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

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

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home