Before we plunge into the little local difficulty of Newsnight, let’s reflect that 90 years ago about 11,000 people were crowded round their crystal sets listening to the first output of the British Broadcasting Company.


Within a few years the BBC was resisting intense pressure to take the side of the government in the General Strike of 1926. Its correspondents risked life and limb to report the Second World War. After the conflict its radio and television services defined what public service broadcasting was all about when competition from commercial broadcasting arrived. It has been sustained by the licence fee, a method of funding under constant attack, but still supported by the British people.


Its natural history programmes, dramas and documentaries are of the highest quality and much of its investigative journalism has been of the same standard. There has rightly been a lot of criticism of the failure to investigate Jimmy Savile and the serious libel of Lord McAlpine, but it was not so long ago that the BBC exposed the abuse of elderly people in the Winterbourne View Care Home.


So let’s realise what is going on at the moment. The BBC’s commercial enemies are having a field day and some right wing Tories have raised the spectre of funding the BBC by public subscription. Let’s have a whip round for a programme showing us polar bear cubs in their den in the heart of an Arctic winter.


The important question at the moment isn’t “wither the BBC?”, but why does the Corporation, every few years, plunge itself into a major crisis over its journalism?


A lot of people have questioned the structure of the BBC that left the Director General exposed, first to the Commons Select Committee over Savile and then to John Humphrys over McAlpine. George Entwhistle was certainly let down by those who should have kept him informed but I think he just wasn’t up to the job. One of the requirements of being Director General is an ability to prepare for media interviews and give as good as you get.


Some weeks ago I expressed surprise that Entwhistle had conducted a public trial of the editor of Newsnight, Peter Rippon at the Commons Media Select Committee. He was asked ridiculous questions like, “how many paedophiles are there at the BBC”. Entwistle should have said he’d set up inquiries into that and the MP should stop show boating. Instead he looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.


Same again after the second Newsnight programme, only this time it was Humphrys kebabing his own boss. The next DG needs to be a man or woman made of sterner stuff. Sadly it looks like a mostly male field now that Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s former chief operating officer has ruled herself out of a second run for the job. My choice would be Tony Hall, the former BBC Director of News.


If you are familiar with Sam’s Chop House in Leeds or the similar operation in Manchester, then you will be pleased to note that a new addition to the Victorian Chop House Company’s range of eateries has just opened.


Situated just across from the Town Hall, is the newly opened Albert Square Chop House. Ambience is almost as important as good food for me in restaurants and this establishment has both.


The Memorial Hall building dates from 1866 and more recently was the Square Albert pub. The £3.5m refit has been tastefully done, preserving the best features of the Venetian Gothic-style building. In addition to the restaurant there is a private dining boardroom and 100 capacity function room, all handy facilities in the heart of the city.


On the day I was there I was able to sample a fine range of British dishes with mostly locally sourced food and some excellent wines.



A brief word on the latest revelations around Hillsborough, and then I’ll move on to my main topic.

It appears a senior police officer in the Merseyside force helped to fuel the slander against Liverpool fans while rank and file bobbies were expressing their disgust at the accusations in The Sun.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the force was led by Chief Constable Ken Oxford who, it appears, was troubled with Anfield being turned into a shrine for the victims. With someone like that at the head of the police force, perhaps the revelation is not such a surprise.

Policing has moved on and the Merseyside force is now hopefully more sensitive to the community they serve.

Anyway it is not the papers relating to the Merseyside force we want to see but South Yorkshire. Why haven’t they leaked? Why are we now told it could be late this year before we get the full release of documents? I hope it is only personal details that are being redacted. The suffering has gone on long enough. Let Bishop James’ Commission report without further delay.



Peter Salmon should be the next Director General of the BBC. I’ve spent the last few days with people involved in one of the most important job creators in the North West…. the media.

The Nations and Regions TV conference was held in Salford this week and there was the suggestion that our very own Peter Salmon should leap into the top job at the Beeb.

Salmon’s career has equipped him for the post. He went from Granada to a range of top jobs in the BBC and ITV culminating in him masterminding the corporation’s move to Salford in the face of fierce, prejudiced hostility from the southern based national press.

Incidentally on that subject did you spot the howler in the Telegraph the other day? While running one of their anti-BBC in Salford stories, they said Media City was in the MIDLANDS!

Now that error was written by a journalist and passed by a sub editor in one of our main quality papers. The North is a land of which they know little and the error is a powerful argument for redressing the media bias with a critical mass of production up here.



Do you want local TV? Jeremy Hunt does and has identified Preston, Manchesterand Liverpool among the first places for its roll out.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has a poor opinion of regional television. He told the Salford conference that we only had it because it was based on where the transmission masts were in 1955 when ITV got underway. He says major cities in the USA have 6 local TV services providing much more local content.

The problem with this idea has always been making it pay. Channel One in Liverpool and more recently Channel M in Manchester failed the viability test.

Hunt believes he’s cracked the problem by getting the BBC to stump up £30m for the 44 stations which the Secretary of State believes can operate on a half million pound budget a year.



If you support clubs like Morecambe, Preston and Oldham you will be concerned about rumours that the BBC may be dropping its coverage of non-Premier League football.

The Football League Show and Late Kick Off give vital coverage to the lower leagues at a time when much of the media is obsessed with the Premiership.

At the conference I had a chance to question the BBC’s Head of Sport Barbara Slater who said “discussions were ongoing”.

I understand the Football League are desperate to keep the BBC on board and are only asking for a modest amount for their coverage.

For the BBC to claim they can’t afford to continue covering the lower leagues would be a desertion of their public service duty.