Who owns the BBC’s reputation?

The BBC’s decision to not broadcast the DEC charitable appeal for aid for Gaza is said by Mark Thompson, director general, to be about protecting its reputation for impartiality.

Thompson has communicated the decision to staff, whilst an increasing list of celebrities are publicly critical.  Politicians and plenty of other stakeholders have become active publics on the issue.  (More so than for Sky News which has made the same decision).

I like the definition that if brand is a promise, reputation is the delivery of that promise.  So, what does the BBC promise as its reputation?

That I think is the problem – the BBC tries to be all things to all stakeholders – which is pretty impossible in its position.

One of the fourth year PR students whose dissertation I am supervising this year is researching the BBC’s reputation in respect of trust, which is said by many academics to be the central premise of delivering the promise.

The key variable she is considering is whether there is a difference in opinion on the basis of age. Do those who grew up with a more commercial BBC, have an alternative view of the broadcaster compared to people who knew it primarily as a public service provider?  Is their level of trust – and consequently perception of its reputation, consequently affected?

In 1994, Sandra Oliver wrote:

The British people want to trust and believe in the BBC as one of the world’s most trusted and valued broadcasters’ (DG’s Comment in Annual Report 2001/2002) but a different BBC will create different long-term image and reputation issues to manage – issues which lie at the heart of its corporate strategy.

Oliver was quite right that the BBC has experienced a number of new image and reputation issues – from the Dr David Kelly tragedy, to phone voting scandals to more recent celebrity own goals and the current situation.

The BBC seems to struggle in developing an effective public relations strategy to address emerging issues or to demonstrate good crisis management.  Is this because the BBC isn’t clear about the promise it is making or that everyone has their own interpretation of the BBC’s reputation?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.