Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Beeb will sink under the weight of its self-importance

When Mark Thompson steps down as director-general of the BBC after the Olympics, who should replace him and what should they earn?

Will a fresh face and a more palatable salary convince politicians and viewers that the corporation is in tune with our austere times?

I adore the BBC, having spent years there as a senior executive and having presented many shows for the corporation.

The longer you work at the BBC, the more afflicted you are by this 'Willy Wonka' mentality; a secret feeling of superiority, as if you are on a God-given mission to entertain and inform the masses. Chris Patten, the BBC Trust chairman, now wants the top brass to earn less, mindful of how badly their inflated salaries and pensions play with the Government.

With the licence fee frozen, the BBC is driving through cuts of 20% (£670m a year) by 2016 and channels such as BBC3 and BBC4 are set to lose almost 10% of their budget.

Patten says he wants "more specialist and local content" on BBC radio and regional television current affairs to be protected.

But he's wrong. Local television current affairs should be culled. Leave it to the newspapers. As for local radio, just because bands of people complain, it doesn't mean these stations have a meaningful audience.

As for the chance to appoint a woman to replace Thompson at the top of the BBC, it's irrelevant. We need more women in middle-management - not planted at the top of the pyramid of power.

On radio, only 15% of the DJs are women and Radio 2 has no women with children above the lowly rank of assistant producer. On one edition of the Today programme on Radio 4 last year, there was one female contributor compared with 27 men over a two-hour period. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey wants to set up a meeting between Thompson and the female MPs who complain of gender bias, but it will achieve little.

What Patten can't understand is how to turn around the leaking Titanic that is the Beeb in 2012. The will for radical change doesn't exist - funny, when in the real world outside the BBC millions of people are losing their jobs at a stroke.

Life is brutal and circumstances change without warning, but the BBC ploughs on in much the same way as it always has done.

Lack of women? They point to female executives and their equality unit. The head of BBC1 said there were "too many crime shows". Has anyone noticed any difference?

The cuts are supposed to fund more programming. I question the quality of what is on offer, not the amount. Sherlock and Doctor Who might be popular, but hardly intellectual.

Where's the challenging stuff? Why is it imported from Denmark?

Patten can change the top brass, but can he turn around the ship? A radical purge and the removal of at least half of its managers is essential if the good ship BBC is not to sink under the weight of its own self-importance.

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