BBC careerist George Entwistle named BBC's new Director General

 

George Entwistle, a BBC careerist and former editor of Newsnight, has been chosen as the next Director General of the BBC.

The appointment means that, in 85 years of history, the organisation still has not appointed a woman to its senior role. Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer, was among those on the final short list.

In selecting Entwistle, the BBC Trust also rejected the more radical option of giving the job to an external candidate. Ed Richards, the chief executive of the media regulator Ofcom, had been regarded as a strong contender for the role.

Entwistle has a stronger background in programme-making than the other final candidates and his appointment was well-received in the newsrooms of the BBC. Announcing the decision yesterday, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said: “His experience of making and delivering great programmes that audiences love – built up through many years of working for the corporation – will prove invaluable as he and his team work to ensure the BBC remains the greatest broadcaster in the world.”

The new Director General will have to take the BBC through a turbulent period of budget cuts resulting from the last licence fee settlement and Lord Patten said Entwistle could be relied on to maintain the unique values of the organisation. “Above all, George is passionate about the BBC, is committed to its public service ethos and has a clear vision for how it can harness the creativity and commitment of its staff to continue to serve audiences in ever more innovative ways.”

Entwistle, 49, will be paid a salary of £450,000, a large increase on his current £270,000 earnings as BBC Director of Vision but less than the £617,000 salary of Mark Thompson. He said: “I’m delighted that the chairman and trustees have decided I’m the right person for the job. And I’m very excited about all that lies ahead. I love the BBC and it’s a privilege to be asked to lead it into the next stage of its creative life.”

Richards, a former Controller of Corporate Strategy at the BBC, had applied for the Director General’s job in May but his candidacy was opposed by right wing media commentators who pointed to his previous links to the Labour Party as a political advisor. 

In a statement, Ms Thomson said she was “very disappointed” but expressed confidence in her BBC colleague’s abilities. “If it couldn’t have been me then George is absolutely the right choice. He has public service broadcasting running through him and I will support him in every way as he works into the job.”

During his career, Entwistle has largely avoided controversy while rising through the BBC. His most difficult period came during his time as editor of “Newsnight” when he became embroiled in the David Kelly affair after the programme’s science editor Susan Watts told him that the weapons inspector was a source of her reports on Iraq’s military capabilities. As a result of “Newsnight” carrying the story, Entwistle was sucked into Lord Hutton’s inquiry into the BBC, which threatened to engulf the organisation.

Mark Thompson: A tough act to follow

Mark Thompson, who Lord Patten said yesterday would be "sorely missed", was one of the longest-serving BBC Director-Generals in modern times.

His eight-year tenure, matched only by John Birt during the last 35 years, spanned one of the most turbulent periods in the BBC's history when its traditional funding mechanism of the licence fee came under threat.

Thompson, 54, a former editor of the "Nine O'Clock News", joined the BBC from Channel 4 in the wake of the traumatic Hutton inquiry. He succeeded the charismatic Greg Dyke, who had resigned after Hutton, and took on the immense task of restoring the shattered confidence of the broadcaster.

During his time in charge he has done much to achieve that, although he faced a difficult period two years ago as he faced criticism over executive salaries when BBC journalists were striking over changes to their pensions. Thompson's decision to freeze the licence fee for six years led to 2,000 job cuts and 20 per cent cuts but his supporters argue that he safeguarded the organisation's future.

He can also claim the moral high ground in an industry battle with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which has been campaigning to limit the scale of the BBC but has failed in its attempts to take control of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB and has been badly damaged by the phone-hacking scandal.

Yesterday's promotion of George Entwistle is an endorsement of Thompson's time as director general. The pair have been close colleagues and Entwistle can be expected to build on his predecessor's legacy. "I think this is a brilliant appointment," said Thompson of the candidate he had anointed.

A Rotten guest to book on his first day in the job...

The former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon will swap anarchy for current affairs when he appears as a panellist on Question Time tonight. The punk pioneer, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, will air his views on Libor and other topical questions alongside the former home secretary Alan Johnson and the Conservative MP Louise Mensch on the long-running current affairs show.

Chairman David Dimbleby will be hoping there is no repeat of the Sex Pistols' famously foul-mouthed 1976 appearance on Bill Grundy's talk show.

Adam Sherwin

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