The decline and fall of brand BBC

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The decline and fall of brand BBC

David Hardy discusses the plummeting license fee subscriptions, arguing it is a symptom of the BBC’s poor-quality output and growing animosity toward the public broadcaster among its viewers.

The BBC is in a mess. The brand is arguably already damaged beyond repair yet the broadcaster seems unable to change tack.

According to some analysts trust in brands is declining and has been for some time. It would appear that when it comes to slogans and promises the twenty first century customer is much more discerning than their predecessors, more demanding, less compliant. We’ve become sceptical. Experience has shown that all too often reality fails to match the rhetoric.

How to win back trust once it has eroded? Is it even possible to win it back? When Jewellery impresario Gerald Ratner mocked his own products back in the 1990s trust evaporated immediately. It was commercial suicide. The brand never recovered, nor did Ratner.

The topic of trust is taken up in my new book, ‘BBC: Brainwashing Britain?’ in which I argue faith in the Britain’s national broadcaster has fallen to an all-time low. Analysis of content on the BBC website reveals that the broadcaster routinely misleads its audience, selecting and editing stories in order to promote its own ‘progressive’ agenda.

In order to achieve this end BBC journalists are compelled to chop and shape reality so it accords not with actual truth, but rather with its employer’s social, political and cultural objectives. In the age of the Internet it’s a high risk approach, reckless even. Disparities become apparent, trust ebbs and consequently the brand becomes tarnished.

It goes without saying that a truly impartial organisation run along principles of integrity and fidelity should have no such troubles. After all, what’s so difficult about telling the truth or conducting journalistic enquiry with probity? When imposing a top-down agenda requires deliberate and systematic propaganda – deception – calling out the BBC becomes kid’s play. But it really shouldn’t be this easy.

Take the week just gone. In just seven days the broadcaster has once again demonstrated a worrying disposition towards self-destruction that makes Mr Ratner’s indiscretion seem mild in comparison. Lurching from one self-inflicted drama to the next, it has committed (and continues to commit) the ultimate broadcasting transgression: rather than reporting the news, the BBC has now become the news.

Bearing all the hallmarks of a classic BBC coup, the alleged ‘attack’ on a BBC cameraman at a Donald Trump rally in El Paso raised many more questions than it answered. The BBC version was predictable enough: whipped up by the president’s anti-media rhetoric a supporter had launched a violent, unprovoked attack on an innocent BBC cameraman.

Having shared a few seconds of shaky footage of the alleged assault on its vast media platform, soon enough the broadcaster was walking back its original claim: the vicious ‘attack’ had inexplicably been downgraded to a ‘shove.’ Notwithstanding, the BBC version of events managed to ‘whip up’ a fair amount of hysteria of its own: it was the ‘1930s’ all over again etc.

However, not all commentators were swallowing the broadcaster’s bait: ‘Oh, the humanity! Someone bumped a camera. Thank god he survived!’ wrote one social media user voicing the general mood of scepticism. A calm review of the ‘evidence’ certainly seemed to suggest an altercation of a minor variety.  It appeared the ‘attacker’ might indeed have done nothing more than bump into a BBC cameraman. Why, we don’t know.

The incident raised many legitimate questions – all of which the two BBC witnesses (and ‘victim’) have so far studiously avoided answering. The BBC is in no mood to take questions. Difficult not to conclude that there was more (or perhaps less) to this incident than met the eye.

Some commentators assumed the BBC’s El Paso team had simply exaggerated events – the latest part of a sustained attempt to defame the Trump administration at every turn. The BBC called such accusations ‘ridiculous.’ Perhaps it is merely a reflection of just how far the corporation’s star has fallen that so many people suspected its motivations. There were even suggestions the ‘attack/shove’ might have been staged.

Something clearly did happen in those frantic few seconds in El Paso. Whether it was a full-blooded attack or just a minor altercation will likely never be known. The point is that significant numbers of people did not believe the BBC’s version. The brand is unravelling.

Meanwhile over at BBC Panorama a crisis of a different kind is currently unfolding. The emergence of covert footage of BBC employees at play in a city centre ‘boozer’ has been met with radio silence from Broadcasting House, and little wonder. Journalists allegedly mocking the working classes while ordering champagne cocktails at their expense is not exactly guaranteed to win hearts and minds. It would seem that running up £220 bar bills on tax-payer funded expense accounts is a fairly unremarkable event at the BBC, one not worthy even of explanation or apology let alone sanctions.

BBC silence tells its own story. At a time when the corporation is seriously considering revoking the gratis television licence for the over-75s profligacy on this scale seems especially crass. Moreover, the Panorama footage appears to reveal a BBC culture reeking of arrogance and decadence. Apparent contempt for working people smacks of elitism. With the promise of more revelations to come, the value of brand BBC threatens to plunge ever lower.

To top off a pretty typical week for the corporation, BBC Newsnight was forced to issue a humiliating public apology to prominent Leave EU campaigner Richard Tice after wrongly suggesting he was financing the new Brexit party. It was just the latest ‘error’ in the broadcaster’s anti-Brexit campaign.

It all leads to the same place: scepticism, dissatisfaction, loss of faith. One of the most startling revelations to emerge from ‘BBC: Brainwashing Britain,’ research (and there were many) concerned the annual number of television licence cancellations. Currently, cancellations are running around 850,000 per year! The broadcaster is haemorrhaging customers. Mistrust has reached critical levels.

The BBC is in a mess. The brand is arguably already damaged beyond repair yet the broadcaster seems unable to change tack. Refusal to acknowledge the dire situation it faces means the BBC is doomed to plough the same tired furrow, lurching from one crisis to another, the sound of social media mockery and disdain ringing in its ears. It is precisely this intractability which could prove to be its undoing.

How much longer can this situation continue? As Gerald Ratner discovered to his cost a tainted reputation is all but impossible to recover from. The businessman had to start all over again. Fostering public confidence is vital to the health of every business – the BBC included. Once vanished, trust returns slowly and painfully if at all.

‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation,’ cautions US investor Warren Buffett, ‘and five minutes to ruin it.’ Judged by the recent trajectory of the BBC, what appears obvious to the business world might not be quite so apparent to those who conduct their affairs within the gilded walls of the UK’s publicly-funded state broadcaster.

Can anything save Britain’s national broadcaster from itself? By the time the penny finally does drop, BBC stock is likely to have fallen so low reviving it may no longer even be an option.  

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    David Hardy
    A university lecturer by profession, David Hardy-Sedgwick writes about a wide range of topics including Theatre, Politics and Formula One. His latest book, 'BBC: Brainwashing Britain?' has just been released on Amazon. In his spare time, he enjoys marking student dissertations, wild camping, Croatian language and culture, and theatre.
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