My shame at the BBC over Diana interview, Martin Bashir and culture of arrogance – Keith Massey
THE damning report by Lord Dyson into the BBC Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, and the subsequent cover-up – which is probably more reprehensible than the lying and deceit by Martin Bashir to get his foot into the door at Kensington Palace – should not detract from the decades of quality and superb reporting and programme making by its thousands of decent staff, and who I am proud to be associated.
As someone who has worked for them as a small cog in a big wheel as a news, documentary and drama cameraman, based at BBC Yorkshire, I feel ashamed to be associated with this despicable saga.
I was born at the end of the Second World War and brought up as a child being nurtured by the BBC after being captivated by live pictures of the Coronation beamed across Yorkshire from Holme Moss.
The BBC was family. I loved its British values and all it stood for. The BBC was more important to me than state school, as it brought the world into my living room with the likes of David Attenborough and Blue Peter.
Imagine my pride when, in 1966, I started filming for the BBC, achieving a lifetime ambition in working for the greatest broadcasting service in the world. I was so proud. Then I started with BBC Yorkshire in Leeds from 1968 and remember going to an auction in Retford and the auctioneer, Rupert Spencer, stopped the auction to inform the audience that the BBC had arrived (I was with Barry Chambers) and would they give a round of applause – and mentioned all our names.
Such was the affection for the BBC at that time. I have always loved working in this region – there was a connection and responsibility to the audience and I always felt the reporting was more “pure”.
BBC Yorkshire has had some of the biggest news stories in the country. At that time being on camera was highly respected and valued – my first boss told me that the BBC was ‘camera-led’. BBC Yorkshire was the Oxbridge of training for many journalists who went onto the national stage, including Philip Hayton, Jeremy Thompson, Brian Hanrahan, Dame Jenni Murray, James Robbins, Tim Ewart, Sophie Raworth, Harry Gration, Stuart Purves and Mark Byford, who went on to be acting director general.
I and all my camera colleagues upheld the highest standards of BBC values of honesty, integrity, impartiality and fairness. Anything else would have been unthinkable – and unforgivable. One arrogant graduate trainee who came to Leeds upset my mentor and camera colleague, David Brierley, a legend, on a job in Bradford.
When it came to leaving, David locked the car doors and told the alleged God’s gift to journalism to get the bus home and drove off. We didn’t take prisoners in Yorkshire if they crossed the line. What a shame Bashir was not sent to Leeds for training.
In my opinion this Bashir scandal is the result of a nasty BBC management of the 1990s and was the worst decade out of five for me with the BBC. Solid experience counted for nothing. The BBC diminished the status of the reporters and crews – the power was transferred to those on the desks who hadn’t done the real work day by day in all weathers.
How is it that for the past 40 years respected household names in broadcasting have not been appointed to management? How can you manage without doing the job? Names like John Humphrys, Esther Rantzen, Joan Bakewell, Brian Johnson, David Dimbleby and Jeremy Paxman to name but a few? They have learnt their craft over many years at the coal face and they can do the real job inspiring others.
You wouldn’t get a Station Commander at an RAF airfield who was not a pilot or navigator on the front line. It says everything that David Attenborough was head of BBC2 for a short while but even he couldn’t stand the BBC management culture and left to go back into programme making.
The BBC used to be a byword for editorial and technical excellence, but some arrogant self-interested bosses came in and wanted to make a name for themselves and wrecked several generations of production quality in news and current affairs.
The BBC has to salvage its reputation and trust and have rigorous checks and balances in place and find a new identity for the future. Tim Davie, the new director general, has his work cut out.
Keith Massey, from York, spent 50 years working for the BBC as a cameraman at BBC Yorkshire and nationally.
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