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BBC: Trust betrayed?

Once a revered broadcaster seen in a national leadership role, the BBC has seen its role evolve as it became an independent media company.

While it has faced several accusations regarding political and religious issues as well as funding and staffing, recent developments have made another painful dent in its reputation.

The exposure of the media giant’s cover up of late presenter Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes for decades saw then director-general George Entwistle step down after failing to convincingly answer accusations.

Arguably made the scapegoat after being at the helm for only 54 days at the time, the scandal strikes at the heart of what the BBC stands for: trust and news judgment. Chris Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, told Associated Press that despite the BBC’s problems, it still “represents quality television”.

“Anyone who rubbishes the BBC should be forced to watch Italian, French or American TV for a week or so,” he said.

As a business in Asia the effect has been significantly less notable with Savile being less known, but will the troubles at home eventually make their way out?

Julian Barrans, managing director, Interbrand Singapore says that while in the UK the scandal strikes at the heart of Britain itself because of its role in the society, in Asia the scandal is no more than a parochial blip.

Also, Barrans credits much to the media giant’s quick handling of the crisis.

“It is true the scandal has dented the BBC’s overall brand. However, the extent of the fall-out has been contained by the head of the corporation quickly taking responsibility for any failings. This has reassured Asian consumers that underlying values have not been compromised – at least to the degree assumed in the UK,” says Barrans.

Shauna Li Roolvink, founder and principal consultant, BrandHub said that the core value stated on the BBC site of trust has been severely tested by the scandal hidden by the BBC and exposed by rival network ITV.

“Savile lived to the ripe old age of 85 until he died last year. The sexual abuse cases go as far back as five decades. How is it possible that with many investigative journalists under its payroll no one at the BBC had ever reported it before to the head honchos?” says Li Roolvink.

She account its to an “old boys network” of covering up for each other.

Fortunately for BBC, she said, echoing Barrans, the the fallout in Asia will be minimal because Savile is little known in the region and the BBC has a strong brand reputation built up over decades in the region.

Barrans also suggests another issue the BBC has is that few may know it beyond a fairly stiff news image.

“The popular local satirical TV show The Noose features a slightly pompous news reader called B.B.See; an illustration of how the BBC brand in Asia is known for the general quality of news presentation and high standards of “proper” English – rather than as a guardian of civic values.

The narrowness of this reputation points to a more salient issue for the BBC brand – that of low awareness of the corporation’s vision, mission and product range beyond news,” said Barrans.

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