Mark Thompson must be grinding his teeth this morning following the news broken by the Times that the Today programme is in talks with Katie Price, aka Jordan, about guest-editing an episode of the daily news and current affairs programme some time between Christmas and New Year.
The BBC director-general spends a large part of his time trying to persuade politicians and the rest of the influential classes that the BBC is a very serious public service with the highest possible standards and then one of his star programmes blows a hole in his carefully planned strategy.
Not only is the Today programme one of the jewels in the BBC’s crown, it is by a long way the one BBC offering that the people who decide the Corporation’s future regard as essential listening. What are they to make of Thompson’s earnest pleas for continual cash and a relatively light touch when it comes to thinking about future regulation and structural change at the BBC?
Many people will argue that the noughties are all about blending high brow and low brow in all sorts of clever post-modern ways and that if Ann Widdecombe can appear on Strictly Come Dancing then what’s wrong with Jordan casting a little celebrity glitz over the issues of the day? Indeed maybe David Beckham will be giving next year’s Reith lecture.
The problem is that this whole episode is likely to erode the brand status of the Today programme and the BBC. Some initiatives fit and some don’t.
It’s like Rolex making a spangly, disposable watch or Ferrari investing in the Reliant Robin. It simply says to the world that the BBC doesn’t really believe in the values that it keeps trumpeting whenever its licence fee is threatened. And that can’t be good for the brand.