It is not exaggerating to say that the BBC is not in the happiest of places right now. Rightly or wrongly, the trust rating for its news and political coverage has fallen recently; there were more than a few raised eyebrows over the coverage of last month’s General Election; the Corporation’s coverage of the EU referendum and its aftermath has been criticised; and it has faced a series of embarrassing pay equality cases.
Add to that the implicit criticism from former Director General Mark Thompson yesterday on The Andy Marr Show™, for instance asking why BBC3 was axed as a TV channel, given its track record of nurturing shows that have become BBC1 ratings bankers. Add in the ruckus over free TV licences for over-75s, and the pressure on current incumbent Tony Hall was only going to increase. And so the inevitable has happened.
The Beeb has been first to admit this morning “Lord Hall to step down as BBC's director general”. It sounds so much more, well, decent than “quit” or “resign”, which he has done. Why go, and why now? “He said he felt it was important the BBC had the same leader for the BBC's mid-term review in 2022 and the renewal of its charter in 2027”.
To no surprise at all, BBC media editor Amol Rajan - the bloke who spiked the John Whittingdale dominatrix story when editor of the Independent - was fulsome in his praise for Lord Hall-Hall, breaking down The Great Man’s stewardship into three chapters.
“That first chapter was a case of steadying the ship, and crisis management, where he is widely thought to have performed well … The third chapter has been navigating unprecedented technological disruption. On this, he has done much more than he is generally credited for”. The second chapter? That was “securing a new Royal Charter and governance structure at the BBC. This included a painful negotiation with the government which some critics argue the BBC should have been tougher in”. Understatement, much?
But no mention of the increasing disquiet over the news and current affairs coverage - including the descent of supposedly flagship politics show Question Time into an increasingly cheap ratings chasing spectacle where audience members and indeed panellists are routinely the subject of derision and subsequent media pile-on.
And while Rajan volunteers “His successor will need to combine world-class political, commercial, editorial and managerial talent, while coming under a relentless barrage of criticism from all fronts”, what the new DG really needs to do in that news and current affairs arena is simply to regain the T-Word - as in TRUST.
After that, yes, someone ready, as Thompson hinted on the Marr Show, to bang the gong for public service broadcasting when it comes to discussions with the Government. But first, the Corporation has to be seen to be actually doing what it says on the BBC tin: ENTERTAIN, EDUCATE AND INFORM. The last two have been patchy of late.
In other words, the Beeb does not need a rocket scientist. Just a damn good manager.
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