13 July 2012

Ferguson Lays Reith on the Tomb of BBC Credibility

I keep thinking that I have reached the final straw in my relationship with Radio 4, by my addiction is strong, and I hang on to my cultural comfort blanket through politically biased explanations of the banking crisis and trite commentaries on the issues of the day. While, in spite of the decision to give Niall Ferguson the extroardinary accolade of Reith Laureate this year, I am still listening, I have managed to prevent myself from downloading the podcasts of the talks. I caught one accidentally late at night and it completely ruined a night's sleep.

Who is this Niall Ferguson? A historian of moderate reputation who, having confessed that he did not receive the attention he felt his ego deserved in the UK, emigrated to a job at Harvard, where he made the common mistake of thinking that his rapid rise to fame was the result of his innate genius, rather than his views serving the financial elite. I am not sure where along the way he became accepted into the inner circles of the Bilderberg conspirators, but their official list says he was in attendance at the recent meeting at Chantilly in France. I assume this website is for real: since Bilderberg conspiracy theory became Bilderberg publicity it is really hard to know.

While I have political objections to these unaccountable elite gatherings, in this case my gripe is intellectual. My question is why Ferguson is called on to opine on economic matters, when his training is in history. His poor level of competence in the field is made clear by a very elementary mistake exposed by Paul Krugman on his NY Times blog. Ferguson has misinterpreted US historical data to reveal his mathematical mediocrity and drawn mistaken conclusions about how national governments should tackle the recession.

So why was Ferguson chosen for the most prominent annual lecture series the BBC has to bestow? Perhaps a brief glance at the Corporation's Executive Board will help us to answer this question. Marcus Agius, disgraced former Chair of Barclays, is a senior independent director on the board: Ferguson's views can be expected to find favour there. The four non-executive directors appear to be a fairly incestuous bunch. Robert Webb is a non-executive director of the London Stock Exchange as well as Chair of Autonomy. The CEO of Autonomy, Mike Lynch, is also on the board. Between 1998 and 2009 Robert Webb was General Counsel at British Airways, who also employed BBC non-exec. Val Gooding for 20 years. Simon Burke seems out of place, having worked for neither Autonomy nor BA, but he has been involved in venture capital activities.

My daughter is hoping to study history at UCL next year and so I find the prominence of Ferguson as historian role-model almost as unhelpful as the high level of fees she is expected to pay. She is receiving a clear message: debt is good and deceit pays. Rather than speaking peace unto nation, I would appreciate it is the BBC could just stick to spending my money speaking truth, preferably to power.

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