Ian Monk: So, is the BBC turning Stalinist?

Does the BBC believe in freedom of speech?

Ian Monk

Or do recent press office activities suggest it is increasingly favouring the imposition of a Stalinist Party line - particularly on those taking part in Strictly Come Dancing?

Incredibly, media handling around this glorious piece of light entertainment is provoking as much controversy as the Hutton Report. Then, fundamental questions over the rights of investigative journalists were weighed against establishment power. Ultimately, the director-general's head was delivered on a plate. Few doubt that great principles of democracy and the accountability of government were at stake.

By contrast, Strictly Come Dancing is a prime-time talent show. The key questions are which celebrity will prove to be the least worst dancer and how many people will watch it in what looks like an ill-judged ratings war with The X Factor on ITV.

Yet its media handlers are caught in a crossfire as vicious as anything that reverberated around the Iraq war. First, Q&As to the show's participants were leaked to the tabloids. Spelling out the BBC's preferred responses to questions suggesting ageism or sexism, motivated by the sacking of a female judge in her sixties, they were caricatured as control freakery.

Then came the ‘P word' race row. The media predictably raised the BBC's inconsistency in firing Carol Thatcher for using the word ‘Golliwog' while allowing glamour boy Anton du Beke to remain in place. No sensible answer was forthcoming...
At the same time, the rigidly phrased apologies and statements that all parties had agreed to move forward smacked of control rather than contrition.

When Bruce Forsyth did say something original, unscripted and - to many  - offensive, his rapid recantation would have done credit to a Tudor martyr.

Carefully exercised control is one of the great skills of the PR trade. But when the PR puppeteers of a taxpayer-funded broadcaster - based on free speech -show their strings quite so openly, they are going to face awkward questions. 

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