Much hand-wringing at the BBC these days. The venerable news organization continues to flounder following the broadcast of a news segment concerning allegations of child abuse. The most high-profile casualty so far is none other than the BBC’s Director General, George Entwistle, who resigned on Saturday.
For a while, it looked like Entwistle was going to make it. Following the crisis management rulebook, he was saying and doing the right things: taking responsibility, calling for answers, and promising reform. Ultimately, though, that didn’t save him. He was taken down by an astonishing interview given on BBC radio. The fifteen-minute segment is now widely credited as being Entwistle’s undoing, and interviewer John Humphry has been praised for it. His BBC colleagues might want to re-examine those kudos.
In the incendiary interview, Humphry dispenses altogether with the notion of allowing listeners to decide. Basically telling his boss he should have known better, he does a lot of telling and not much asking. Entwistle does his best to stay on message and answer questions, but Humphry becomes belligerent, hopelessly drunk with the power of the chair he is sitting in. The interview sounds like an exercise in personal and organizational retribution. If the BBC is worried about its PR (and trust) with the public, this didn’t help. The BBC can claim scalps in its interviews, but in so doing makes it entirely clear how the current issues came about in the first place.
The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the BBC, which demonstrated the thinking that got its news department into hot water.
The PR Takeaway: Fair and balanced is the media motto. While Fox News is routinely derided for being aggressively opinionated, Humphry’s “news” interview would sit perfectly on a Fox talk show. If the PR problems of the BBC relate to the inadequate editorial checks and balances in its news department, then this interview serves its critics well. Instead of celebrating the “gotcha” moment, a stronger commitment to facts, not opinions; more asking, less telling – might be the change that starts the BBC’s PR turnaround.
To listen to the interview, click here.