Ian Burrell: The BBC needs to produce some good news for licence-fee payers

Media Studies

At 11am tomorrow, the BBC director-general Tony Hall will step to the podium in the Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House and attempt to change the mood music that has accompanied his first six months in post.

For someone who returned to the BBC amid such universal acclaim, garlanded by the staff and lauded by his many admirers in the arts establishment, Hall’s not had much of a start. What should have been his honeymoon period has been characterised by relentless rows over misspending and bullying. Broadcasting House has been anything but a scene of domestic bliss.

Tomorrow the DG will seek to bring the excitement back to the BBC’s relationship with its audience.

His message will be aimed not at the media commentators, nor the perpetual BBC critics in Westminster, such as Margaret Hodge of the Public Accounts Committee or John Whittingdale, chair of the Commons Culture committee.

Instead he will try to speak to the people who pay the licence fee. As well as being screened live to staff across the BBC, his speech will also be put online. And so, his language will have the public in mind as he tries to remind them how the BBC can make their lives better.

More than anything he will highlight the work done by the BBC’s engineers in developing the best in broadcasting technology. Hall was in California this summer, where he was relieved to hear from executives at companies such as Google and Apple that the iPlayer was unrivalled anywhere in the world as a video player. The modern public has an almost insatiable appetite for improvements in entertainment technology and now is the time for Hall to unveil what comes next. That will include evolution of the iPlayer radio.

After the uproar over executive pay offs and with the damage caused by the ongoing revelations of sex abuse and bullying inside the BBC, the new DG needs to give the licence fee-payers some good news. The iPlayer was claimed by the previous DG Mark Thompson and set in train by Greg Dyke, who also championed the portfolio of digital television and radio channels. John Birt, as DG, astutely recognised the potential of the internet and launched the BBC website. What can Tony Hall offer? His speech is important in trying to build an alternative narrative to the current story of scandal and waste before the tough negotiations start over the renewal of the BBC’s charter and setting the licence fee beyond 2016.

Because he will be trying to be persuading the public that the BBC is worth paying even more than the current £145.50 for, he will need to convince people that an improvement on the iPlayer will come with some better programming – which is what we all want from the organisation.

He will be tempted to talk of the plans the BBC has for next year in covering the centenary of the Great War, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Scottish Referendum. But the public knows about those events and will want to be told something new – so Hall has been leaning on his channel controllers and commissioners for details of their best upcoming programmes. To strengthen its position in the Charter Renewal talks, the BBC is desperate to flag up the fact that it will celebrate its own centenary in 2022 and that the founding values it was given by Lord Reith remain at its heart. I expect Hall to mention this anniversary.

What of the payoffs scandal? Tony Hall likes to present this as a “legacy issue”, just like the Savile fiasco and the haemorrhage of £100m in public money on a digital media archive project (known as DMI). These were all the failings of predecessor regimes under George Entwistle and Mark Thompson. Hall would be right to think that the public is primarily interested in the BBC’s content, and increasingly fascinated by its methods of technological delivery. But he would be quite wrong to think people aren’t greatly concerned by the waste uncovered in executive payoffs – arrogant complacency over that issue was a rare failing of Thompson’s. The real problem that Lord Hall has is that, no matter how good his oratory, his message will not be carried on a fair wind. That is because the BBC is guaranteed to be the subject of negative headlines in the months ahead.

An imminent report by the Public Accounts Committee is certain to excoriate both the BBC’s management and its governing BBC Trust over the flawed handling of payoffs. The accountants PWC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) are set to reveal who knew what about the disastrous DMI project – which Hall has already acknowledged was a “failed idea”.

Later this month the DG will be summoned before Whittingdale’s committee of MPs in the company of Trust chairman Lord Patten for an all-encompassing interrogation that will inevitably demand whether the BBC’s management structure needs to be scrapped altogether.

The flagship Panorama programme is facing a complaint report over its controversial undercover investigation in North Korea. And in November, all the BBC channels will come under review for the first time since Thompson’s Delivering Quality First cuts programme began. The BBC Trust is known to have concerns over falling quality in some areas and whether the output is sufficiently distinctive from competitors.

Over to you Lord Hall.

The sorry story behind the ‘Mail on Sunday’ and Miliband

The Mail on Sunday was uncharacteristically sheepish on page 19 yesterday as it struck a conciliatory tone over the Ralph Miliband affair.

Following the distasteful traducing of the late father of the Labour leader by its sister paper the Daily Mail, the MoS was profoundly apologetic. “Like Ralph Miliband – I was a Marxist too,” confessed the paper’s right-wing columnist Peter Hitchens, as he firmly rejected the Daily Mail’s description of Miliband Senior as “The Man Who Hated Britain”.

If only the MoS had not already dragged itself into this shameful story by sending a reporter to a Miliband family memorial. In a piece printed beneath Hitchens’s memoir of his Leftist past yesterday, the MoS editor Geordie Greig said sorry to the Milibands for this “terrible lapse of judgment”.

To the outside world, the arrival at the memorial to Ed Miliband’s uncle of MoS reporter Jo Knowsley (who along with features editor Amy Iggulden has been suspended) seems an obvious attempt to further harass the Labour leader, as the Daily Mail remains unrepentant over its slurs against his father.

But that might not be the case. There is a belief that the Sunday paper was actually intending to produce a piece sympathetic to the Milibands. Greig is locked in a power struggle with Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre and is widely regarded as his successor in waiting. This was an opportunity for the Sunday editor to show a different side to Mail journalism while Dacre remained in attack mode. But however the message came down the editorial chain, the execution was bungled. Greig has said that Knowsley was sent out “without my knowledge”. He must be smarting. Nonetheless, in his mea culpa he has still made a point. Because while Dacre’s Daily Mail still faces Ed Miliband down, Greig has been prepared to say that his own paper’s incursion into a family’s private life was “completely contrary to the values and editorial standards of the Mail on Sunday”. For Paul Dacre, for whom the word “values” is everything, those words will have had an uncomfortable resonance.

Twitter: @iburrell

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

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Media Account Writers

£12000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This social media management pr...

Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor (Magazine Publishing) - Wimbledon - £23-26K

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor - Wimbledon...

Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publishing) - Wimbledon - £26-30K

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publish...

Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent