BBC staff are being urged to stop airing the corporation’s problems on Twitter and other social media by senior managers. Acting director of news Fran Unsworth sent an internal email yesterday saying: “It would be helpful if some of our problems were not played out publicly across social media and in the pages of the national press.”
Unsworth said it was a tough time for everyone in the BBC “in particular for those of us in BBC News” and “for some individuals most of all”.
It comes as the BBC is under attack from all sides following Prime Minister David Cameron entering the growing row about the whopping £450,000 pay-off that director general George Entwistle is set to pick up for his 54 day stint in the role. Cameron, riding popular opinion, said it was “hard to justify”.
Entwistle resigned on Saturday night and senior BBC news staff quickly “stood aside”, including director of news Helen Boaden and her Stephen Mitchell deputy, following Newsnight abandoning an expose of Jimmy Savile and then over compensating with a false report that wrongly accused Lord McAlpine of being a paedophile.
McAlpine has since said he might sue the BBC and a number of high profile Twitter users for defamation.
Unsworth urged staff to pull together to restore trust in the BBC’s news output. Yesterday a YouGov Trust Tracker table showed that while BBC journalists are still the most trusted among journalists levels of trust had dramatically and rapidly declined — dropping 13 points since October.
Among those BBC staff airing their views publicly on Twitter have been BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Victoria Derbyshire and Norman Smith, the BBC’s chief political correspondent. He tweeted: “I understand BBC bosses Helen Boaden and Steve Mitchell will not go “without a fight” if not re-instated after Pollard review”.
Norman also tweeted about how more staff could possibly be on their way out:
The tweets from BBC staff join the public comments of other senior BBC staff such as Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman and Jonathan Dimbleby.
Unsworth said the BBC needed a “collective and collegiate sense of all pulling together to restore trust in the BBC’s news output”.
BBC business editor Robert Peston clearly did not get advance copy of the Unsworth memo. He took to his blog to dispute the BBC’s position that Boaden had been happy to “step aside” from her position. He said she had hired lawyers as had her deputy Mitchell.
They are both said to have informed acting director general Tim Davie that “they are quite capable of running BBC news, even with the uncertainty created by the…. inquiry”.
“My understanding is that Mr Davie believes it is unfair to ask Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell to continue in their day jobs with the shadow of the Pollard inquiry hanging over them.
“He believes that George Entwistle’s effectiveness as Director General was undermined by the fact he too was being probed by Mr Pollard. Mr Entwistle resigned on Saturday.
“I have learned that lawyers acting for Ms Boaden and Mr Mitchell have informed Mr Davie that they are quite capable of running BBC News, even with the uncertainty created by the Pollard inquiry, ” Peston wrote on his blog.
You can probably understand what Unsworth is getting at. Not all of this social media noise can be helping. One of those keep calm t-shirts is needed.