Analysis: BBC will have to change – but, don’t worry, Paxman won’t lose his bite

Acting BBC Director-General Tim Davie. Picture: PA
Acting BBC Director-General Tim Davie. Picture: PA
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The institutional damage to the BBC has been exaggerated. It recovered after the Hutton report and will do so again. I believe the public differentiate between one particular problem and the institution as a whole – it is only a few weeks ago the BBC was widely praised for its coverage of the London Olympics.

The BBC has been very flat-footed. George Entwistle’s dismal performance on Today was nothing short of a car crash, but many people are using his departure to pursue their own political or commercial agendas.

Lord Patten has signalled the BBC needs to restructure its management, and that must partly involve selecting the right people. The acting director-general has little, if any, editorial experience. The director of news has “stepped aside” and there is no permanent head of radio or TV. The BBC has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restructure its senior team, and I expect root-and-branch reform. But it can’t separate management from editorial leadership – the idea that the BBC could have an editorial leader with no managerial responsibility just wouldn’t work.

Newsnight will not be scrapped but will concentrate on its core function of political interrogation. It will take some time before it starts investigations again. I think the BBC will look very closely at third-party co-operative ventures, such as the one with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. I expect that will be the first thing that goes.

I believe the BBC’s news operation is very robust, and that its checks and balances are generally strong. I know the National Union of Journalists is arguing cutbacks mean there are fewer people available to take on editorial roles, but generally, when mistakes are made, it’s down to bad judgment rather than dysfunctional systems.

The BBC will instinctively start sending all its journalists on training courses. What it needs to do is to make sure it has the right editors in the right places, and put the people who are editorially gifted into senior positions.

I don’t think there will be a fundamental change in the BBC’s news output, but in the short term there will be new checks and balances that will inevitably reduce the number of investigations.

Anyone who fears Jeremy Paxman will lose his bite need only study the history of Today since Hutton. What other media organisation in the world would shred its boss so brutally in the name of journalistic rigour?

• Andrew Jones, a senior lecturer in broadcasting and journalism at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, is a former BBC Scotland senior manager.