Triangulation for dummies: Sir Michael Lyons hears ancient cry ring out on Derry Street

During Alastair Campbell’s heyday at No.10, I never quite got hold of the slippery business of triangulation.

Better late than never, though. This week, I reckon I’ve found an example.

Here’s David Newell, director of the Newspaper Society, talking to Press Gazette yesterday about the BBC Trust’s “public value inquiry” into the Corporation’s plans to expand local video news provision:

‘The BBC Trust cannot be the chief cheerleader for the BBC, encouraging it to extend local services out of more and more taxpayers’ money, at the same time as being the independent regulator determining the public value of those services and their impact on local media.”

(Chief cheerleader? That’ll be a reference to negative comments about the regional press from Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust earlier this month).

Oddly enough, this looks very similar to the petard on which BBC bosses have hoist themselves over the Brand-Ross affair.

In the old days, it would have been the Beeb’s chairman who defended the Corporation amid a controversy. But because Sir Michael has a regulatory role, he couldn’t be seen to do so.

Arguably, this has left the BBC much more exposed than it would have been in the days of Sir Christopher Bland (chairman, 1996-2001) or Marmaduke Hussey (1986-1996).

No doubt the timing of the Newspaper Society’s legal challenge is entirely coincidental. But coming in the wake of the Brand-Ross debacle, it’s a sharp reminder of how enthusiastically the BBC has painted itself into a political corner.

At Daily Mail & General Trust, they could be forgiven for ordering trebles all round.

PS: On this score, Peter Preston spoke a lot of sense over the weekend when he suggested that the “great old corporation we know and ought to appreciate more for its manifold good works needs every friend it can get – and had better get on with finding them before the next damned thing happens”.

He might have added that the BBC’s search for friends needs to bear fruit before the recession starts taking down local newspapers and web start-ups in large numbers.

The Beeb’s strategic decision to expand everywhere and do everything on behalf of everybody has always looked unsustainable. It could yet start to look malevolent.

The odd thing is that the BBC Trust — and Sir Michael Lyons in particular — doesn’t appear to understand what’s required.

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