Journalists are already speculating that the appointment of the next Director General of the BBC is the most crucial decision facing the BBC Trust since the 1920s, not only as it’s necessary to address the massive BBC deficit (approx 20% of its annual budget), but because of the challenges facing the Television sector as a whole.
In many ways Mark Thompson has been a good Director General, not outstanding, certainly not visionary, but a safe pair of hands nonetheless. And for the past eight years the BBC has successfully navigated some tricky moments, from his appointment following the Hutton report to Sachsgate. But now we stand firmly somewhere within a revolution of technology that is advancing so fast that a safe pair of hands is not enough. The BBC needs nothing short of a revolution of its own. And so I’ve put together a manifesto of my own for the position of Director General.
UNION PROBLEMS & PUBLIC IMAGE
I know it’s easier said than done for the BBC to resolve its ongoing union issues, but the BBC needs to remember that attracting and continuing to attract the most talented, the most innovative, the most creative people is key to its survival. Quite often the creative industries under-pay their employees, knowing that to a degree they will work for the love of their art; but talent should be rewarded appropriately, and conditions of work must be acceptable to reflect the socially aware organisation that the BBC must be. The BBC is a brand recognised world-wide as providing excellence in entertainment and current affairs– but this image has been neglected through the years, and like Television House, the BBC is in a shabby and slightly neglected state.
And when I say restructure I don’t mean automatic job cuts– I mean a full review of staff and their skill set, identifying what they feel their key skills are (what they really are), identifying the corporate need and directing their work accordingly. It’s a massive undertaking but a necessary one. Creativity needs space to flow, it also relies heavily on a positive, creative environment. The BBC should scrap focus groups and establish an environment not totally dissimilar to Pixar and their creative hub. Red Tape is undoubtedly a problem, and it has risen from the culture of political correctness that exists within the BBC; this is arguably the real cause of problems such as Sachsgate, as more outspoken TV personalities (Ross, Clarkson, Brand), are seen by the public as a breath of fresh air– that is until, in reaction, they go a step too far. Of course, fire guards need to be kept in place to protect the BBC from legal action, but equally important is the flow of communication.
DE-CENTRALISATION & TELEVISION CENTRE
I agree with Jeremy Paxman that the decision to sell off Television Centre, built in West London on relatively cheap land, instead of the lesser used Broadcasting House in W1, was a misguided one. Worse than that was the decision to move much of BBC production to Media City in Salford. Decentralisation is never a good idea. The Irish Government tried and failed, and the BBC is in danger of following suit. No further department should move from London; and I say this as a proud Northerner. I do not believe that the world should revolve around London. But in order for the BBC to both communicate and be innovative, it needs to pool its staff in one place. Great though it is, Manchester is too far away from anywhere to allow the BBC to achieve its maximum reach. Current affairs (and I include Breakfast and Sport in this) would struggle to provide the in-depth analysis it currently provides if it were based outside London, and it seems completely illogical to have moved BBC Sport the year before the London 2012 Olympics.
The BBC must reverse its decision to sell off Television Centre. It’s an iconic building with a phenomenal amount of broadcast history attached to it. However, it is also neglected. Walking through the corridors yesterday there was a definite sense of sadness– Radio 5 Live desks empty, whole corridors full of empty offices. The BBC must turn this atmosphere around and redevelop the Television Centre. A TV Centre should be a hub of innovation, a modern building that provides a facility that reflects the BBC’s past, but embraces the future. Refurbishing the Television Centre, and turning it into a building of research and development, where the very best creative minds develop new TV formats, new experiences for audiences and the way in which TV is made, can meet and work together to reinvigorate the BBC, and through export help it on its way to greater sustainability. The BBC can provide an iconic building should be the beating heart of the BBC’s revolution. I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘speculate to accumulate’; yes refurbishing and retaining TV Centre is expensive, but the BBC should, whilst living within its means, be driven by creativity and excellence not driven by rationalisation and austerity.
NEUTRALITY, BUDGET & THE GOVERNMENT
Political neutrality is central to establishing trust with the viewers, so curbing the political opinions of current affairs presenters is important. Equal time must be given to all legitimate political spheres.
The BBC needs to generate more of its own income, BBC Vision is already a key part of this, though definitely has room for expansion. Further thought must be given to opening the BBC Archive to provide a pay per view service. Aside from this, further money must be secured from central government. The Department for Culture Media and Sport directly funds key cultural organisations such as The Royal Opera House. The BBC has a much wider reach than the ROH and therefore is entitled to money from the DCMS in addition to money already received from the licence fee. With the rise of iPlayer and the internet, the BBC must lobby central government to secure an additional household tax that covers this.
As the National Broadcaster, the BBC should have a permanent member of staff within DCMS in order to provide government with information on a daily basis, to help give a clearer view as to the workings and cost of TV.
PROGRAMMING & TV CREATION
The structure of TV programming has changed very little since the BBC began. This must change. TV controllers are competing not only with hundreds of other TV stations, but on-demand services, the internet, games. Innovation is desperately needed. A new type of TV, not just occasional flag-ship shows, but refreshing, engaging TV. This would be the key responsibility of the innovation department. Mark Thompson, and likely every candidate who will be interviewed for the position of Director General will fail to understand that without radical change to programming and TV format, the BBC will fail. Small change is no longer enough– radical redevelopment is needed to ensure that the BBC, arguably the most influential and important organisation in Britain, continues into the future.