Old boy fixing of BBC needs to end

The appointment of the new Director General at the BBC must be an open process rather than the current backroom dealing underway. OurBeeb is trying to make this happen - and you can help.

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
16 November 2012

Image: Political Betting

As the BBC Trust gathers to consider how to appoint a new Director General, there is one thing everyone can do to save the BBC from another secretive, closed-door fix.

However good the person is who is selected in this way they are bound to fail and those hostile to public service broadcasting will rejoice. Any ‘insider’ is bound to be a traditionalist seeking to get a “grip” on management and providing “leadership” - without being part of the process that really needs to be embraced if the BBC is to flourish.

The process they ned to embrace is called many things, such as the public in the age of the web, or openness, creative energy in a global world, or accountability… and it needs one thing – shared principles. Shared, that is, by the BBC and the public at large. A multi-national British public that is radical in its embrace of technology and the new energies and potential it brings.

Some of us have joined a petition from OurBeeb designed to help achieve this. It calls on all candidates to publish their vision and principles for the BBC. It is here on Change.Org. Drafted mid-week already it is supported by journalists and dramatists including Richard Eyre, who was on the BBC's old Board of Governors for 9 years, Philip Pullman, Juliet Stevenson, Brian Eno and columnists from the Observer, Telegraph, Daily Mail, the Independent and openDemocracy - which hosts OurBeeb.

It is important for three reasons.

First, it is easily achievable because eminently reasonable and hard to oppose, whether you are from the left or right (both Iain Dale and Suzanne Moore are early supporters). A change that is actually achievable is radical by the very fact of coming from outside if the organisation, like the BBC, is a closed one.  Our cry is that if someone wants to be a candidate they should publish a short statement of how they want to take the BBC forward and why. How reasonable is that! Whether the candidates want to do this or not, the Trust should demand it of those it short-lists and publish them before it makes its choice. 

The senior BBC journalists I’ve talked say, “Of course”.

Second, the BBC has an internal culture that is closed, defensive and self-regarding. The last thing it wants is constructive public debate that might be an influence on its thinking.This needs to change. The Evening Standard headlined a piece saying I wanted everyone to vote for the next DG as if I was Tessa Jowell. This proposal is nothing of the sort. But it will force the BBC to look outwards.

Third, there is an incredibly important reason for demanding a shared debate about where the BBC should go from here. The era of traditional, one-to-many radio and TV broadcasting is drawing to an end. This fact underlies the BBC’s funding problems, as the growth in its traditional revenues dries up.

But how should it rethink its way forward in the coming digital era? The answer must include the arguments of those who are not traditional journalists, or programme makers, or managers. Without any openness of its own it will fail to engage with the openness that is integral to new media.

This is why it is urgent that the process of selecting a new DG shares the practical, competing visions of the candidates with the public. The BBC must turn away from its closed mentality and embrace a role that engages with the public over its future. If you want great, creative programmes on the BBC, fine public service broadcasting with integrity and originality, and the technology for making and sharing them that is expanding not shrinking… sign the petition.

 The petition:

“The new Director General of the BBC will be heading Britain’s most important cultural institution and current affairs broadcaster. He or she should not be appointed by the traditional, established closed-door process, which has just failed. We therefore call on the BBC Trust not to compound this by a further purely secretive appointment. We call on any candidates to publish a short outline of their vision of how the BBC should be taken forward and the principles that lie behind it. And we call on the Trustees who will make the appointment to request and publish such statements from those they consider or short-list. In this way the BBC will move towards the transparency and openness it needs to retain public trust." 

Signed: Anthony Barnett, Oliver Huitson, Niki Seth Smith, Gemma Tortella-Procter: Lisa Appignanesi, James Curran, David Edgar, David Elstein, Richard Eyre, Brian Eno, Dan Hancox, Gerry Hassan, Lis Howell, Quentin Letts, Peter Oborne, Henry Porter, Philip Pullman, Clare Sambrook, Kamila Shamsie, Juliet Stevenson, Francis Wheen, Andreas Whittam Smith

Thanks to Political Betting for use of image.

Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »

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