Ian Burrell: Hall's task is to build bridges inside and outside the BBC
Plus: An apology to Sunday Times readers – or Rupert Murdoch?
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Monday 04 February 2013
When Tony Hall sets foot inside the BBC again next month he will set in train a fundamental cultural shift in the organisation.
During Hall's time running the Royal Opera House he built bridges and made alliances. He learned the value of networking across the arts establishment, identifying potential partners where others might have seen rivals. His management style will be far more inclusive than the lone wolf leadership of Mark Thompson, whose BBC he essentially inherits.
Thompson was one of the BBC's warrior kings. He built an empire, pioneering the BBC's advance into digital territories and expanding its portfolio of channels and services. But his BBC lacked friends, as George Entwistle discovered during his 54-day interregnum when he was horribly exposed to the blowtorch media coverage of the Savile and McAlpine affairs.
Although the BBC is often criticised for having too many managers, Thompson led from the front and hollowed out his highest executive tier, leaving a vacuum of authority beneath him. The BBC lost a series of battle-hardened figures, including Mark Byford, Jana Bennett and Caroline Thomson, in the period preceding its recent meltdown and could not cope with the crisis.
Hall's task will be to build a new structure with more open lines of communication, breaking down the suspicions of the departmental siloes that Entwistle had hoped to do away with but never got the chance.
But the new Director-General must carry out his reforms under tight monetary restraints. Within the BBC there is now a growing realisation that the budget cuts resulting from a frozen licence fee are damaging the output. Thompson's determination to spread the burden of financial pain across the BBC and not close down any channels or services may now have to be reconsidered. The new Director-General might have to axe marginal networks in order to safeguard the BBC's reputation for quality.
The Savile scandal must have taught the BBC lessons about managing its stars. Coming from Covent Garden, Hall is likely to take the view that the licence fee should not be part of the celebrity money machine when shallow programming can be adequately covered by its commercial rivals.
Even though he knows he must carry out cuts, Hall arrives at the beleaguered organisation with an expectation that he will rebuild staff morale with a zeal not seen since Greg Dyke's time at the top of the BBC a decade ago.
Nick Pollard's review of the BBC's handling of its Savile investigation shone a light on the occasionally aggressive nature of the organisation, a trait not always appreciated by the public. One member of the BBC PR team was found to have threatened to "drip poison" about a BBC journalist suspected of leaking information. Further details of the bitter rivalries and a distrust that can border on paranoia will be revealed later this month when the BBC Trust publishes the evidence of the Pollard Review in full.
It's time for a new era. The changes are likely to include a very different communications strategy to that followed in the recent past. The approach adopted by Paul Mylrea, the no-nonsense director of communications brought in by Thompson to stand toe-to-toe with the BBC's critics, is unlikely to suit the more conciliatory style of the new DG. Mylrea, who will not be leaving before Hall arrives, was admired by Thompson for his macho approach but the new BBC might have to pull in its horns.
Having seen the first of his DG appointees brought low, Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, cannot afford to fail again. He will want Hall and his new BBC executive board to be much straighter in their dealings with the governing body, with greater input from the BBC's non-executive directors who were ineffective during the organisation's recent difficult history.
The BBC's executive knew for weeks that a blog written by the former Newsnight editor, Peter Rippon, about his handling of the Savile story was factually incorrect and yet it was allowed to remain online as the official version of events. I understand that, from now on, this "Editor's Blog", to which numerous BBC executives are encouraged to contribute, will be subjected to the same editorial procedures as the rest of the BBC website.
With Dame Janet Smith's inquiry continuing into how the BBC allowed Savile to operate, the organisation has not yet emerged from its crisis. At least the acting DG Tim Davie, the organisation's leading strategic thinker, has shown he has the makings of a future leader who combines a broad outlook – having succeeded outside the BBC – with a genuine belief in Reithian values.
Hopefully both Hall, and his successor in waiting, realise the BBC can no longer afford to waste its precious resources feeding the cult of celebrity or the bank balances of its senior managers and must become an organisation that both serves and reflects those who pay for it.
An apology to Sunday Times readers – or Rupert Murdoch?
No one does apologies quite like Rupert "humblest day of my life" Murdoch – but Martin Ivens has gone pretty close in what is only his second week in charge of The Sunday Times.
Having achieved a long-held ambition by being appointed acting editor last month, Ivens had sanctioned publication of an image by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe showing Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu building a wall from Palestinian blood. It came out on Holocaust Memorial Day.
It was Ivens' first paper after stepping up from deputy editor. Perhaps he was hoping to frame it and put it on the wall? Certainly he spent hours trying to defend the drawing to angry Jewish complainants until Rupert stepped in and publicly castigated him on Twitter for a "grotesque, offensive" image.
After apologising to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Tuesday, Ivens yesterday repeated the exercise in print.
Aside from giving over a large portion of its leader column to an item headed "Netanyahu cartoon: an apology", admitting a "very serious mistake", the paper devoted its entire letters page to the issue. The Sunday Times is notoriously reluctant to accept criticism but nearly all of the correspondence – published alongside an image of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin – was hostile to the paper. Let's hope this self-flagellation was not merely for Mr Murdoch's benefit.
The FT's Chinese takeaway
After a judge's criticisms of the Financial Times editor Lionel Barber for his involvement in the unfair dismissal of one of his journalists last week, more storm clouds are gathering over the paper's Southwark Bridge headquarters.
Claims of race discrimination have been made by reporters working in London on the FT Chinese website, which has around 2 million registered users.
FT Chinese, established around a decade ago, is described on the newspaper's website as "the only Chinese publication of the Financial Times" and as part of the "FT family". Its staff – originally part of the FT editorial team – were placed in a separate Chinese business that leaves them outside a house agreement enjoyed by colleagues in the building, who work a shorter week.
Matters first came to a head in 2009 when the newspaper sought to relocate its Chinese staff to Beijing on less pay or accept redundancy. Some journalists complained that they had family in Britain or that they felt in danger from the Chinese regime. Four brought race discrimination claims.
When the newspaper's 600-strong staff was awarded a 2.4 per cent pay rise last month, the FT Chinese team received only 1 per cent. One of the Chinese journalists has reached a settlement with the company but the three other discrimination cases are due in court in August. The FT declined to comment on the matter.
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