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The BBC should have left Sir Cliff Richard alone

PUBLISHED: 11:32 08 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:32 08 August 2018

Paul Barnes is not happy with the BBC's coverage of Sir Cliff Richard Photo: PA

Paul Barnes is not happy with the BBC's coverage of Sir Cliff Richard Photo: PA

Former BBC man Paul Barnes feels ‘dismayed’ by BBC’s coverage of Sir Cliff Richard

In 1939 the great Jimmie Lunceford orchestra recorded It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It. The song has a simple lyric but with a very strong underlying principle, a principle that was evidently way over the heads of certain highly-paid elements within the BBC in August, 2014.

Information had come their way that the home of Cliff Richard was to be raided by South Yorkshire Police searching for evidence of paedophile activity. None was found, yet the BBC reporter initially involved had convinced his editorial colleagues and superiors that Sir Cliff could be the “celebrity paedo” that the corporation was keen to nail following its dismal record and bloodied nose sustained after the Jimmy Savile affair.

“Congratulations and jubilations!” So went an email from the UK news editor, sensing Sir Cliff’s blood in his nostrils rather than the BBC’s. Then up went that helicopter. Yippee! Not content with straightforward reporting of the police raid they had to turn it into US-style cop caper fervently believing that it might win the Royal Television Society’s Scoop of the Year award.

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” Of course, we all know that the way that they did it caused outrage and landed the BBC in hot water with a hefty bill for damages and costs. For a while the BBC did consider an appeal, claiming “This is a complex case ...” But I don’t see how it could have been.

Everybody who works for the BBC is obliged to sign a contract. Working on both BBC radio and television - including Today and the World at One - I’ve signed quite a few over the years. In the light of my recent resignation I’ve had cause to re-examine certain aspects of this interesting document. Clause 13 of the Terms and Conditions emphasises the importance of guarding the BBC’s reputation for “impartiality, integrity, independence and decency” insisting that this reputation “should not be compromised, undermined or called into question”.

In a nutshell, the BBC must never be brought into disrepute.

Who can deny that with the Cliff Richard debacle the BBC has been brought into disrepute? Who can deny that its reputation has been compromised, undermined and called into question?

Being in breach of those contractual obligations, the ones they will have signed for and undertaken to observe, how can anybody involved in the Richard affair expect to keep his or her job, especially the infantile senior executives who were so ready pat the heads of the more junior newshounds and egg them on with promises of glory?

So what has happened so far? Are any heads rolling? Well, one has, in a way. The “congratulations and jubilations” fellow’s head has apparently rolled north, with the rest of him intact, to a promotion as head of news for BBC Scotland. What about the head of newsgathering? He’s the one who declined the advice of certain colleagues and cleared that helicopter for take-off, then going on to put the story up for that “scoop of the year” award. It appears that the worst he’s suffered so far is a tongue-lashing from Mr Justice Mann, the judge presiding over the Richard privacy case.

And who is paying the enormous damages and costs? You are dear licence-payer. For years, certain BBC nests have been feathered by the creation of controllerships, editorships, commissionerships, directorships and other ill-defined, self-perpetuating roles with generous salaries, pensions, perks and bonuses, plus expenses, all paid for by you.

So far there’s no sound of rumbling tumbrils, but faintly perceptible on the breeze is the purring of executive Audis and BMWs being drawn into a protective circle.

From childhood, Auntie BBC educated, informed and entertained me according to the principles laid down long ago by the founders. I was thrilled when I was granted the privilege of becoming a broadcaster. I’ve revered the BBC. I’m dismayed by what is being done to her and I despise the people doing it.

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