Press gang: The rehabilitation of Dyke?

Submitted by Anon on 5 February, 2004 - 5:24

By Lucy Clement

Union rallies in defence of the Corporation's independence have been called outside all BBC sites on Thursday 5 February, but it remains to be seen whether enough staff will still be feeling strongly enough to make the action a success.

In this, the collective memory of the media is barely longer than its soundbites.
One of the more bizarre consequences of the Hutton whitewash has been the transformation of Greg Dyke from Chief Dumber-Down to Chief Defender of Media Freedom.

When Dyke was appointed, he was slated as Tony's crony, a Labour donor and a Blair-friendly bloke to run the Beeb. So, for that matter was the Chairman, Gavyn Davies, a former City economist who also gave money to Labour.

As if that weren't bad enough, Dyke was the man responsible for Roland Rat and, true to form, once in charge of the BBC he instituted a commercialising, ratings-chasing strategy. From a management point of view it was successful.

Although all TV channels are losing viewers, ITV lost more. Freeview boxes are a commercial hit, while ITV Digital collapsed. Dyke had a touchy-feely, matey style which won him some support among the staff, particularly in those areas - light entertainment, drama, the big blockbuster programming - that he was bothered about. News was not one of those areas.

He was certainly a contrast to his predecessor, John Birt and, in the eyes of many staff, a welcome one.

But get beyond the superficialities of management style and there's not much to appreciate about Greg Dyke. Last year in the News division alone, there were more than 100 redundancies. Another 50 posts are to go this year, according to the National Union of Journalists. Dyke was midway through privatising BBC Technology, leaving dozens of staff uncertain about their future, fearing job cuts and worsening conditions.

With that in mind, it was a strange sight indeed to see the pictures of tearful BBC staff taking to the streets with their "We Love Greg" placards, and the full-page advert in the Telegraph praising his creative inspiration. It's explained by a number of factors: the collective hysteria that overtook the Corporation with the publication of the Hutton report, a sense of fury at the grovelling apology to the Government issued by acting Chairman Lord Ryder, and the fact that Dyke had managed to achieve considerable popularity in at least parts of the BBC.

However, the reaction also indicates the weakness of the BBC unions. Had the unions taken the lead in organising protests against Hutton, they might have succeeded in moving the focus away from Greg Dyke the martyr towards more basic issues.

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