It was inevitable that the BBC would produce a mission statement
for the next century. The only surprise is that a multi-purpose,
multi-faceted, bi-media task force is not already at work on a mission
statement for the century after that.
In general, there is only one rational reaction to organisations which
produce mission statements. Derision. Heaping banalities on top of
truisms, usually with a swift dash of hypocrisy, does nobody any good.
And to add some more unnecessary truisms, an organisation where a strong
corporate culture and sense of purpose is felt by employees doesn’t need
a mission statement, and dozens of mission statements are no substitute
for the lack of a natural sense of direction.
Due to the imposition of its universal licence fee the BBC, more than
most, should indeed account for itself in public. Anyway, Chris Smith
had asked it to produce a statement of its plan for the next century so
at least it’s got an excuse for wasting licence payer’s money.
Yet even by the standards of the mission statement-writing trade, the
BBC’s 110 words are full of conditionality - the Beeb will aim, aspire,
seek and endeavour to do things rather than actually commit itself.
What do you make of this? ’We aim to be guided by our public purposes.’
Only aim? Surely to be guided by its public purposes is a sine qua non
for the Corporation. Given that it is inconceivable that the 110 words
were not gone over a hundred times and there is no possibility of the
wrong cliche being chosen, the wording is revealing. As is becoming the
usual pattern following its ludicrous ’AGM’, the BBC assembled an
audience of the great and good to receive its mission statement and lob
a few gentle questions.
A little reality managed to intrude. Jocelyn Hay of the Viewers and
Listeners Association suggested that boasting about 30 million hits a
month for BBC Online wasn’t so smart when you have to divide by ten to
get the number of users as opposed to graphic impressions accessed. That
gives us 100,000 users a day, possibly half coming from abroad. Never
mind, the BBC is a pioneer. It says so in the mission statement, so why
should anyone be bothered that only 0.5% of the 22 million licence
payers are using the service.
A few academics even had the temerity to ask exactly how many people
they expected to watch their digital services. Silly old academics. It
was all there in the document. The BBC’s new channels and services will
create ’new mass audiences’ for the BBC. Not unless there is the
greatest redefinition of words since Alice in Wonderland. But it is the
mismatch between the BBC words and its deeds that is most offensive.
Just as the BBC was promising to seek ’to satisfy all our audiences in
the UK’, Radio 2 was trying to dump another tranche of older listeners
and the Governors were not being minded to have a 6 0’clock News for
Never mind. You can be certain that the BBC will continue to ’aspire to
the highest ethical standards’. After all, it says so in the mission
Raymond Snoddy is media editor of The Times.