Last week the BBC published a quiz for children on CBBC with questions and answers. The “right” answer in each case was to lie or cheat. Children who chose other answers were told they were “too nice to get to the top in business”.

After increasingly fierce criticism from entrepreneur and children’s groups, the BBC eventually quietly removed the quiz – initially without explanation. When challenged by Business Zone reporter Chris Goodfellow it  offered a telling justification for the content of the quiz, below, that revealed more about the BBC and its understanding and attitudes than it does about UK business or entrepreneurs.

The question isn’t whether the programme makers have been watching too much Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice – it’s whether, like it or not, we all are.

Which prompted this open letter to Tony Hall, director general of the BBC.

Dear Mr Hall,

This is a very important, serious, question because, as has become increasingly clear over the last five years, the future of the UK rests on the creativity and character of our entrepreneurs and the mainstream, non-corporate SME sector.

I will not trouble you with all the stats (except to remind you that this is by far the biggest part of the UK economy). In total, 99 per cent of firms employ well over 80 per cent of the UK’s workers. But the fact is that non-Dragon entrepreneurs are the ones who are creating jobs, employing the vast majority of people and growing the economy. Contrary to popular myth the corporate sector is, of course, a net-destroyer of jobs year-on-year.

So the way entrepreneurs are portrayed in our culture, and the stories we tell our children about them, are crucial. Especially for the BBC – given the trust it is accorded and it’s unique place British life.

Entrepreneurs are the ones who create the jobs and bring innovation to the economy (the shareholder-value driven model having driven this role largely out of the corporate sector long ago).

As a country we’re even starting to recognise social entrepreneurs and social enterprises, those who have such a mission without the specific label, and the powerful and crucial role they play in building a better society.

It’s the corporate sector that, having become predatory and semi-detached from society as a whole, insist on their “right” to shave as close as possible to the legal wind.

It was shocking to see such a terrible and outdated attitude to entrepreneurs embodied in a CBBC children’s quiz, under the BBC brand. More shocking still to have all those children who filled it in with any sense of a moral compass being told they were “too nice” to be entrepreneurs!

A BBC spokesperson said: “The quiz was intended to reflect a fictional character from the drama ‘Eve’. In the programme the character has a mischievous and deceptive nature and this was incorporated into the quiz outcomes. On reflection we accept that when taken out of context the quiz could be seen to be condoning immoral behaviour which was certainly not our intention.”

It’s not a lame excuse to say that these words were in the mouth of a character and the context of a story – it’s no excuse at all. It also shows no understanding of the importance of this mistake, und unveils a shocking misunderstanding within the BBC as a whole of who and what entrepreneurs are and the importance of the way we are portrayed. Not to mention the damage this particular quiz could have inflicted.

The vast majority of entrepreneurs are no Dragons – they look, behave and live much like the rest of society.

We’re far from perfect (aka human) but we, as a class, rely on our reputation.

Entrepreneurship is not about pilfering, lying and cheating your way to the top. Especially not in the more open age of the internet and social media. It’s a choice – and never an easy one. It involves a huge commitment of time, life and lifestyle. There’s risk and practical, neck-on-the-line, self-belief (even on days when you’d rather be anywhere else). It involves keeping an open mind, building a team and working with others. It’s about thinking creatively every day, often on your feet, and is seven, not five or six, days a week.

In short the BBC is showing itself to be prejudiced, outdated and negligent on an issue that matters not just to the nation’s entrepreneurs, but to us all.

Not nearly enough has been done, admitted or said to put right this, comparatively small, wrong. But the big point, and the big issue is: what will the BBC do to review, correct and re-balance its attitude and coverage of this vital area?

Yours sincerely,

Barry James

Barry James in the founder of The Crowdfunding Centre.This is an edited version of an article in the latest edition of This Week in Entrepreneurship.




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