The BBC played safe. After splashing out on a recruitment firm, advertising and pursuing a process lasting months, the corporation's governing trust chose as its new Director-General George Entwistle, a BBC insider and a favoured choice of the outgoing chief, Mark Thompson. A popular selection within the organisation, Mr Entwistle is an experienced factual programme-maker, a former Newsnight editor who was made director of vision across all the BBC's TV output last year. As such, he was technically in charge of the Jubilee Pageant coverage that drew criticism for its dumbed-down presentation. That, however, was never likely to count against him within the context of the entire BBC.
But it is precisely that bigger picture which provokes pause. Mr Entwistle is an unproven leader, a relatively unknown member of the BBC's senior backroom staff. He has been fast-tracked through an array of internal BBC appointments, finally ending up with the biggest job of all. At no stage has he ever been accountable to an external audience; never has he had to deal with the corporation's many critics and its political masters. His negotiating skills are unknown beyond BBC towers. Nor has he been called upon to lead or to motivate a large body of staff and contributors. In his new post, he will have to be everything: visionary, strategist, commander, poker player, enthuser, cajoler, fixer, pastoral carer, listener and talker. Presumably, he interviewed exceptionally well. Because it is hard to see in his CV where all those boxes are ticked. Likewise, it seems strange that, after so much effort had been made to canvass external candidates, it appears that none, apart from Ed Richards, boss of the Ofcom regulator, reached the final short-list. So what was the whole search for? Heaven forbid it was a shoo-in from start to finish, with others there just to provide a veneer of respectability and make up the numbers.
One of the reasons, perhaps the primary one, that Mr Entwistle got the nod is that he offers continuity. Along with that word can be added solidity and dependability. Which would be fine if that was all the BBC required. He inherits a demoralised workforce, ground down by years of cuts and seemingly permanent revolution, culminating in the relocation of many to Salford. Often, such change appears to have been enacted in pursuit of abstract goals of political correctness and social engineering rather than demonstrable gain. That, too, has been accompanied by a staleness in the BBC schedules, exemplified by over-reliance on a coterie of over-exposed presenters and over-used formats. Yet the corporation continues to be over-manned in places.
One of Mr Entwistle's key tasks will be to show that he can manage the BBC's resources efficiently and make necessary cuts. He needs to be clever, too. While the BBC has a guaranteed income stream, the funds are not unlimited. The corporation has grown so broad that in several cases that cash is spread very thinly. The new broom must be just that, prioritising and redistributing money. That will require assurance and toughness. Does the BBC continue, for instance, to plough millions into sport when sports-mad and cash-rich Sky is constantly tightening its grip? Might the licence fee not be better spent elsewhere? It is not clear either where the BBC lies in relation to new technology. Its internet presence is huge, but at what cost?
Always there is the nagging thought that what the BBC should be doing is focusing on content. Get that right and the rest will follow, including plaudits from those who sit in judgement, come the next Charter review. These are giant challenges for Mr Entwistle. The trustees say he is the man to meet them. We shall see.
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