Journalism isn’t broken so be careful what you wish for

Bankers must be going to work with a spring in their step these days. Those who still have a job, that is.

No longer are they the sole pariahs of British society.

It seems journalists are the new hate figures as the BBC staggers like a punch-drunk boxer from one crisis to the next.

As newspapers await the verdict of the Leveson Inquiry, the scandals enveloping the Beeb suddenly look just as big – if not bigger.

A few weeks ago it was the corporation’s management and practices during the Jimmy Savile era that were making the headlines.

Today it is the catastrophic investigation (I use that word advisedly) which smeared an innocent politician as a paedophile that is dominating the news agenda.

It has already caused the BBC’s Director General George Entwistle to fall on his sword and left the BBC Trust’s chairman Lord Patten considering his position.

To make matters worse, we have the unedifying spectacle of national newspapers lining up to put the boot in to Auntie.

Indeed that boot is on the other foot to such an extent that none-other than the whiter-than-white, small screen star that is Gary Lineker OBE is showing his displeasure at the press treatment of his employer.

He Tweeted: “Whilst television has made some appalling errors of late (and apologised for them), the hypocrisy of some newspapers is truly staggering.”

Of course, our Gary overlooks the fact that, at times, the BBC – or rather some of its presenters – have been undeniably smug and self-righteous as the Leveson panel has been giving print media hacks a good kicking.

Talk about dog-eat-dog.

How sad it is that amid the indignation and the resignations the real stories are being lost.

A hysteria akin to that surrounding the Salem Witch Trials seems to have set in and the genuine issues of note are being lost in the hunt for scapegoats and fall guys.

What began with an eminently-justifiable probe into the reprehensible actions of a minority of national newspaper journalists and executives has morphed into a sort of collective paranoia about the media.

Politicians licking their wounds in the wake of the expenses scandal undoubtedly viewed the Leveson Inquiry as the perfect excuse to bring the out-of-control press to heel.

It was pay-back time and the likes of Labour MP Tom Watson set about the task with relish.

However, as a result of this vindictive witch hunt we seem to have lost all perspective.

We can no longer see who has the moral high ground because there are so many people clamouring to be up there.

No-one can justify illegal phone-hacking and those newspaper employees and executives who used it or who sanctioned its use should, of course, be held to account.

By the same token I’m sure every right-thinking person wants a thorough investigation into the way in which former BBC star Jimmy Savile was able to get away with what, on the face of it, appears to have been the systematic abuse of children during his time with the corporation.

And, following the shambolic Newsnight programme which wrongly accused a senior Tory peer of abuse, it is only right that the Beeb’s editorial practices are rigorously reviewed.

However, none of this means that we should allow a few bad apples to spoil the barrels.

Journalism isn’t broken and neither, for that matter, is the BBC.

For the most part, the national newspapers in this country do a fine job of keeping us informed – precisely because they are irreverent and they have a heart unlike their counterparts in, say, the U.S.

Yes, they make mistakes – as any large organisation does – and perhaps Leveson will clean up the murkier side of the national press, but they are certainly not beyond redemption. Neither is the Beeb whose journalists must now feel somewhat besieged as their print cousins have been for the last 12 months.

Granted, I’m only 40, but for as long as I can remember, the BBC has been a reliable, trusted medium and remains so – irrespective of the current furore.

The work of its journalists and presenters is required listening for me – whether it be Radio Five Live stalwarts Peter Allen and Nicky Campbell or my friends and colleagues at BBC Radio Stoke.

Let’s not forget that the important issues here are phone-hacking, alleged child abuse and an horrific mistake made by senior editorial executives on one programme.

What worries me is that, as we await the results of the Leveson Inquiry, and as the BBC becomes a rudderless ship there is a very real danger of lasting damage to journalism in the UK.

The profession, at its best, is a cornerstone of our democracy. Journalism holds our leaders and institutions to account and, crucially, it gives the majority a voice and a form of redress.

In my opinion a neutered press and a BBC afraid of its own shadow cannot be good.

We must be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water as the many and varied investigations into the media come to a conclusion.

Those enjoying the trial of the national press and the BBC ought to be careful what they wish for.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel