) "in the world" - were hoicked from the schedules quicker than you could scream "that'll teach you, you right-wing bastard!"

Now, you might think there's a world of difference between continuing to broadcast programmes featuring a presenter who has reported himself for assaulting a colleague (potentially a criminal act) and those presented by someone who may (and I stress may) have used their senior position within the corporation to influence the news department's handling of a non-BBC story (and who, besides, vigorously denies any intention to do so). And there is (a world of difference, etc.) The allegations concerning Yentob's behaviour which the BBC Trust are looking into are hugely more serious than the relatively piffling charges against Clarkson (although I do not in any way condone workplace violence or bullying blah, blah, blah). The BBC is overwhelmingly the biggest provider of news to the British public, who pay for it whether they want to or not. I'm sorry to sound pompous, but as a former BBC news employee, the very idea that a senior BBC executive might (and I stress might) have attempted to influence the coverage of a story on behalf of an outside organisation with which he was involved is genuinely appalling.

Obviously, I have no idea what the BBC Trust's findings will be. But I'm absolutely certain that Alan Yentob should not be allowed on our screens (apart from any newsworthy appearances relating to the ongoing car crash that is Kids Company) until the body has reached a conclusion. Otherwise, we might begin to suspect that certain senior figures within the BBC had it in for Clarkson all along, and gleefully used his loutish behaviour as an excuse to get rid of someone whose political views they despised.


  1. Many of us feel that Batmanwhatsit should don a head-to-toe burqua forever in atonement for her profligacy and find a hidey-hole in there for little Yentob. She should also stop trying to talk like Julie Burchill. In fact, she should stop talking altogether.

    1. Batmanjelly isn't actually real - she's just one of the many grotesque phantoms that haunt the collective left-liberal dream in which we all seem to be temporarily trapped.

    2. Now I realise it's almost Halloween but that's channelling Stephen King - and not a nice thought at all!