We’ve already blogged on the unedifying Ross / Brand affair, and remarked how where the BBC was concerned, unlike the British Council, there could be and was a mechanism for redress. There was/is a board of trustees with sufficient distance from the management to call them to account, and there’s Ofcom. And as we have remarked today there is also the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in Parliament, which exerts a degree of pressure and holds the BBC accountable.
The grilling of the BBC by the Culture, Media and Sport committee is in marked contrast to the simpering more tea, vicar treatment of the British Council by the Foreign Affairs Committee. While the former is concerned with investigating the BBC’s “range of commercial activities in the UK and abroad”, the latter, more airily concerned with public diplomacy, mainly skirts round the subject of commerce and the obvious dangers of a publicly funded organisation competing with genuine enterprise and, to judge by the way Lord Kinnock was given free rein to change the subject when the matter was raised, has no stomach for investigation of any substance. While the British Council was last month given an hour, mostly taken by Lord Kinnock extolling the noble qualities of his charges, the grilling of the BBC took three times as long and was far more exacting.
So here’s a question: why does the parliamentary culture committee not investigate the “range of commercial activities in the UK and abroad” of the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations? Would they, for example, allow the British Council’s “chief executive” - the ADC to Lord Kinnock - to get away with saying that his organisation was in “continuing discussions” (see Q. 96) with a company which had challenged the organisation’s veracity and integrity and produced hard evidence to back that up, when in fact the organisation had spent years in dissembling and denial and was indeed still engaged in evasion?
The British Council is dependent on the taxpayer for its commercial advantage, its commercial privileges, for its very existence. Where is the accountability? Where is the mechanism to prevent this parasitical organisation abusing privilege, competing unfairly, misleading the public, and misleading parliament? As things stand, no such mechanism exists. Perhaps John Whittingdale MP and his Culture, Media and Sport Committee could be asked to take a look.
There is, as many of us know, an awful lot to look at.