Conor Dignam on Broadcasting

'Crowngate' may very well end up costing the BBC its own head

If Mark Thompson was already feeling the heat as the BBC director general, last week's "Crowngate" report and resignations have plunged his leadership into what looks like a full-blown crisis.

Where other official reports have sometimes walked on eggshells in order to avoid apportioning blame, Will Wyatt's verdict on the handling by the BBC and the independent producer RDF of the promotional footage around A Year with the Queen was explosive.

The resignations of Peter Fincham as BBC1 controller and Stephen Lambert as creative chief at RDF Media will do nothing but feed suggestions that serious question marks are now hanging over Thompson's leadership of the BBC, as he looks like losing the support and confidence of the organisation he seeks to lead.

Right now, some of the most angry and critical voices about the management and running of the BBC are being heard from within its own ranks.

There is widespread anger from producers and programme makers about the way two key issues have been handled.

There are two very clear causes for this and both of them lead back to the actions and approach of the BBC's most senior management. The first, of course, is a licence-fee settlement that, at more than £3bn a year, was still less than the BBC needed – resulting in a programme of cuts that will be felt right across the corporation.

The second (back to Crowngate) centres on the corporation's handling of the whole issue of trust and fakery in a small part of its output. For many staff, the executive response has been heavy-handed and arrogant – far too quick to blame production staff rather than look at the management failings that have led to these mistakes.

Up until Fincham's resignation last week, which only came out because Wyatt was not pulling any punches, no senior heads had rolled. In fact, when the BBC's creative director Alan Yentob was revealed to have been cut into interviews for the BBC1 show Imagine when he wasn't even present, the corporation was quick to shrug this off as something that everyone did – when they don't.

There seemed to be one rule for the most senior management and another for the executives at the top of the BBC ladder. Last week, at least it was shown that even the most senior management are vulnerable in the current climate. Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of vision, could also be in the firing line, as Wyatt's report raises questions about her management of events around the Crowngate fiasco.

Some people within the BBC are now also saying that the man in the top job – Mark Thompson – could be brought down in the current climate. And that doesn't seem as unlikely as it would have done six months ago. The pressure on Thompson isn't just about Crowngate and trust but extends across the BBC, where staff are tired of budget cuts and are becoming increasingly audible about their unhappiness.

Last week, almost 100 staff, including Today's James Naughtie and Newsnight's Gavin Esler, signed an open letter to the BBC management calling on them to protect news budgets from further cuts.

Almost every BBC department and genre is expected to share the pain through "salami slicing" of budgets, while Thompson resists taking a more radical solution such as closing down BBC3 and BBC4 and saving more than £150m a year.

Leading BBC figures such as Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys have gone public with their concerns but been slapped down inside the corporation.

Angry BBC staff are nothing new, of course. Every reforming DG (and there have been a few of them) has had to face down staff members who believe that the BBC was created to keep them all in jobs, regardless of how good they actually were at them, or whether their roles were still required.

The difference in this dispute is that the BBC has plenty of money at its disposal, but Thompson has decided to invest it elsewhere. It is going on technology and online, and into fewer but bigger and more ambitious programmes, which will be repeated across the BBC's different channels.

On many fundamental levels, Thompson is absolutely right in his strategy. He is making reforms that are needed for the BBC to survive and is seeking to reinvent the corporation's approach for a different media age. A generation of younger audiences is in danger of drifting away from the BBC (and the licence fee) unless it can find new and different ways to reach them.

Some of these ways will be through the traditional routes of great TV shows, but to maintain its own future the BBC must also explore new ways of creating content for this audience, and of communication.

But that doesn't change the fact that on almost every major policy – digital development, moving to Salford, reducing news spend – Thompson is out of step with many of his own staff. They simply don't believe that this is the strategy the BBC has to pursue, and they think that a focus on content – rather than new buildings and digital platforms – is what should be driving the BBC's future. In the key areas of strategy, vision and trust, Thompson has failed to bring many within the BBC with him. He now looks increasingly exposed, and with few allies within the organisation. He needs his own senior management to stop sniping and to get behind him on key policies – but the problem is that many of them draw the line at cuts to their own operations.

Thompson arrived at the BBC in the wake of the Hutton crisis and helped to rally the organisation during a slump in its confidence. Now he has to restore trust, not just with the BBC's viewers, but with his own staff.

Otherwise we could be witnessing the beginning of the end of Thompson's time as DG. One way or another, it seems unlikely that the fallout of Crowngate is over just yet.

News
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Voices
voicesBy the man who has
Sport
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SEO Executive

£24 - 28k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical SEO Executive to join one ...

Research Analyst / Insight Analyst

£25k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Research Analyst / Insight Analyst to joi...

RTB/ Programmatic Campaign Manager

35,000 - 50,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Our client is the world's largest...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?