So who will run the BBC next? When we recently went through the lengthy process to appoint a Director-General one of the noticeable features of the contest was the apparent lack of candidates from outside the organisation.
There seemed to be a feeling that, following a period of great turbulence where the BBC’s territorial ambitions had led it into bruising clashes with media rivals and a major haircut had been inflicted on its budget by a critical new Government, the BBC craved the sort of stability that could best be provided by someone who knew the BBC inside out. That was to be George Entwistle.
This thinking now creates a problem for the BBC Trust. Because the front-runners named to take over the top job – people such as the former Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thomson and the acting Director General Tim Davie – have both been passed over recently by BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and his colleagues as being inferior candidates to Mr Entwistle – who we now know was not up to the job.
How can they go back to their shortlist rejects now? To pick an outsider this time around – and there are many who feel that the BBC’s latest institutional shortcomings make this a necessity – seems like a major change of direction and calls into question the Trust’s own processes as a recruitment body.
Ed Richards, the Ofcom chief executive, is at present the best-placed candidate from outside the Corporation. He is being heavily backed with bookies – just as he was the last time around, when he was given to believe that he had a really strong chance of being appointed. That would suggest Lord Patten likes the cut of his jib and Richards doesn’t seem too scarred by missing out last time.
But he comes with political baggage from his previous links to Tony Blair’s Downing Street and his appointment would escalate even further the BBC’s hostilities with the Daily Mail – which holds a deep grudge against him.
Worse, he is another candidate that was seen as not being as good as George.
Chief executives around Britain will have heard Entwistle being masticated by John Humphrys on live radio and watched through the gaps in their fingers the television pictures of the DG wilting in the camera lights as he tried to respond to a horrific confluence of events. It was hardly a prospectus to encourage the most talented of British leaders to take his place.
What’s more the public will have little sympathy with whoever gets the role. The £450,000 severance payment to George Entwistle for 54 days of not getting on top of his brief has encouraged the idea that DGs are rewarded for failure. According to this thinking the next incumbent has absolutely nothing to lose – but the best candidates for this high-profile role will realise that this is anything but the case.
Lord Patten must oversee this process at a time when some are calling for his own head to roll. Let’s hope he gets it right this time.