Editorial: The Corporation's next DG should come from outside

Share

According to the bookies, there are any number of names in the frame for the top job at the BBC. But what is clear from the scandals that put an end to George Entwistle's career – both the erroneous Newsnight broadcast about a child-abusing Tory grandee and the aborted investigation into Jimmy Savile – is that his successor must come from outside the Corporation.

For all the attention now focusing on the "lack of clarity" in the chain of command, the central problem – apparent in all BBC scandals of recent years – is that senior managers are so hung up on official channels and the notion of the Corporation's independence that they baulk at showing any initiative that might smack of interference. BBC-lifer that he was, it is no surprise that such a trait was most evident in the out-going Director-General himself.

It is astonishing that Mr Entwistle was not keeping tabs on all matters relating to Newsnight and/or child abuse, given the ructions over Savile. The toe-curling radio interview in which he admitted not being aware of the Newsnight item in advance, not being aware of the subsequent storm of online rumours (wrongly) engulfing Lord McAlpine, not being aware of the newspaper story naming the peer, and not being aware that Newsnight's only source was withdrawing his claims, left Mr Entwistle looking out of touch and out of his depth.

Were that all, his departure might, by itself, be enough; another insider Director-General, of a higher calibre, might succeed where his predecessor failed. But that is not the case. Mr Entwistle's incomprehensible ignorance of the most recent Newsnight story was neither simple incompetence, nor the curiosity failure that some imply. It came from the same source as his apparent lack of interest in Newsnight's Savile investigation, when he was the head of television. Both were part and parcel of a sense that, as the head of the organisation, he must neither side-step the chain of command nor, worse still, must he interfere in news.

The irony is that Mr Entwistle got the top job by pitching himself as the insider – able to see what must be done and also, crucially, to find the levers to make it happen. With a following wind, perhaps he might have been successful. But when hit by a storm, his hidebound, insider mentality left him incapable of responding with either the speed or radicalism needed. The same mistake must not be made again.

Nor do the implications of so brief and tempestuous a tenure end there. Recent events also make it clear that the combination of the job of Director-General with that of Editor-in-Chief does not work. The dual role is also no longer relevant. Compared with 90 years ago, news now makes up just a fraction of the BBC's business. The person who runs the organisation no longer needs a background in journalism, nor even one in television. What the BBC now needs in its Director-General is someone who knows how to manage and control a sprawling enterprise that spans everything from global sales to Sherlock. Meanwhile, the Head of News, whoever that may be, should become Editor-in-Chief.

Splitting the two functions may, in fact, make the new Director-General easier to find. Even so, it is not a decision to be rushed – for all that Tim Davie's high-profile first day as acting Director-General looked like a job application. Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, has said the appointment should be made in weeks rather than months. But while his haste is understandable, it is also ill-advised.

Then there is the small matter of Lord Patten himself. Recent events hardly reflect well on the Chairman. And his admission that, despite being aware of the Bryn Estyn story, he felt unable to ask questions ahead of the broadcast sounds like a worrying echo of Mr Entwistle. Even so, Lord Patten should stay. With so many senior scalps claimed by the crisis already, there must be some continuity at the top.

Continuity, but not sclerosis. Mr Entwistle's much-lambasted inability to "grip" the BBC's problems render his 54 days as Director-General emblematic of the problems in the Corporation as a whole. Only an outsider can hope to address them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'