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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Graduate Print Producer / Account Executive

£18 - 25k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Graduate Print Producer / Account Execut...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Digital Marketing Assistant - Wimbledon

£18000 - £19000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate Digital Marketin...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works