Tony Hall is the new director general the BBC, a tough gig if ever there was one. But he’s grown a thick skin over the years: check out MT’s interview with him the last time he was in the running for the top job. Although this time he doesn’t have much of an act to follow, given that former director general (DG) of the Beeb George Entwistle lasted just 54 days in the post. The scandal surrounding Jimmy Savile documentaries and linking Lord McAlpine to criminal activities compromised his position almost as soon as he took it.
Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust which selects the DG, said Hall ‘will prove invaluable as the BBC looks to rebuild both it reputation in this area and the trust of audiences.’ He added that he is the ‘right person [to lead as the BBC] takes a long, hard look at the way it operates and puts in place the changes required to ensure it lives up to the standards that the public expects.’
Hall has a good reputation from the days when he was in the top brass at the corporation. During the latter years of his time there, he forced through changes that are now standard practice. He merged television news and current affairs, he made journalists act as managers and made them accountable for how money was spent, and generally pushed for more efficiencies in the way things were run. This is why many saw him as the favourite for DG back in 2001, even though his reforms were seen as ‘petty’ by some of the more stubborn characters and old guard.
So now he gets reinstated at a time of crisis to ‘shake things up and sort things out’. It sounds simple and cosy, but since Entwistle left the broadcaster, the sense of scandal has intensified. There has been considerable public outcry, for example, at the fact that he left the BBC with a full year’s pay and his pension, in a total pot worth £1.3m. Furthermore, it emerged on Thursday that the BBC has also been paying his legal fees for securing the payout and fending off journalists. To be fair to Entwistle, his pension was part of a contractual agreement, and his service at the broadcaster was decades longer than the 54 days he spent in the uppermost rung of the ladder.
Nevertheless, Hall’s first job will be to try and draw a line under the Savile, McAlpine, Entwistle, Newsnight debacle. Back in 2001, Hall told MT: ‘I am not thinking beyond five years, I am just excited about being [at the Royal Opera House] - it's a BBC trait always to think about the next job and my view is, I shall enjoy what I am doing and then see what happens.’ Old habits may die-hard, bit we reckon it could take some time before the job becomes ‘enjoyable’ in this role, m’Lord.