Viewpoints: What next for the BBC?

  • 15 November 2012
  • From the section UK
  • comments
New Broadcasting House, London

The BBC needs a "thorough, radical, structural overhaul" in light of the recent crisis, says Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust. What form should this overhaul take?

Neil Midgley, the Daily Telegraph

Acting director general Tim Davie needs to say something very soon about Newsnight and its future. I wonder if the brand continues and there is an investigative report on the programme, will people trust it?

He needs to lay out a road map for the radical overhaul of BBC management. I don't think the BBC can wait three months for a new director general for this to take place.

The new director general needs to come from outside, just for perception. They need to be a heavyweight who can really shake the BBC up and deliver uncomfortable change to very senior people. But it's hard to think of an outstanding candidate.

They need a deputy. We need to have one person running the BBC, as with any organisation it needs a boss. But a deputy director general could be in charge of journalism, effectively fulfilling the role of editor-in-chief.

They would support the director general, be out in public taking some of the flack.

This was part of George Entwistle's undoing - he was the only one able to do press conferences and interviews and that clearly took its toll.

Neil Midgley can be followed on Twitter @neilmidgley

Ben Bradshaw, Labour politician

Firstly, the BBC needs to sort out its journalism. Secondly, the corporation needs to make sure it has the right people and the right systems to deal with a crisis. Thirdly, the BBC needs to act firmly, but fairly on the outcome of the various reports it's commissioned into what went wrong.

Next, and in a slightly longer time scale, the BBC needs to implement the "thorough and radical changes" in management structure and culture promised by the chairman [of the BBC Trust], Lord Patten.

Some of these, like the separation of the roles of director general and editor-in-chief need a change to the BBC's Charter but there's no reason why, in the mean time, the new DG shouldn't have someone at their side to oversee journalism.

The BBC's governance structure must also change. Self-regulation doesn't work. It is not possible for the Trust to be regulator, cheerleader, defender of the BBC's independence and ultimate performance manager at the same time.

A more normal board structure to "manage and challenge" would work better with regulation done independently by Ofcom.

Lastly, the BBC should do less and focus resources on what it does best. Programmes like Newsnight have been starved of money, its journalists repeatedly asked to do more for less. In the end quality suffers.

Ben Bradshaw can be followed on Twitter @BenPBradshaw

Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian

Above all, the BBC needs a strong and effective leader. The BBC is an incredibly large and complex organisation which is really loved by the British public.

There is no proof it is ungovernable, the previous director general-but-one, Mark Thompson, seemed to manage ok and there is no reason a vigorous and active leader can't do the same.

They need to get the person at the top right and not worry so much about the structure. That said, that person needs to be well-supported. They need a powerful and effective support cast.

They need to find a good troubleshooter. You can have good intentions and plans, but as George Entwistle found, you won't often survive the first contact with the enemy and running the BBC is most definitely a contact sport.

They will also need a deputy, like the role Mark Byford used to fill, with the ability in particular to oversee the vast journalistic output as news is time-consuming and has the capacity to be very controversial.

This job shouldn't not be conducted by the same person running the whole corporation, who is making decisions on strategy and finance.

In the past 50 years, crises like this have engulfed the BBC periodically. These things come and go.

Dan Sabbagh can be followed on Twitter @dansabbagh

John Redwood, Conservative politician

The BBC has a worldwide reputation for producing good programmes, and has global reach in its news gathering and commentary on current affairs. In the UK many cherish its output.

At home, as often is the case for important institutions, there are also plenty of critics. Some think that in an age of media proliferation a state funded broadcaster levying a tax on every TV set-user is no longer needed or appropriate.

Others think there is a role for public service broadcasting, but it is a smaller role with a narrower range of programmes than the BBC currently produces.

The BBC needs to answer its critics in the best possible way, by producing great programmes and unbiased news and commentary. There is no need to abolish Newsnight, every need to raise its standards of journalism.

The BBC needs a new editor-in-chief who works to raise those standards and eliminate more of the perceived biases.

It also needs less expensive management floating above the editors and producers who need to be responsible for their programmes.

As a public service broadcaster it has to offer better value for money, which means less and less expensive management.

It needs to offer something for everyone on the hotly disputed issues of the day, rather than implying these disputes have been settled with one side winning.

Claire Enders, Enders Analysis

Jeremy Paxman says Newsnight's problem with journalistic ethics arose because the show has become under-resourced. But Newsnight's problems were twofold.

There was clearly a failure of basic journalistic standards by journalists working on the north Wales care home scandal.

Moreover, it looks like no-one further up the management chain actually reviewed the core thesis, its research background, and the finished product.

Resources are irrelevant to both those problems. The reputation of BBC News rests on the quality of its journalism, which in turn rests on the ethics and sense of principled responsibility of its journalists.

The BBC should have an internal alert system for when any part of the news arm makes allegations as serious as those Newsnight levelled at Lord McAlpine and it should be compulsory for senior executives to regularly review major BBC news stories.

The new director general should take personal responsibility for the BBC's ethics, seek to renew the BBC's culture of public service, and ensure that bureaucratic entropy does not shield the organisation from that responsibility, which is to the public as a whole.

Martin Campbell, Broadcast Journalism Training Council

The BBC is working in a protected environment because of its funding, so if it's not careful it can start to operate within its own bubble. The structure of the BBC needs a complete overhaul.

This must not be a tinkering exercise. The mistakes made by Newsnight highlight issues that would have been covered in the first couple of weeks of any of the BJTC-accredited courses. Newsnight forgot the golden rules of checking - and that's a sign of operation in isolation.

The BBC must get back to its roots as a public service broadcaster, create a sensible chain of news command and stop ratings-chasing. They're given licence fee money to prevent that happening, but it's being used to ensure it does.

The Newsnight mess and the This Morning debacle are both prime examples of a worrying new broadcasting arrogance borne out of a frustration that websites, blogs and posts can create waves daily without the risk of regulatory wrath.

Internet "news" is regularly being reported by the traditional broadcast media with a cavalier disregard for the level of responsibility viewers and listeners are entitled to expect.

It's not just Leveson, broadcast regulation needs a good look at.

Mark Webster, Chevron Multimedia

What the BBC does not need now is another committee or two to approve, check or anticipate journalistic output.

It needs to free up its journalists and unblock the news arteries while at the same time ensure that journalists are held fully responsible when they get it wrong - not merely moved to a less controversial area of coverage.

What the general public probably does not appreciate is that by comparison with much of the written press, the broadcast media is heavily regulated and under intense scrutiny.

During my time as a spin doctor at the Liberal Democrats I would always get a thoughtful response for any complaints I had against the BBC.

Let's also not forget that appointing a new boss at the BBC under some delusion that the new person will be able to monitor the output of every potentially controversial piece of journalism and prevent any future errors is utterly absurd.

The whole point is to put the responsibility for the decision making squarely on the shoulders of those making the programmes and the journalists who will pay the price if they get it wrong.

More regulation has rarely led to better decision making and in the fast moving world of journalism it would mean the slow death of a great institution.