Make 'more aggressive' case for BBC, says DG at VLV conference

Tony Hall Tony Hall: Shrinking budget mustn't affect quality

Tony Hall said the BBC should be 'more aggressive' in making its argument for the licence fee and should use its own airwaves to do it.

He believed it needed to be 'less British' about trumpeting just how much people actually get from the broadcaster for just 40p per day.

The director general was speaking at a conference organised for the 30th anniversary of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer.

He also participated in a conversation with former World Tonight presenter Robin Lustig.

In his keynote speech, Hall put forward a case for the licence fee, focusing on the BBC's range of programming, from high-quality drama to news and current affairs.

But he warned that the budget was shrinking, calculating that the BBC would lose 16% of its revenue by 2016. An additional £100m would also need to be found for new projects announced as part of his vision for the BBC.

This, he said, shouldn't affect quality. 'Quality must come first,' he insisted, adding that 'we shouldn't stretch the elastic too thin.'

How that was to be achieved was not clarified, but Hall did explain that investing in drama was one of his top priorities.

Original drama

The BBC leader told the audience he was often asked about why British drama appears to be lagging behind the likes of America and Scandinavia, but said he didn't share this 'loss of confidence' in home-grown programmes.

'Not every BBC programme is Doctor Who,' he admitted, before rattling off other 'outstanding' recent dramas including Last Tango in Halifax, Top of the Lake, The Village, Peaky Blinders, Call the Midwife and those heard on Radios 3 and 4.

On the subject of making the BBC smaller and combining services, Hall was dismissive. 'You can have any size BBC you want, but you will lose stuff.' He added that it was 'too early' to get into conversations about what should or shouldn't go.

Trust

The conversation switched to regaining trust after the troubles in news. Hall said 'nothing makes the case for the BBC more eloquently' than its news and current affairs.

'We've taken a hit in the last year or year and a half … and regaining trust is a slow business,' he conceded, but this did not mean that the BBC shouldn't be brave with its journalism. He confirmed that a Panorama investigation about Comic Relief would be going ahead, although he couldn't be specific with dates.

Questioned about the BBC's diversity strategy, Hall said he's committed to bringing in more apprentices from a variety of backgrounds and has a target of making these 1% of the workforce.

A video about the BBC's plans to commemorate the anniversary of World War I with a range of programmes and partnerships ended the discussion. It was an example that was meant to show just how much the BBC can accomplish when it pulls together its enormous resources and strengths.

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