New BBC Director General not a journalist or programme maker?

IN an article for The Telegraph, former Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, has warned anyone applying to take over from current incumbent Mark Thompson to expect sleep deprivation, relentless scrutiny and unimaginable criticism – plus a significant reduction in salary compared to Thompson’s reported £671,000.

Sounds horrendous. I suspect the figure of £400,000, which reports say is likely to be paid as remuneration, would be considered by many to be a very decent salary, although in real terms, the top jobs in the independent TV sector would attract a much more impressive financial package.

As someone who worked at the Corporation under the last three DGs (John Birt, Greg Dyke and Mark Thompson) and a caretaker (Mark Byford), I’m surprised that more hasn’t been made of the job description for the new DG.

Despite cutbacks and criticism of the BBC, whoever becomes its head will undoubtedly hold the most important job in British broadcasting. I’m perplexed then to read in the job specification, that experience as a journalist and/or programme maker is not essential.

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but how can someone who is responsible for television, radio and online, plus a global workforce of 20,000 that produces 400,000 hours of content every year, not have to be an experienced journalist/programme maker?

There’s no disputing that the DG’s job is an enormous one. Being the Chief Executive Officer and Editor-in-Chief means being the one person who is the “editorial, operational and creative leader of the organisation”, the one responsible for everyone and everything, everything being programmes, thousands of them. How you do that without a background and skill-base which offers you more than a superficial insight into the fundamental building blocks of output is beyond me.

Running the BBC isn’t like running a retail chain or being the head of a financial institution. I appreciate completely the need for significant leadership experience; an understanding of the UK; I even get the need for “audience-facing experience”, (great piece of jargon), but I think it’s a mistake to list “editorial background” as a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”.

There has been and will continue to be much speculation about Mark Thompson’s legacy. For content makers he’s synonymous with cutbacks and redundancies; someone who didn’t go far enough to curb the often obscene pay of the on-air talent while the equally, often more talented, off-air workforce had to fight for pay reviews which rarely resulted in significant increases.

Is the BBC Trust in danger of further alienating the very people who are the lifeblood of the Corporation – the content makers – if they appoint someone who isn’t? These are the same people who already feel undermined and undervalued and underrepresented in an organisation which is going through another phase of cuts, this time as part of the Delivering Quality First programme.

Hopefully, regardless of the job description, the new appointee will be either a journalist or a programme maker – preferably both. If they’re not, they are going to face an uphill struggle to gain credibility amongst a workforce which is passionate about creating content.

If reports on the front runners for the job are right there’s a strong field of internal candidates; Caroline Thomson, currently chief operating officer, Helen Boaden, director of news and George Entwistle who is director of vision.

Doubtless there will be some interest from outside the BBC, although I can see the benefits of someone from inside the organisation getting the job. The BBC is a peculiar beast with a unique history. Given the delicate nature of the current round of cuts and the Charter Review which will take place before 2016, as well as the stringent compliance procedures, it would be a huge undertaking for someone without insider knowledge to lead the organisation into what will doubtless be a difficult decade.

But above everything, the new DG must have had first-hand experience of producing content, surely?

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About Julie Kissick

I'm a journalist with extensive experience working in radio, television, newspapers and magazines. I've been a manager, broadcaster and content producer for various media outlets including BBC, ITV and Northcliffe Newspaper Group. I have a passion for teaching and learning, social media and football.
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One Response to New BBC Director General not a journalist or programme maker?

  1. Mark says:

    Interesting blog. Tim Smart – CEO of King’s Hospital – use to be Managing Director at BT but now holds a crucial role within a leading, and successful, NHS Trust. However, other than a passion for a national treasure I’m sure he has no experience of credibility generating jobs such as ‘nurse’ or ‘doctor’. I think what doctors and nurses want is someone who can empathise and grasp the reality of there jobs and factor it into decisions made at the top. Whether he needed to have done the jobs before I’m not convinced.

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