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29 October 2014
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Mark Thompson


Mark Thompson


Speech given to BBC staff on Mark Thompson's first day as Director-General

Tuesday 22 June 2004
Printable version

It seems about five minutes since I walked out of this building and headed off to Channel 4. But plenty's happened since then. The BBC's changed and so have I.

For the BBC: new services, a string of programming and content triumphs.

The power of marketing especially cross-media, Freeview, Making it Happen.

A fresh sense of confidence and growth: bigger budgets, bigger ambitions, some amazing new buildings. And then Hutton.

And as for me: well, for a start the experience of working for a broadcaster where income is not guaranteed. Where the market and what the big players do - and this includes the BBC - affects everything: your programme budget, your ability to employ people, your chance to reach new audiences or defend existing ones.

We ended up turning a big corner and I had a great time at the channel. But my experience at 4 means that I come back to the BBC with fresh eyes.

I know the BBC and many of you, but to some extent I do think I can look at this organisation and what it does with the detachment of an outsider.

So what do I see?

The BBC from the outside

Well, first: incredible strength. From the inside the BBC can feel like a very fragile thing.

What you see from outside is just the sheer wealth of talent. The incredible bond with the British public. The scale of what the BBC can achieve, especially when it works together - whether it's to launch Restoration or the Proms or to save DTT.

Under Greg, I and many other people also saw a BBC which seemed more at ease with itself. Happier. Less paranoid, less prone to back-biting.

It was an organisation with a new focus on audiences. Yet one which also sometimes seemed so intent on its internal conversation that it almost forgot about the outside world.

An organisation whose tone of voice could sometimes sound spikey and defensive, arrogant even.

During my last couple of years inside the BBC, I remember thinking: Thank God we're finally able to stand up and defend the BBC. When I left, I thought: Wow, is that what we sound like from the outside?

One of the reasons the BBC has stayed on top for more than 80 years is because it's always been very tough on itself, especially when it came to its values and standards and its effectiveness.

The work done by Greg and other senior leaders on the BBC's values and its internal culture has been very good. But there have been moments when I've wondered whether it's been tough enough on itself in other ways.

Then there's change. Both Greg and his predecessor John Birt, arrived at the BBC with a big change agenda.

You know the list - it hasn't altered much over the years.

Cut bureaucracy and overheads, modernise management, simplify processes.

Use new technology and a more skilled workforce to improve quality and value for money.

Improve working across the BBC and between the BBC and its external partners and stakeholders.

Talking to some people at the BBC you get the sense that they think they've done change, in fact they've had a skinful of it, thank you very much - projects, working parties, initiatives, out-sourcing, new ways of working, you name it.

But you know from the outside - and you may not want to hear this - it feels like the task of really changing the BBC has only begun.

Our world - the world of broadcasting and media - is itself changing with the speed of an express train.

We face amazing new challenges and opportunities.

What they mean is that we're going to have to change the BBC more rapidly and radically over the next three to five years than at any previous point in its history.

The next chapter

One week from today, our Chairman Michael Grade and I will launch the BBC's vision of its future - our contribution to the debate about our Charter.

I first read the draft of this vision a few weeks ago.

I was a bit apprehensive really - it was a bit late to start from scratch!

But I needn't have worried. Over recent months, the senior team at the BBC and its Governors have done a brilliant job in shaping a clear and confident view of its future.

And they all knew that this time round complacency and smugness wouldn't cut it - there had to be a willingness to confront the need for change and to take some of the criticisms made about the BBC seriously.

I want to pay tribute to Mark Byford, who has done a brilliant job as Acting Director General.

Also to our fantastic Director of Strategy, Carolyn Fairbairn, who's been the main architect of the piece.

I've now had a chance to add my input, I've been able to write significant bits of the final draft myself, and I can stand behind the whole thing.

This part of our future is not just about a handful of people at the top of the BBC. It has involved thousands and thousands and I hope you will see your contribution reflected in the document.

The people who founded the BBC believed that broadcasting could make the world a better place.

Public intervention would ensure that its astonishing creative power - to enrich individuals with knowledge, culture and information about their world, to build more cohesive and productive communities, to engage the people of Britain and the whole globe in a new conversation about who we are and where we are going - would be put to work to the sole benefit of the public.

Now we believe that that is still the point of the BBC.

In fact, we believe that over the next decade the BBC will have a bigger role than ever in building public value.

By helping to lead the challenge of building a digital Britain.

By making sure that everyone - not just the better off or the media savvy or those who choose or can afford to subscribe, but everyone - can share in the benefits of the new broadcasting.

By raising standards everywhere in content, whether in traditional TV and radio or in new media.

And by finding new ways of making that content available to audiences whenever and wherever they want it.

By creating a far more open, responsive, agile BBC.

Those are some of the themes of our vision. I won't spoil it by going into any more detail - but I will come back to brief you in much greater detail first thing next Tuesday morning on the ringmain.

I think our document is full of exciting, inspiring ideas. I hope it's going to inspire all of you.

I believe we can look forward to one of the best - maybe the best - periods in the BBC's history, in which the combination of the new technologies and our audiences' hunger for outstanding British content give us a chance of becoming an even more indispensible part of this country's national life.

And in which the creative opportunities for BBC people - to experiment and to excel - are greater than ever.

Greg was right: the BBC should feel strong and confident.

Confronting some realities

But achieving this vision - and convincing the world that we really intend to achieve it - is going to mean confronting some new questions.

I believe that the licence payer has a right to expect an amazing breadth of services from the BBC.

And the public really uses that breadth, with intense loyalty to our traditional services and a real appetite to sample the new ones: the amazing growth of is one example of that.

So a BBC which is big in terms of services is essential.

But how deep should the BBC be? How big, in other words, in terms of vertical integration, of departments, in-house operations and commercial subsidiaries?

Some of the BBC's critics, of course, argue that it's far too big - not that they ever offer much evidence to back up that assertion.

As part of our preparation for the Charter Renewal process, we're going to launch some reviews of different parts of the BBC to address these questions in a rational, evidence-based way.

Now I know some people may be pretty unsettled when they hear about this. What I would say to you is that we're going to go into this with a genuinely open mind.

And you should be clear that these are questions which are not going to go away. If we did not examine them thoroughly ourselves, others would do it for us. I'll talk a bit more about the reviews in a few minutes.

Something else we must do is take a fresh look at value-for-money and costs.

I guess many of you will have realised already that the period of buoyancy and rapid growth is over.

The financial picture I see coming back in the BBC is a tight one. Every bit of the licence fee has been allocated to the end of the current Charter - and this year the BBC is spending more than its income. That's planned, but nonetheless it's something to keep an eye on.

As we are now in debt, we need to keep a very careful control on cash - we cannot risk exceeding our statutory borrowing-limit.

Overheads have come down quite a bit, but still represent £320m a year, which must be too much.

And we face some new financial burdens.

To pick one, it's likely that - whatever we decide in terms of staff contributions to the pension fund - the BBC, in common with many other UK employers, will have to increase its contributions by many tens of millions of pounds to ensure that the BBC's pension fund remains secure.

Going forward, we face enormous fresh calls on investment - not least some of those exciting ideas in our Charter vision, especially the BBC's role in helping to build digital Britain.

Well why not a bigger licence fee, you might ask?

Again, I think many of you will realise that any discussion with Government about the future size of the licence fee is going to start with the question of self-help.

The Government and the licence payers will quite rightly look to the BBC to solve its investment needs first and foremost by squeezing the maximum possible value from its existing funds.

I intend to launch a pan-BBC programme within the next few weeks to achieve exactly that.

But it's also worth saying that these kind of programmes have sometimes failed in the past, or delivered disappointing results, because they didn't involve the people who know the most about where the money goes - and who often have the best new ideas about how to use it more effectively: and that's all of you.

Making It Happen has begun to unlock the amazing potential when everyone in the organisation really gets together to discuss issues and solve problems. It's going to be vital going forward.

We're going to have to be very careful about all our costs - and that includes pay.

Given the financial realities, in the immediate run-up to the Charter Review debate, and with relatively modest settlements in the rest of the broadcasting sector, it would be little short of suicidal to countenance an out-of-line pay increase this year.

We're going to have to work with all of our colleagues to create a spirit of greater flexibility and open-mindedness about the future BBC.

I know for example that the proposed sale of BBC Technology is unpopular with some people and certainly with the BBC's unions. Even so, I'm sure it's the right move.

We're not going to sell off the entire BBC - we will always have, extensive in-house operations with all the expertise, security of supply, excellence and creative heritage that they bring.

But divestment of a given operation when we believe it's in the interests of the people who own the BBC, our viewers and listeners, will continue to be a valid and necessary choice from time to time.

We want to work very closely with all of you and with the unions - who I met earlier today and with whom I want to strike up a strong working relationship - to explore the issues associated with moves like the Technology sale.

The future of BBC journalism

I want to turn now to a specific part of the BBC's services, indeed one of its most important: its journalism.

Journalism is one of this organisation's great glories.

The BBC has more talent and expertise than any other provider around the world.

Investigative journalism, a key part of the mix, has made a real comeback in recent years.

It's been good to see current affairs reviving on television, the extraordinary range and texture of provision on radio, whether local, national, UK or global, the coming-of-age of our online and interactive news services. This is a success story and we should be proud of it.

But it's also true that BBC journalism has just been through the worst crisis in its 80 year history - a crisis which cost the BBC a chairman and a chief executive.

I'm not going to dwell on Hutton. My focus is on what we do now: what lessons do we learn, how do we go forward, putting it behind us but also minimizing the chances of anything like it ever happening again?

I've got three things to say about this.

First, this week we're going to publish and implement the Neil report.

This is a report into the lessons of Kelly/Gilligan/Hutton conducted by Ron Neil, a former head of news here, together with a great team of senior editorial figures from inside and outside the BBC.

The report had input and full buy-in from Richard Sambrook and the rest of the leadership of BBC News. Its findings were unanimous and have now been accepted in their entirety by the Board of Governors.

We'll post the report on tomorrow and, if you've any interest in BBC journalism inside or outside of our news divisions, I'd urge you to take a look at it.

I won't pre-empt its findings, but I will say that one of the things I like best about it is that it reminds us that - although, yes, we do want our news and current affairs programmes and services to be accessible to different audience-groups and, on major channels like BBC ONE and Radio 4, to reach large numbers of viewers and listeners - ratings are never the most important thing in our journalism. Nor, I might add, in any of our other services.

Ron and his team set out what does matter most: truth and accuracy; serving the public interest; fair-mindedness; impartiality; diversity of opinion; independence; and accountability.

Those values may sound like apple pie, but they are the foundation of everything we do. We forget them at our peril.

Ron focuses particularly on the leadership role of BBC editors and managers in instilling and maintaining those values.

Then he moves on to a whole host of specific recommendations, ranging from points about the use of sources, note-taking, anonymity, fairness in putting allegations to the person alleged against to some big new ideas.

BBC journalism is already strong in many ways and it already enjoys widespread public trust. Ron's recommendations are a blueprint for making it stronger - we're going to carry them out in full.

The second thing we're going to do shortly is to publish our plans for a radical overhaul of the BBC's complaints procedure.

Here the emphasis will be on greater transparency, objectivity and accountability.

It's also about a different attitude to complaints. We want to begin with the presumption that the licence payer is right not wrong.

Some complaints will be fast-tracked - but it's an important principle of the new procedure that fast-tracking should always be about the seriousness of the complaint not about the status of the complainant. All complainants should be treated fairly and equally.

Third, we're going to re-organise the editorial leadership and management of journalism in the BBC.

After Hutton, some people said that the Governors should split the roles of Director-General and Editor-in-Chief altogether.

The Governors rejected that idea and rightly so.

I don't see how you can say you're in overall charge of the BBC but somehow claim that you're not responsible for what actually appears on its air-waves.

The Director-General must have final responsibility for what the BBC broadcasts and for the processes and structures it puts in place to ensure that its journalism is fair-minded and accurate.

Nonetheless, I recognise that the BBC's journalism will require more continuous and concentrated editorial leadership at the very top of the organisation as we go forward.

So I've asked Mark Byford to make journalism the centrepiece of his role as Deputy Director-General.

Mark is not just a brilliant manager. He's also one of the best journalists I've worked with and his values and his understanding of what the BBC stands for are rock solid.

Richard Sambrook, the Director of BBC News, will report to Mark.

So too will Pat Loughrey, Director of Nations and Regions, where so much of the BBC's journalism across the UK takes place.

Nations and Regions of course involves many editorial matters beyond journalism - from network TV drama to pan-BBC music policy - and we'll ensure they're fully plugged into the right forums and decision-making processes for those areas as well.

But the main management and financial reporting line will be to Mark.

There will be a new post of Director, World Service and Global News, responsible for all our international news services across radio, television and online, who will also report to Mark.

So too, as now, will Stephen Whittle, the Controller of Editorial Policy.

This group will form a new Journalism Board, which Mark will chair.

The Board will invite the Directors of TV, Radio, New Media, and Factual and Learning to join it whenever necessary.

I will look to this Board to set and monitor editorial policy for journalism in every part of the BBC both within and beyond the news divisions, to drive the implementation of the recommendations of the Neil report, and to manage the output, talent and resources of all our news and current affairs programmes and services to deliver the most credible, the most impartial, the most engaging reporting in the world.

I want, not just the Board, but all of our journalists and editors to work together to create a culture which combines the highest and most uncompromising standards with a real spirit of journalistic enterprise and independence.

The final reason for creating a Journalism Board goes back to one of Greg's great themes.

We want a group of journalists at the BBC who collaborate and learn from each other more than they do at present.

Here as elsewhere we still want to create One BBC and the upcoming One BBC Awards reaffirm our commitment to this.

Mark's duties as Deputy Director-General won't begin and end with journalism, of course.

Apart from anything else, he will be my deputy - when I'm away, he will take over the responsibilities of Director-General for looking after the whole BBC.

Commercial activities: a new structure and a review

But the Journalism Board is only one part of a larger plan to make the structure of the BBC simpler, more decisive, more able to adapt and change.

Let's turn next to the BBC's commercial and financial operations.

We find some of the same themes again.

Big achievements in recent years - real efficiency gains across Finance and Property through imaginative deals and new ways of working, expansion and success for BBC Worldwide in many fields, and real progress too with the business units (Resources, Technology, BBC Broadcast) which make up Ventures.

When I look at this part of the BBC today, coming back with fresh eyes, what I see most of all is economic and creative potential.

But I also see the need for greater strategic clarity. Also the urgent need to cut through some of the complexity.

I think it's been hard in an Executive Committee of 16 or 17 people and with a vast agenda for these businesses to get the time and the focus they need.

I have therefore asked John Smith to take on the new role of Chief Operating Officer, or COO, of the BBC, reporting to me and taking charge of all of the BBC's commercial and resourcing subsidiaries as well as continuing to head up the BBC's Finance, Property and Business Affairs departments.

People who have worked with John will know what an effective catalyst for change he's been, as well as a commanding and resourceful Director of Finance.


The Commercial Board, which John will chair, will bring together Rupert Gavin, as Chief Executive of Worldwide and the heads of the individual businesses in Ventures, and will be an effective forum both for setting future strategy and for driving current performance.

I've also asked John to lead a review of all the BBC's commercial activities.

This review will also involve people from throughout the BBC as well as external stakeholders and it will address all the big questions.

What commercial activities should the BBC undertake given its long-term strategy?

What should it do itself and what with partners?

Where should it own-and-operate activities and where should it look outside, whether for a particular service or for a partner to exploit the value in a particular right?

BBC Worldwide and BBC Ventures are both full of talent and they've already built enormous value for the public: how can they build more?

That test, by the way, the test of public value, is going to be key to us going forward.

It's a thread that runs all the way through our thinking about the next Charter.

It will be the test we apply to all the questions we face going forward - not just questions about the BBC's services, but also about its shape and structure.

John and I will present the conclusions to the Governors by year's end.

A new Creative Board

I now want to turn to another, absolutely critical part of what the BBC does - its creative offering to the public.

Without great programmes, great content, we're nothing.

Yet the key creative questions can seem like a bit of an afterthought at the top of the BBC, crowded out by all the debates about money, technology, broad strategy.

In Greg's BBC, collaboration between TV, radio and New Media definitely got better, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.

So I'm going to chair a new Creative Board which will pull together the heads of all the divisions which drive our creative work: Alan Yentob for DEC [Drama, Entertainment & CBBC], John Willis for F&L [Factual and Learning], Peter Salmon for Sport, Mark Byford as our overall leader of journalism as well as the Directors of TV, Radio, New Media, Nations and Regions of course, Marketing, Communications and Audiences and the news divisions whenever appropriate.

This is the forum where we will discuss and decide upon the future direction of our programmes and services, look at ways in which our programme-makers and commissioners can work together to take advantage of new ways of reaching audiences - say, with broadband or high quality mobile video - and ways in which we can drive forward with all the issues relating to programme and content production and the incredible wealth of in-house talent inside the BBC.

On matters of creative strategy and performance, the Creative Board will report directly to the Board of Governors.

I've also asked Alan Yentob to take on the new role of Creative Director for the whole BBC, in addition to continuing to lead DEC.

I want Alan to take a creative overview which spans the different divisions and services of the BBC and to become our key link with the creative community outside the BBC.

No one understands how to get more out of the creative heart of the BBC than Alan, nor can speak with more eloquence about it.

Alan will play a vital role in making the BBC's case for Charter Renewal.

The future of the BBC's production base is something else we want to review over the coming months.

There is so much talent and so much potential in our production divisions, but again some important questions as well.

I'm one of those who was always worried about the decision originally made in 1996 and confirmed by Greg in 2000 to split production completely away from commissioning and broadcasting.

There was a powerful case in favour of it - above all the wish, which I entirely support, to offer a level playing-field to the indies - but to me the best work comes from the closest possible creative dialogue and I'm not sure the current set-up always helps that.

I think there have been occasions when commissioners and controllers have had a closer dialogue with some key indies than they have with some in-house departments.

But, as I've said, there are strong arguments on both sides.

The right thing to do is to explore the question thoroughly and, in the spirit of Making It Happen, to listen to and learn from the people on the front line in F&L, DEC, Sport, TV and so on before reaching a conclusion.

We also need to look at the balance of in-house and indie programme supply.

In many ways, in-house production is the creative power-house of the BBC and the root of much of its creative heritage, and there are plenty of practical reasons why it can make good sense, not just for the BBC, but for our audiences: security of supply and of quality; critical mass and economies of scale; the chance to develop content ideas across platforms and territories.

Most of what I know about programmes and broadcasting I learned inside BBC Production and, like many of you, it runs in my blood.

I'm certain extensive in-house production will be a critical part of the BBC's future.

But again we should apply the test of public value.

How does the licence payer benefit from a particular programme being supplied from within the BBC as opposed to from an indie?

How do we make sure that in every area and for every service that the licence fee really does find access to the best ideas?

I've asked Carolyn Fairbairn to head up this Commissioning and Production Review.

She will involve all the key Directors in her work as well as ensuring that everyone in these vital parts of the BBC gets a full opportunity to take part in the debate and suggest the right way forward.

I've also asked Carolyn to make sure that the review turns outside the BBC and talks to our external partners as well: the indies, yes, and also representatives of the freelance sector and all the different groups of talent on which our creative success depends.

We will present the conclusions of the review to the Governors, this time in the Autumn.

Regional Strategy

At the same time, we're also going to get to the bottom of the BBC's regional strategy.

In recent years our Nations and Regions have been a hive of activity.

Devolution, new investment in the nations, more network production there than ever before, new regions in England, online, Hull, Open Centres, the multimedia buses.

The BBC is an active, energetic broadcaster and partner all over the UK.

As I guess all of you know, before he left, Greg was determined to go to the next stage, by finding a way of shifting a further significant part of the BBC's operations out of London and into the rest of the UK.

I believe this is the right strategy and I'm fully committed to it as well.

I want to make sure, though, that we've listened to everyone and weighed the costs and the creative implications carefully before we settle on a plan.

I've asked Peter Salmon and Pat Loughrey to go on leading this work and report back with recommendations as soon as possible.

Managing Charter Renewal

Let me turn next to how we're going to organise our efforts to make the case for a new Charter for the BBC.

Caroline Thomson has been leading the work so far and, in my view, has done a brilliant job in what have been challenging circumstances to say the least.

Now we have to go into top gear.

There's a new leadership team in place.

We're publishing our vision of the BBC's future just seven days from now.

From that moment on, we have to be out there, making the argument, bringing passion and clarity and confidence to every forum in which the Charter is under discussion.

This is priority number one for the BBC: everything we do now, everything we could do in the future, depends on success in this.

I have therefore asked Caroline to become Director of Charter Renewal and to focus on this one challenge.

She will continue to run her department as now but will also lead a Charter Renewal Task Force which can draw on the talent and resource of the whole organisation.


She and I will meet every week to assess progress.

Caroline will also report to Michael Grade, the Chairman of the BBC.

Her role will sit across the BBC as a whole, she will attend management meetings as appropriate and all Board of Governors meetings.

She will ensure that the Governors have maximum support as they make their case for a strong, independent BBC.

A new Executive Board

Let me turn finally to the central management and leadership of the BBC.

I admired the flatness and breadth of the Executive Committee which Greg created, but I - and I have to say most other people I've talked to inside the BBC - believe that it was a bit too big and amorphous to be really effective.

It was often a good place to debate the issues, but actual decisions were seldom taken there.

It didn't play an effective role in the Hutton saga, even though there was a lot of experience around the table.

With our Journalism, Commercial and Creative Boards in place - replacing, by the way, all the sub-committees of the old Executive Committee - and with Caroline's Charter Renewal Task Force, I believe we can go for a much smaller and more effective core leadership group.

I have therefore decided to replace the Executive Committee with a new Executive Board with a total of nine members including me.

The membership will be: myself as DG, Mark as Deputy Director-General, John as Chief Operating Officer, plus the leaders of our major output divisions, Jana Bennett for Television, Jenny Abramsky for Radio, Ashley Highfield for New Media.

Carolyn Fairbairn will sit on the board as Director of Strategy and Distribution.

Andy Duncan will be there as Director of Marketing, Communications and Audiences, and Carolyn and Andy will carry on jointly leading the critical work on digital switchover, work which, by the way, is going to get a lot more intense as we go forward.

Stephen Dando, Director of BBC People, will also be a critical member of the team.

All of our challenges going forward have a major staff and talent dimension and Stephen will be there to lead on all those issues, working with me as the Making it Happen sponsor to take Making It Happen on to the next stage and striving for further improvements to our internal culture and communications.

I believe that leading the BBC should be a team effort, not a one-man band.

I may pretend to sometimes, but I don't have all the answers. I want to learn from all of you.

Specifically, I want the new Executive Board to be a real decision-making body with a very strong sense of collective responsibility and accountability.

The new structure remains very flat.

It also emphasises the One BBC idea of discussing and doing things together.

But I believe it's also going to move fast and, where necessary, be more up for radical action.


In summary then: the BBC has had a traumatic few months.

We've got a real fight on our hands in Charter Renewal - we have a very strong case, but you can be sure that the BBC's critics will also be out there in force.

Meanwhile, as we've seen, we face a much tougher financial environment going forward - and some testing questions about our size and shape as an organisation.

I still think this is a fantastic time to be coming back to the BBC.

Since before the Second World War, the BBC's been a multimedia organisation and now at last the real age of multimedia is here.

Only the BBC and its licence fee can make sure that the digital future is still full of great British content.

Only the BBC can assemble this amount of talent under one roof, where they can meet, collaborate, spark ideas off each other.

To me, the BBC's a kind of Noah's ark in a digital world which otherwise might have too little space for creativity and conviction.

One of the games the press play is to judge everything by reference to the last two DGs.

Is so and so a Birtist or a Dykist?

That Neil report - is it a move back to Birtism?

Or does the continuation of Make It Happen mean that Greg's style is here to stay?

Well, if you ask me, I'd say that both my two predecessors were brilliant leaders of this organisation and both, in their very different ways, taught me, and I think many of you, an enormous amount.

They got the BBC successfully to this point.

Now, with the guidance and support of Michael and the rest of the Governors, you and I have to find our own way of taking the BBC on to the next stage.

One thing that John and Greg had in common is that they both put their hearts and souls into this place.

That's what most people do - it's what the BBC does to you.

And it's exactly what I intend to do.

I know I've got to hit the ground running.

Tomorrow you get the Neil Report, next week the big vision.

But in the meantime it's great to be back.

I'm really looking forward to working with you all again.

Thank you.



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