Arun Sudhaman 14 Nov 2012 // 10:03AM GMT
The week’s news brings with it a strong sense of deja vu. Barack Obama has won an election, PR firms are caught fixing Wikipedia, and the BBC is in crisis. Plus ca change. The hope is that some good will come of all of these events. Where Obama is concerned, we are exploring his election success in considerable detail, considering the implications for PR practitioners and analysing the reasons for Democratic triumph and Republican failure. As for RLM Finsbury’s efforts to fix Wikipedia, it is difficult to know where to start, particularly when the industry compounds its skullduggery by blaming the website for its actions. Wikipedia, like any media channel, is hardly perfect, but the suggestion that this somehow affords a license for manipulation and deceit is baffling. Which leaves us with another, rather different, media channel, the BBC. The Beeb’s travails are well-known; indeed it often appears that the organization is incapable of operating without committing the kind of reputation blunders that undermine its commitment to ‘trust’. The corporation faces some grave concerns regarding its structure, its management and its overall behaviour. Yet, considering the organization’s reputation from a position of distance is helpful. One of the most striking aspects of any BBC saga is the difference between its perception inside the UK and internationally. Abroad, in countries that rarely come close to matching the BBC’s standards of public service broadcasting, there is much admiration for a state-owned channel that has the nerve to vigorously question its own leadership. In the UK, meanwhile, the Guardian notes that the BBC is “deeply loathed in some quarters for a variety of political, commercial and cultural reasons”, to which I’d add that the UK media needs little invitation to devote considerable column inches or airtime to the woes of a competitor. Still, for all its undoubted virtues, it has been painful to watch the BBC attempt to deal with its latest crisis, which strikes at the very heart of its editorial integrity. The communications missteps have been both basic and profound: DG George Entwistle’s bumbling response to a rapidly escalating situation; acting DG Tim Davie’s car-crash interview with Sky yesterday; and the decision to pay Entwhistle off to the tune of £450k in public money. Meanwhile, senior BBC executives step aside, inquiries are launched and no one seems any the wiser for what exactly is going on. BBC chair Chris Patten is fond of pointing out that the organization has more managers than the Chinese Communist Party, but he cannot be happy to see a similar tendency towards opacity, when the situation calls for strong management, clear communication and resolute behaviour. This week, the Chinese Communist Party indulges in its national congress, a tightly-managed celebration of political choreography and message discipline. You could forgive BBC staffers a few wistful glances, as they contend with a public relations policy that has turned the organization into a crisis waiting to happen.