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

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

Recruitment Genius: Industrial Gas Burner Engineer

£26000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Industrial Gas Burner Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Inside Sales Manager - Accountancy Software - £80,000 OTE

£50000 - £60000 per annum + £80,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Sou...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - BIM Software - £55,000 OTE

£40000 per annum + OTE £55,000 +Pension : h2 Recruit Ltd: An excellent opportu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
More vegetarian and vegan options are now available for consumers  

The stereotypes around vegetarians and vegans must stop: I've never worn tie-dye, I'm not weak, and I can't stand Morrissey

Liz Cookman
 

You wouldn't give your child untested medicine, so why would you give them an untested education?

Oliver Wright
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital