Christopher Bland: It's an impossible job. And also the best job in world broadcasting

The DG will have to stand upfor public-service broadcasting and defend the BBC's independence

Share
Related Topics

The moment Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, announced he was appointing head-hunters to advise the BBC "on what sort of person we should be looking for" as the next Director-General, the genie was out of the bottle. Mark Thompson's announcement that he would step down in the autumn simply confirmed the process had begun.

It is a difficult process to control. Lord Patten and the trustees will try to keep it confidential, and will almost certainly fail. When I and the board of governors selected the next DG in 1999, we went to extraordinary lengths to keep the candidates' identities secret. We were not aided by the candidates, several of whom lobbied individual governors and the press quite shamelessly, as did at least two senior members of the BBC executive. One candidate, Andrew Neil, wrote an account of his interview for The Sunday Times only days after it had taken place.

The bookmakers are already having a field day. No doubt it will be possible to take out doubles on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the DG. The Trust and the candidates can look forward to a torrid six months before the white smoke rises above Broadcasting House.

Lord Patten will do well if he can persuade the trustees that the selection job should be delegated to a four- or five-strong panel. I tried and failed in 1999 – understandably, as the selection of the DG is the most important single decision in the life of the BBC. Whatever the size of the panel, relying on the interview process is notoriously ineffective. The best guide is the recent track record of the applicant, together with references taken out in person.

Mark Thompson's view on the candidates will be worth hearing. He has done a good job during the past eight years, well supported by a strong team. He has obeyed the first requirement, which is to survive, something his predecessor, Greg Dyke, for all his charisma, did not.

Mark has done more than simply survive. He has negotiated a reasonable licence fee deal. He has moved staff kicking and screaming out of London, cut costs, and accepted that the world will not come to an end if the Grand National moves to Channel 4. He has dealt with the BBC's inevitable errors of judgement with speed and authority. Above all, he has allowed creativity to flourish, and the BBC remains the best broadcaster in the world.

His successor will need to show she can recognise creative talent when she sees it. [I cannot say he/she throughout this piece; there has never been a woman DG or chairman, and it would be magnificent if a woman turned out to be the best candidate]. She will have to understand the unique position of the BBC in the broadcasting ecology of the UK. She will have to stand up for public-service broadcasting, defend the BBC's editorial independence, and admit mistakes when they are made.

The next DG will have to develop an effective relationship with Lord Patten and the Trust, and make sure both sides know the difference between strategy (the Trust) and day-to-day operations (the DG). The DG is currently chair of the executive committee, and is likely to remain so, although this is not a model that should survive the next Charter Review. She will have to develop a working relationship with both Houses of Parliament, survive onslaughts from the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail, and cultivate allies wherever she can find them.

It is an important job, an impossible job, and the best broadcasting job in the world. I wish her [or him] the best of luck.

Sir Christopher Bland was chairman of the BBC Board of Governors from 1996 to 2001.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss