Hall has hands full with BBC job
- 23 November 2012
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures - and for the BBC these are extraordinary times.
That is why BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten approached Tony Hall to be the new BBC director general without going through the normal recruitment process, and why Lord Hall of Birkenhead - to give him his proper title - accepted the offer to return to the corporation, even though he'd not applied for the job earlier in the year.
Lord Patten has revealed that he talked to Lord Hall about the requirements of the post, before George Entwistle was appointed as director general in the summer. At that stage, the head of the Royal Opera House made it clear he would not apply because he was also tied up running the Cultural Olympiad, and, at 61, he also felt it was a job for someone younger.
But as the BBC faced one of its worst ever crises, with the loss of its new director general, Tony Hall quickly emerged as the clear favourite for the task of stabilising the corporation and restoring credibility both to its news and its management.
Widely credited with helping turn round the Royal Opera House, which itself was in crisis before he joined as chief executive in 2001, Tony Hall had also worked at the BBC for many years, latterly as head of news, when it launched Radio 5 live, the BBC News website and its TV News Channel.
He was seen, in Lord Patten's words, as an outsider - after 11 years at the Opera House - and an insider who already knew the ways of the BBC, after working there for almost 30 years.
When the call came, Lord Hall found it hard to refuse. At a news conference he explained: "I care passionately about the BBC, about what it can do, its programme makers and the impact we have in all sorts of different ways. It's one of those extraordinary organisations which is an absolutely essential part of the UK, of Britain, of who we are, but also has this incredible impact around the world too."
With few exceptions, his appointment has been greeted with enthusiasm.
But that doesn't diminish the enormous task that faces him.
To start with there is the immediate fallout from the two separate BBC crises over Newsnight investigations into child abuse.
Disciplinary proceedings have begun against some of those involved in approving the broadcast that led to the former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine being wrongly linked to child abuse. It remains to be seen how those will be resolved - and the full report into what went wrong will then be published, possibly doing further damage to the reputation of BBC News.
Meanwhile, the Pollard Review is hearing evidence about how the earlier Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile was shelved, while Christmas tributes to the star went ahead. That report is expected early in December, and it could cause more damage to the corporation's reputation.
The BBC's director of news, Helen Boaden, has stepped aside while the report is prepared, and though she expects to be reinstated when it is published, her absence further weakens a BBC management board that already contains an acting director general, an acting director of television (or Vision, as it's called), and an acting director of radio (or Audio & Music).
The chief operating officer was made redundant last month and two other senior executives - the chief finance officer and the chief executive of BBC Worldwide - are leaving the corporation. Tony Hall must build almost a completely new management team.
Dozens of other executives have left the BBC in the past two years, as it set out to reduce its senior management pay bill by 20% - in response to what Lord Patten called the "toxic" issue of high executive pay at the corporation. He now says he wants a radical overhaul of the BBC's structure and management.
If the new director general needed a reminder that the pay issue has not gone away, it came on the morning he was being appointed.
Just as the BBC Trustees were endorsing Tony Hall's appointment, one of their number, Anthony Fry, was being roasted by members of the House of Commons public accounts committee, furious at the generosity of BBC's executive pay-offs.
The MPs were incredulous at the trust's decision not just to pay Mr Entwistle £450,000, twice his legal entitlement - but also his legal fees, a year's private health insurance, and £10,000 for PR advice.
Nor could they believe that the chief operating officer Caroline Thomson, who was made redundant after she failed to get the top job, received an even bigger pay-off. Tony Hall will have to build bridges with MPs if he's to restore the BBC's reputation and end its current crisis.
And there are other challenges.
The budget cuts being implemented following the last licence fee settlement are still working their way through the system, and will soon have more of an impact on audiences.
Beyond that, the BBC must start to negotiate a new charter and the next licence fee settlement with the government.
And it must also face up to further revelations from the scandal that started the whole crisis - the accusations of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile.
The Dame Janet Smith Review, which is examining the culture and practices within the BBC during Savile's time, has just appealed for witnesses, including BBC staff and executives who may have known what was going on.
Tony Hall is going to have his hands full for some years to come.