Reforming the BBC

Posted by RDN under On TV & Radio / Politics & campaigns on 11 November 2012

We should hope all hope that BBC is well-managed. Why not give George Entwistle a nice contract to design an organisational and cultural shake-up, now he’s free to concentrate on such a cerebral operation? After all, surely the problems which sank him were of others’ making, and Lord Patten says Entwistle was appointed precisely on this ticket?

I would like to see the BBC scrapped, as my recent book argued. In the meantime, we all need it to be the best it can be. The two recent Newsnight disasters were each the perfect mirror of the other (one story was disastrously pulled because its evidence was too slight and the other was disastrously rushed to broadcast in spite of the slightness of its evidence). Under the very experienced Director-General Mark Thompson in the first case and under the newbie Director-General George Entwistle in the second, the channels of command and control, designed to be swift in both directions, seemed fabulously defunct.

It could at least it could be said for George Entwistle that he inherited a useless management structure and culture from his predecessors in the top job and had outlined ways of addressing the weaknesses. Steve Hewlett may be right when he says that previous D-Gs would, unlike Mr Entwistle, have known when to bypass due process and display what Mr Hewlett calls “grip”. It may be that Mr Entwhistle never had any chance of getting “grip”, in which case he really never should have been considered for the top post.

The thing is, though, that lovely, perhaps God-given, irony is of course at work in this story. George Entwistle really ought to have been able to sit at the apex of his over-large empire and be pretty sure that all kinds of people would display “grip” as shit hit lowlier fans and “referred-up” what they couldn’t properly deal with. He may still be the right man to describe if not actually impose a better system.

Meantime, there is something to be said for Ian Hargreaves’ reminder that Lord Patten and the BBC Trust are not the proper place to look for solutions. Lord Patten gives an amazingly good impersonation of a gutsy and subtle Chairman of the BBC, but he isn’t that and may risk damaging the governance of the BBC by seeming to be the ultimate boss of the organisation.

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