BBC boss says Newsnight should stay on air

Rachel Burden and Tim Davie Radio 5 live presenter Rachel Burden hosted the staff session with Tim Davie

Acting director general Tim Davie has said Newsnight should stay on air and that he wants investigative reporting to return to the programme.

There has been a pause in the show's investigations since November 12, when the BBC apologised to former Conservative treasurer Lord McAlpine, after a Newsnight report on November 2 led to him being wrongly implicated in child abuse allegations.

"Newsnight without investigative reporting is not a long-term option to me," Davie said in his first ringmain session with BBC staff on Wednesday.

He added that the results of Nick Pollard's investigation into the dropping of an earlier Newsnight item on the Jimmy Savile abuse allegations would come out at the end of this month or early December.

In a session hosted by Radio 5 live presenter Rachel Burden, he spoke on a range of topics, highlighted below:

Editorial

  • He believes there is now "a clear chain of command" in the News division with Fran Unsworth and Ceri Thomas temporarily replacing BBC's head of news Helen Boaden and her deputy Stephen Mitchell respectively, pending the outcome of the Pollard review.
  • Referring to the Panorama investigation about the dropped Newsnight story on Jimmy Savile, he said: "One of the saving graces of this whole situation is the BBC's ability to report on itself" even if it was "very uncomfortable".
  • Concerning Unsworth's email comments that "it would be helpful if some of our problems were not played out publically", he said it was worth debating if employees' public opinions on internal BBC workings could infringe their ability to report impartially on the corporation.

DG job

  • Asked whether he wanted the DG post, Davie said it was "one of the great jobs in the world" but it was "genuinely not something in my mind". Before George Entwistle resigned as director general more than a week ago, Davie was due to take charge of BBC Worldwide in December. Tony Hall has since been appointed as the new director general of the BBC.
  • On whether the DG role should be split in two, he said: "I think there is still some validity in having one clear leader of this organisation with the right support…but it's for others to decide who brings that."
  • Asked if the 12-month, £450,000 payoff for Entwistle made a "tricky situation trickier", he replied: "I can see that point of view".
Tim Davie's first staff session was held in Salford Davie's first staff session as acting DG was held in Salford

BBC culture and reputation

  • Davie said he didn't see any "systemic problems" but he worried that "sometimes people in the BBC culture are shy of coming forward" on issues of discrimination. He added that he wanted an "absolutely open conversation" on staff concerns.
  • Management want to reduce the list of mandatory staff courses but at the same time expect all workers to attend them.
  • Davie said there was some truth in criticism of management being "a bit arrogant" and that they should listen to feedback more. But the quality and uniqueness of the BBC meant it should be defended "aggressively with the right tone".

Cutbacks

  • The BBC will continue to cut costs to as it takes on more spending responsibilities, such as the World Service, to maintain its annual income of £3.7bn. Davie said "it would be the wrong thing" to give up on the DQF plans and senior manager roles would be reduced, with savings found from "beyond programme-making".
  • Tough decisions will be made on the deployment of money and Davie challenged content division leaders to make clear, even if unpopular, choices on output that should and should not be made.

Content-making

  • Davie said there was "not a ranking system that an idea based in digital is less than an idea based in broadcast, because we're moving to a world where broadcast and digital come together and it's just stuff coming out of a device."
  • He added that the BBC should continue Entwistle's theme of focusing the "vast majority" of the licence fee on programme-making.
  • Delivering content, such as programmes and robust journalism, in a flawless manner was the "primary way" of rebuilding audience trust.

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