After months of stormy headlines about profligate pay-offs, bullying and sex abuse, Tony Hall will try to navigate the BBC into calmer waters tomorrow with a speech at Broadcasting House on the priorities of his relatively new regime, centring on a pledge to increase funding for arts programming by 20 per cent.
When Lord Hall took over as director- general six months ago, he declared that he wanted to rebuild confidence in the BBC, describing that feeling of trust as “the most precious commodity of our organisation”.
This has not been easy. He has struggled to put behind him what he has called the “legacy issues” of his predecessors, while the forthcoming report of the Public Accounts Committee is bound to put the spotlight firmly back onto the question of executive pay-offs and the costly Digital Media Initiative. A production tool designed to make archive material more accessible, among other things, Lord Hall himself declared the scheme a disaster and abandoned it in May, by which time it had cost just under £100m and generated almost no assets.
On Tuesday, when Lord Hall talks of a more streamlined management system, and promises higher quality programmes in general, which is where the increased budget for the arts comes in, he will be seeking to change the contours of the present discussion about the BBC ahead of what are bound to be tricky discussions about the license fee.
He deserves our support. Lord Hall’s priorities – a simpler style of management, more emphasis on programmes and less obsession with the latest technological enthusiasms – are sensible. They mark a welcome return to the principles of Lord Reith and the BBC’s early years, when it saw its mission as raising the tone of public discussion as opposed to merely reflecting it. With the BBC’s first centenary coming up in a few years’ time, Lord Hall is right to look back, as well as forward, as he plots the course ahead.