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Editorial: Second time lucky at the BBC?


Chris Patten has lived up to his word. The chairman of the BBC Trust said he wanted a replacement BBC Director-General "within weeks". Now, just 12 days after the resignation of the hapless George Entwistle, Tony Hall – the chief executive of the Royal Opera House – has been named as his successor.

Lord Hall has much to recommend him. His career includes nearly 30 years at the BBC, providing a much-needed grasp of the Corporation's culture. The 11 intervening years, however, leave him enough of an outsider to satisfy demands for a break with the past. And his success in turning Covent Garden from a dysfunctional basket-case into a world-leading arts organisation demonstrates not only an ability to reinvent an institution that has lost its way, but also an understanding of how to inject an element of commercialism into an essentially uncommercial organisation without damage. Such experience will stand him in good stead.

So much for Lord Hall; what of the job he must do? There is no shortage of tests awaiting the new DG when he takes over in March. Most immediately, he will need to deal with the repercussions of the Jimmy Savile scandal and restore the public's shaken confidence in the BBC. Part and parcel of that must be to address the alarming shortcomings of its news-gathering activities. The furore over Newsnight – which first chose not to pursue an inquiry into Savile's activities, and then went ahead with a report erroneously implicating Lord McAlpine in another child abuse case – reveals an organisation where journalistic common sense comes second to process. Only a no-holds-barred shake-up of management structures, preferably separating the editor-in-chief's role from the director-generalship, will do.

Meanwhile, Lord Hall must also answer any number of longer-term questions, such as how to restore the creativity lost to the Birtist management culture, and – most important of all – how to justify the licence fee when most people now buy their television by subscription. The challenges are considerable, but Lord Hall is no bad choice to tackle them.