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HomeNewsDavid Keighley: New BBC chairman Rona Fairhead wastes no time going native

David Keighley: New BBC chairman Rona Fairhead wastes no time going native


What is it about quangocrats that makes them totally blind to blatant conflicts of interest?

I warned last month when Rona Fairhead’s appointment as BBC chairman was first mooted that – as a former executive at the EU-loving Financial Times – she was too much part of the establishment to be able to be genuinely independent.

Two weeks into her role, she has appeared before the Commons Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee – and made it her first duty to use the platform tell the world just how wonderful the Corporation is.  So much so that BBC house journal Ariel is positively crowing about her words.

Straight-talking Shipley MP Philip Davies instantly spotted that she had gone native – and told her so – but Ms Fairhead was having none of it. Her message boiled down to that she thought that all those at the BBC were terribly diligent, had very tough jobs and did brilliant work bringing outstanding programmes to a very grateful British public.

The tone was also exemplified in an email she wrote to BBC staff on the first day in her role, and also crowed about by Ariel. She fawningly told them she was delighted to be joining ‘such a talented group of people’ who were responsible for the ‘enduring excellence and appeal of the BBC’s services’.

It defies belief that someone of her experience and supposed nous could not see that by, in effect,  coming out from day one fighting in favour of the BBC both as an institution and in terms of the quality of its product, she had instantly – and terminally – compromised any semblance of independence.

But Ms Fairhead did not stop there. She also rammed a firm stake into the ground into terms of the funding of the Corporation and told the committee that she was now more convinced of the BBC’s economic benefit and that the business was being run efficiently.

Excuse me? She has been Chairman of the Trustees for only two weeks. Her very serious role is to be the watchdog on behalf of licence fee payers. The Corporation has funding totalling almost £5bn when the commercial revenues from BBC Worldwide are taken into account. How can she possibly know already with certainty that it is genuinely ‘efficient’?

This is the ‘efficient’ BBC that very recently poured down the drain £125m of our money on a totally misconceived and mis-managed digital archiving scheme. This colossal failure – and the mishandling of the subsequent fall-out – as the devastating findings of an employment tribunal made clear, was the cumulative fault of a clutch of the Corporation’s most senior executives, many of whom are still in their posts.

That’s not just ‘going native’. It’s a worrying sign of a possible dereliction of duty.

Yet again, this is confirmation in spades that the Tories under Dave haven’t the faintest idea how to make appointments with teeth – and don’t care about reform that makes public institutions genuinely more accountable to taxpayers.

Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Savid Javid has also been telling the Media Select Committee that he is considering new forms of BBC funding. Don’t hold your breath though. On the one hand, his words were very, very vague – and at the same time, he made it clear that won’t be acted upon until after the general election.  More jam tomorrow.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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