There was a very good piece by my colleague Martin Ivens in last week’s Sunday Times which asked how the BBC had come to estrange politicians of every party, along with most of the country. Ever willing to help, the BBC provided a partial explanation last week with two decisions of particular stupidity and crassness. First it let slip that it was advertising for a newsreader over the age of fifty – a cringeworthy piece of tokenism motivated by a barrage of complaints that the corporation has been guilty of ageism. Such an advert would, of course, be discriminatory itself and would not remotely address the issue of ageism. There would just be one older-than-average newsreader, instead of none. A little like when they shove a few blacks in Eastenders to show they are diverse and, actually, reveal the complete opposite.
Then executives decided they needed a new arts correspondent, a “personality” and alighted upon a public relations executive called Will Gompertz, a chap with no reporting or presenting experience whatsoever and who is currently working as a Media Director at the Tate. It is premature to judge Mr Gompertz and one should try to be even-handed: I have attempted to locate a photograph of him not looking like an utter cock but have, so far, been unable to find one. He is, according to one exec, “a complete maverick and eccentric!” Wonderful, wonderful – just what we want; someone a BBC executive thinks is whacky.
As you might have guessed, the person the BBC has overlooked for this new role is the current BBC Arts Correspondent who is a woman approaching 50 years of age and from an ethnic minority. Razia Iqbal is, more to the point, a superb journalist with an enormous breadth of knowledge across the arts and able to convey complex and often abstract ideas with economy and enthusiasm. She is one of the very best of the BBC’s correspondents – and now she is reportedly considering taking legal action.
I know a lot of you loathe the BBC, for its bias, or its ratings-chasing, or its hideous fecundity of overpaid middle managers, or simply because of the license fee. But I still cling to the excellence of its news correspondents, the Bowens, the Littles, the Hawksleys, the Freis and the Iqbals as a convincing argument for public service broadcasting. I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to do that. Now they’ve overlooked Iqbal, maybe they’ll replace Jeremy Bowen with some self-consciously showbiz “maverick” non-journalist twat, reporting from the West Bank with a giggle and a funny pair of glasses. And another one of the diminishing reasons to keep the BBC dissolves.