Greg Dyke on television
The BBC needs a new top team, so farewell to the great and good
Monday 11 October 2004
Isn't the debate on the BBC's future all but done and dusted? Having asked Ofcom to do a comprehensive assessment of the state of public service broadcasting in Britain, the Government can hardly ignore most of its recommendations about the BBC.
So now we know that the BBC is likely to get a new 10-year charter, that it will continue to be properly funded by a licence fee, that its range of channels and services are likely to stay unchanged and that it will play a major part in the Government's plans for analogue switch-off and the move to digital. Not a lot new there.
We also know that Ofcom, quite rightly, thinks that top-slicing the licence fee and giving money to other broadcasters through an Arts Council of the Air is a terrible idea. So what, then, is likely to change?
Clearly the current system of governance of the BBC is for the birds. In future there will no longer be a single board of governors responsible both for running the BBC and for regulating it. I suspect the only people who will mourn the passing of the current system are some of the governors themselves. Virtually all the executives at the BBC are in favour of change and believe that the organisation has used up too much political capital trying to defend the indefensible. I certainly felt that when I was director-general. The trouble was that the more the management tried to suggest change was necessary, the more hysterical some governors became about defending the status quo.
It's pretty clear that in the future there will be a Channel 4-style board of executives and non-executives, chosen for their talents and not because they are part of the great and the good, who will be responsible for the actual running of the BBC.
The question on regulation, then, is not if but who? Who will regulate the BBC in the future? Will it be Ofcom or a new Of-BBC? Ofcom is strangely quiet on this question in its report, which suggests to me that it won't be the body to take on that role.
Of course, all this means that Michael Grade's current job as chairman will be split in two after 2006, if not before.
So which of the two jobs will he want? In his time at Channel 4, Michael, not a natural regulator, fought virtually a daily battle with his then-regulator (the Independent Television Commission), whom he hated with a vengeance. I think it's pretty certain that Michael will want the job as chairman of the board running the BBC.
The other big change that Ofcom has signalled is that the BBC will have to take a greater responsibility in the future for programming in the English regions as ITV's commitment to regionalism continues to decline. Again, this makes eminent sense and was part of the BBC's own proposals for its future, but it will still come as a shock to many in the organisation who believe that Luton is in the north of England.
The most interesting thing about Ofcom's report is that, where the BBC is concerned, it is almost exactly what the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, wanted to happen when the whole review of the charter began. It certainly looks as though she has played a clever game.
Mind you, after Hutton it was also pretty clear that this Government wasn't going to take on the BBC in any big way. The polls showed who the public supported in the bust-up between the Government and the Corporation, and it wasn't Tony Blair or Alastair Campbell.
False memory syndrome
Why is the television industry plagued by old men? From the moment some male television executives leave their jobs they become rent-a-gobs willing to comment on anything.
The latest to weigh in is Alasdair Milne, a former director-general of the BBC who has now told the world that not only has BBC television dumbed down since he was fired in 1987, but that it is all the fault of women because, he claims, they now run the BBC's television service. Here, he is largely right: Jana Bennett is director of television; Lorraine Heggessey is controller of BBC1; Jane Root was until recently controller of BBC2; Jane Lush is head of entertainment and Alison Sharman runs daytime television. The problem with Milne's argument is that the BBC recently did an analysis of the BBC1 schedule over the past 40 years, which showed that there is now much more news in peak time than there was 20 years ago - and that there are far fewer American imports.
My theory is that these old moaners look back on their days at the top as wonderful because they confuse being young and importantwith producing and scheduling good programmes.
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