DCSIMG

Atholl Duncan: ‘Actions speak louder than words and the Beeb’s top brass need to act decisively’

  • by ATHOLL DUNCAN
 

The BBC management was incapable of dealing with the crisis. Chaos, confusion and a poisonous atmosphere pervaded. Leadership in short supply.

The Pollard Review is grim reading for supporters of the world’s greatest broadcaster and manna from heaven for Auntie’s detractors.

The former Sky News chief Nick Pollard now calls for the BBC’s entire management culture to be overhauled. An easy thing to say but a Herculean task to deliver.

One of the world’s most valued change leaders, who briefly worked for the BBC, once told me that he had tried to shift the rock of change but had failed to even scratch the moss.

So, as someone who did work for the BBC for 25 years, what can I pull from the embers of this report?

Nick Pollard questions whether the “director general’s status as editor-in-chief is of continuing utility”.

How can the DG be in editorial grip while BBC News still maintains an independence in not referring these matters outside their division? The DG needs a proxy chief editor who stands back from cut and thrust.

For most of my time as a senior editorial leader, Mark Byford played this role as head of journalism and Deputy DG.

Byford’s post was sacrificed on the altar of efficiency. With the Pollard inquiry now estimated at £2 million and untold damage to the BBC brand, is this now the most costly saving ever made? Newsnight is remarkably lucky to escape the axe.

Pollard talks of a poisonous atmosphere and hints that the programme team had become dysfunctional.

E-mails released yesterday show the power that the presenter Paxman wields over this group. Pollard notes that fierce loyalty to a programme is a danger. All this needs to change.

The BBC’s executive response seems to suggest they will act decisively. They must. More than half of the British public now trust the BBC less because of these shambles. However, there is still something in the tone which requires their actions to speak louder than their words.

It is a great irony that the one man leaving the BBC after yesterday’s Pollard report is Steve Mitchell – one of the most honourable, experienced and skilled editorial leaders. A man who depicts the values of BBC journalism.

Not mentioned by Pollard, but ever more clear, is a need to change the role of the BBC Trust. No longer can it act as regulator and cheerleader. The BBC needs a proper non-executive board and a separate system of regulation.

Most of all, BBC bosses must heed one line buried deep in the Pollard report – employ good journalists and have faith in them.

• Atholl Duncan is a former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland and now executive director at Icas.

 

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