New BBC DG sets out his vision

  • 03 Sep 2020

With 2,000 journalists' jobs at risk, the NUJ questions how the corporation can continue to make world-beating programmes.

After a weekend when the BBC bashers came out in force and we learned that the government is apparently preparing a "roadmap for reform", Tim Davie, the corporation's new director general, made a speech outlining his priorities for the corporation. He said:

  • We will renew our commitment to impartiality
  • We will focus on unique, high-impact content
  • We will extract more from online
  • We will build commercial income

As NUJ reps are negotiating and fighting almost 2,000 job cuts, Tim Davie said the public service broadcaster would have to be leaner, with a reduced headcount in news and overall, with a focus on cost reduction.

"I want us to consider what we would do if we could only make 80 per cent of our current hours. What would we stop? To be very clear, this is not about cuts to save money, it is about re-allocating funds to where they generate most value – to ensure that we make our output world-beating and utterly distinctive."

He said he wanted the BBC to be less London-based and "serve the public from Cornwall to Shetland, from Suffolk to County Fermanagh".

The director general noted that the BBC had a high level of trust, but it needed to urgently champion and recommit to impartiality. He told staff:

"If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC."

There will be new social media guidelines and training across the organisation.

The BBC's previous DG, Lord Hall, found himself embroiled in an equal pay scandal, when it was revealed many women were being less than men in the same roles. Tim Davie said:

"Our ambition is to create an organisation which reflects more accurately the society we serve. That's 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men, at least 20 per cent Black, Asian and minority ethnic, and at least 12 per cent disabled."

Tim Davie announced that he had reduced the Executive Committee of the BBC from 17 to 11 and that Charlotte Moore had been appointed as chief content officer and will be on the BBC Board. He added:

"I want every area of the BBC not to moan about bureaucracy but dismantle it."

The former head of BBC Studios proposed that other parts of the corporation should also become commercial arms of the organisation and said he wanted to "build major partnerships with the likes of FX, Discovery, ITV and Tencent, so we grow as a global provider of services and premium content".

Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser, said:

"I welcome much of what the BBC's new DG has said today but I can't see how the current plan to axe two thousand journalists' jobs will help the BBC maintain its position as the UK's most respected source of news or make the output world-beating and utterly distinctive.
"If Tim Davie is making the case for further cuts down the line, then I cannot see how his vision for a more diverse BBC and one which provides a service for all its viewers across the nations and regions will be possible if grassroots programming and journalism are further eroded. It's the staff who make all this possible and they should be at the heart for any plans for the future and not have to face more cuts." 

The Prime Minister had been asked about the BBC licence during Prime Minster's Questions and the plans for a "roadmap" for the BBC were later reported. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, told the website Left Foot Forward:

"It's time the dark mutterings and veiled threats against the BBC stop. This pandemic has demonstrated the vital role a public service broadcaster plays in democratic societies, and the BBC and its staff rose to the challenge with round-the-clock local and national news coverage, current affairs, and investigations as well as in its unrivalled content and programming to support families home-schooling during an unprecedented period.
"The BBC doesn't need a roadmap – it needs proper funding, free from political meddling and interference. Decriminalisation of the licence fee is a red herring – if the licence fee is deemed to have had its day, let's have that debate and come up with a credible alternative, be it a household tax or utility mechanism, but that has to be one that guarantees and preserves the BBC's core principle of universality.
"Calls for Netflix-style subscription models only come from the enemies of public service broadcaster who would like to see the BBC emasculated and hobbled."

BBC Media Centre: Tim Davie's introductory speech as BBC Director-General

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