Trust in journalism is hard to create and easy to destroy. The potential for lasting reputational damage to the BBC from the circumstances surrounding Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana is enormous.
Bashir, an investigation concluded, acted in a “deceitful” way to obtain the interview. The BBC’s investigation at the time is described as “woefully ineffective”. Both the BBC and Bashir have apologised.
The fact that a 25-year-old timebomb has now exploded does not diminish the potential for corporate harm today. Reputable journalism relies on honesty and transparency – even more so at the BBC as a publicly funded body.
Previous rows and scandals at the BBC involving other areas of programmes have been taken very seriously because of the potential for them to cause harm to the corporation’s reputation for news.
A good example of this was in 1999 when The Vanessa Show – a little watched daytime magazine show – was found to have booked “fake guests”. The issue was taken very seriously by the then head of BBC TV Will Wyatt who was all too aware of the risk of reputational damage or undermining trust in serious output.
So how does the BBC today ensure that the potential harm is limited?
This is an era of fake news and lack of trust in the mainstream media – all problems that make the BBC’s existence more vital. All issues which can be exploited by those who wish to see the BBC weakened or destroyed.
Obviously being seen to report fairly on the scandal is vital. Tonight’s news bulletins and the Panorama special will be scrutinised closely. But what should happen going forward?
It goes without saying that BBC journalism is generally of a very high standard. Most errors of judgement are honest ones and what matters is how they are dealt with rather than the fact they happened in the first place.
But can marketing, communications and branding play a part too in limiting any public damage? Organisations with an image problem – fairly or unfairly – often look to rebrands to put them right.
Could the next rebrand of BBC News push things in a slightly more traditional manner? The idea here would be that traditional values need to be stressed.
Might the days of red as the signature colour be numbered? Do presenters need to sit down all the time again – at least on the major BBC One bulletins? Is there a need for a smaller team of key presenters and regular reporters who are seen as trusted faces?
Of course, back in the 90s when the scandal happened these were the values embodied in BBC News branding.
At the time it featured the BBC Coat of Arms and there was a smaller rota of regular presenters. For instance it was exceptional for anyone other than Michael Buerk or Peter Sissons to present the Nine o’Clock News or the main weekend bulletins.
The risk to the BBC is of an image problem – the actions and work of the vast, vast majority of staff are beyond reproach.
Could a refresh help highlight these values?
Sometimes though rebrands of news programmes appear to move things backwards not forwards – the revamp of BBC News bulletins in 1976 or the rebranding of the Nine o’Clock News in 1988 come to mind.
PICTURED: Martin Bashir interviewing Princess Diana for Panorama in 1995. COPYRIGHT: BBC.