BBC will be damaged by tax and Savile stories despite proactive handling

The BBC's handling of two high profile negative stories has been proactive but will still lead to major reputational damage, according to comms experts.

The BBC: Faces dual allegations
The BBC: Faces dual allegations

The BBC has been hit by coverage this morning about its tax arrangements, with front page articles in The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

The news has revealed that the BBC is accused by the Commons Public Accounts Committee of helping 25,000 employees to avoid paying tax.

The arrangements create ‘suspicions of complicity in tax avoidance’, according to Commons spending watchdog Margaret Hodge, and include high profile figures such as Fiona Bruce and Jeremy Paxman.

The news comes as the BBC continues to face allegations that Sir Jimmy Savile sexually abused young girls, often in his dressing room at BBC TV Centre.

Referring to the tax allegations, Porter Novelli director, corporate practice Neil Bayley said: ‘The BBC has probably seen this as a way of reducing cost and saving money from the licence fee to invest elsewhere. However, people are not going to see the detail. They will hear the headline "BBC avoids tax", which damages trust and makes an unhelpful association with the banks.’

Bayley added that the Savile story suggested that the BBC ‘turned a blind eye, which is totally unacceptable and another message that will undermine trust’.

‘I think they saw this early on, because they proactively announced contact with the police to assist in their enquiries before the ITV documentary aired. Despite their proactive damage limitation efforts, the conclusions will probably be damaging for the BBC and represent another significant knock to confidence in their standards.’

A former BBC employee agreed that the broadcaster’s handling of both issues showed that it had ‘learned a big lesson since the Russell Brand affair’.

‘I think that in the past the thing that the BBC has been criticised for is not getting senior figures to talk about the cases. They’ve gone into a bunker mentality and issued three lines. This time you can see that they’ve had people up in the media talking about it, such as [director of editorial policy and standards] David Jordan [on the Savile story].’

The source added that the corporation’s new director general George Entwistle has been successful in placing himself into the Savile story, which the BBC had until that point been handling by ‘playing the technical issues’.

‘He has shown one strong intervention, which is quite important.’

Media House International executive chairman Jack Irvine added that the Savile story ‘will grow and grow and others will be caught in the net and the police won’t come out of this well either’.

The BBC's head of media relations Julian Payne was unavailable at the time of publishing.

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