Dull, bloated, and poorly-led: BBC leadership has harsh words for its own corporation

LONDON – The BBC is a bloated, top-heavy, and poorly led corporation staffed by dull executives and backbiting journalists — and that’s just what the company’s leadership says.

In 3,000 pages of emails and interviews published Friday, the BBC’s top officials have harsh words for the institutional culture of their respected media group, whose image has been damaged by a scandal over a top entertainer who police say sexually assaulted hundreds of women and children during his decades-long career at the broadcaster.

“These documents paint a very unhappy picture,” said BBC Trust Chairman Chris Patten, whose criticisms were among the harshest. But he said in a statement that the taxpayer-funded corporation needed “to acknowledge these shortcomings and learn from them.”

The documents — consisting of appendices, interviews, and emails — are the supporting material for the BBC’s own investigation into its handling of the sex crime allegations against the late entertainer Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011 at the age of 84.

Savile was among the BBC’s biggest stars, but he’d been dogged for years by rumours about his relationship with young girls. After he died, BBC reporters began digging into his past — but the investigation was shelved under disputed circumstances.

When the pedophilia story eventually broke anyway — on a rival television network — the BBC was plunged into a double scandal: One over how the network could have hosted one of the nation’s most prolific sex offenders for so long, the second over why the broadcaster decided to cancel its posthumous expose.

The BBC’s internal report into the scandal, published in December, said that chaos and confusion — not a coverup — was to blame for the decision not to run its Savile investigation. But the material published Friday fleshes out some the institutional problems that helped feed the crisis.

The BBC’s director of global news, Peter Horrocks, described executives struggling to get their story straight even as the scandal began to threaten the corporation’s leadership.

“The organization, even at that last gasp, did not know what was going on,” he said.

Patten — who served as the last British governor in Hong Kong — said that under the previous BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, the organization had “more senior leaders than China,” saying that there had been more than two dozen executives. “They never met,” he observed.

Patten compared the BBC’s size to that of China’s state-run news agency and said the corporation’s cushy jobs were “one of the reasons why people get into the BBC and then never leave.” He also said that BBC journalists leaked constantly about internal problems to their colleagues in rival media organizations.

BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman, known for his brutal cross-examination of politicians and corporate executives, had some barbs for his employer too. He said the BBC had recently recruited many people “who are clearly not the most creative.” He also expressed disappointment with the way the BBC had dropped its investigation, noting that the corporation — like nearly everyone else involved in the Savile scandal — had given too much deference to officials over the testimony of abuse victims.

“I thought that we had behaved just like many other authorities,” he said. “And I didn’t like it.”