If you live outside the UK, you almost certainly know the BBC, although you may not have heard of Jimmy Savile – a DJ and media ‘personality’ who was a permanent fixture on BBC TV and radio schedules for more than three decades. Since his recent death, hundreds of allegations of sex abuse have emerged about him, embroiling the BBC in one of the worst crises in its history, and resulting in the resignation of their Director General, George Entwistle, after only 54 days in the post.
For any brand or institution ‘trust’ is a hugely valuable asset, and for a publicly funded broadcaster like the BBC it is arguably the most precious asset. That’s why the Guardian newspaper commissioned my company to conduct a Metaphorix® study to gauge levels of trust in the BBC in the wake of the Savile revelations. The results give fascinating insight into both the resilience of a great brand, and the way that trust can erode rapidly in the face of negative buzz.
Conquest found that around half the population trust the BBC less than before ‘recent events’, and a third blame the BBC directly for Savile’s behaviour – even though there are also allegations that he carried out sexual abuse at several institutions other than the BBC. Further, almost half felt the Savile affair is ‘the worst crisis’ in the BBC’s history (echoing remarks made by veteran foreign editor John Simpson in late October) and almost one third agreed that the BBC needs a radical overhaul.
Bad enough you might think, but, perhaps most ominously for the publicly funded Corporation, over half agreed that the £145.50 a year licence fee is a waste of money and should be abolished. The current licence fee deal runs until 2017, but negotiations over the next phase will begin the year after next.
Yet, despite the damage done to its public perceptions, the BBC remains by some distance the most trusted source of UK news with 39% of respondents choosing it as their most trusted, significantly ahead of ITV (13%), Sky News (10%), the Guardian (8%) and the Daily Mail (6%).
Furthermore, 46% of people feel the BBC is still a vital institution, while over six in ten agree that it would be a ‘disaster if Britain lost the BBC’. Maybe what is propping the broadcaster up is a perception that it is a ‘national treasure’ so that, despite its failures and faults, it is forgiven – or at least given the benefit of the doubt. Thus most believe (despite some evidence to the contrary) that recent events are ‘more cock-up than conspiracy’ – that the BBC has made genuine mistakes and is making efforts to sort them out in a transparent and self critical way.
Read the full report here