Former news executive Tony Hall is the “right person” to take the corporation forward, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said yesterday as he unveiled the BBC’s new director-general.
Lord Hall was handed the £450,000-a-year role after George Entwistle resigned amid the Newsnight scandal after just 54 days in post.
He has been chairman of London’s Royal Opera House since 2001. Tim Davie, director of BBC Audio and Music, will remain as the acting director-general until Lord Hall is able to take up the post next March.
Lord Hall’s appointment was broadly welcomed yesterday.
Lord Patten said the BBC needs to take “a long, hard look at the way it operates and put in place the changes required to ensure it lives up to the standards that the public expects”. But he insisted Lord Hall was the “right person” to lead the BBC.
The new DG – who was the only candidate contacted by the trust – said: “It’s been a really tough few weeks for this organisation and I know we can get through it by listening patiently, by thinking carefully about what to do next.”
Speaking at Broadcasting House in London, he added: “I care passionately about the BBC, about what it can do, its programme-makers and the impact we have.
“It’s one of those extraordinary organisations which is an absolutely essential part of Britain, of the UK, of who we are.
“I know that with the right creative team in place, working off each other, sparking off each other, giving each other ideas, you can do extraordinary, creative things and I want to build a world-class team for this world-class organisation.”
The 61-year-old was made a cross-bench peer in 2010 but has retained his interests in broadcasting as deputy chairman of Channel 4.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller praised his appointment and said: “He has a very strong track record in successfully leading iconic organisations.”
Veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby said: “I think it’s a very good choice and a great relief for those of us who work for the BBC.”
Lord Hall will have to rebuild the BBC’s battered reputation after weeks of difficulties precipitated by the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal and a report on BBC2’s Newsnight programme, which mistakenly implicated Lord McAlpine in child abuse. Allegations against Savile were investigated by Newsnight but were not broadcast and only came to light in a subsequent ITV programme.
Public trust in the BBC is said to have been knocked by the furore and a number of inquiries into the Savile fallout are under way.
The direct approach for Lord Hall’s recruitment is in marked contrast to the team of headhunters involved in drawing up the list of candidates which resulted in Mr Entwistle, a BBC insider, being given the post.
Lord Patten said of the fast-track appointment, unanimously agreed by the trustees: “We might have considered going through the whole lengthy recruitment process again with a new round of advertisements and another global hunt for candidates. But I believe the approach we have taken is in the interests of the BBC and, most importantly, licence fee-payers, as we have got the best candidate and he will help the organisation quickly get back on an even keel.”
Birkenhead-born Lord Hall, who began as a news trainee with the BBC 39 years ago and was head of BBC news and current affairs from 1996 to 2001, is thought to have been in the running for the director-general post when Greg Dyke was appointed in 1999. He was not an applicant when the position was vacated by Mark Thompson earlier this year.
Lord Hall acknowledged it had been a “difficult few weeks” but said he wanted to lead a “world-class BBC”.
He said: “This organisation matters not just to people in this country, but to tens of millions around the world, too.
“It’s been a difficult few weeks – but together we’ll get through it. I’m committed to ensuring our news services are the best in the world.”
Lord Hall is credited with turning around the fortunes and public perception of the once troubled Royal Opera House.