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HomeBBC WatchIs new BBC boss Tim Davie a genuine reformer?

Is new BBC boss Tim Davie a genuine reformer?


THE regime of the new BBC-director general took off at apparent breakneck speed from September 1. In Tim Davie’s first three days in office, he reversed the decision not to include the sung version of Rule, Britannia in the Last Night of the Proms; said he was going to ensure BBC output was scrupulously impartial; claimed that management and staffing of the corporation were to be slimmed down and made more sharply efficient; axed former Labour minister James Purnell, who, under Tony Hall,  had improbably become the corporation’s director of radio and education, from the BBC’s executive committee; warned presenters to stop tweeting and posting political opinions; and declared that BBC colonisation of the airwaves through the development of new channels was over.  

Not so fast.  Is his agenda really radical? Or PR hype? 

The answer lies in the small print – and, more tellingly, in what he did not say – in his address to staff at lunchtime on Thursday at BBC Cardiff, now housed in a spanking new £100million Welsh headquarters building.    

One immediate point is that his headline-grabbing decision to change the format of the Last Night of the Proms next Saturday was no big deal.  A choir was already due to perform in the Royal Albert Hall and was going to sing You’ll Never Walk Alone.  Of concern – showing perhaps that nothing much has yet changed at the corporation – is the wording of the BBC press statement about the decision. It’s an exercise in PR guff and obfuscation which casts what had clearly been a woke decision to axe patriotic songs as being determined by creative considerations. 

Perhaps Mr Davie’s biggest pledge is to restore BBC impartiality. That he has to say this at all – given that it is a core Charter requirement – shows the extent of the decline of the corporation. 

Here, the crash-bang announcement was that Emily Maitlis and the army of BBC presenters who believe their legitimate goal is to change the world according to the rubric of the woke instruction manual rather than to report it, are going to be muzzled and prevented from posting incontinently on social media and Twitter. If true, that’s a welcome development, even if it comes well after the horse has bolted. 

But will even this relatively straightforward intention work out? Already, there are reports that Gary Lineker, the £1.7million-a-year lead presenter of BBC football, has shown he doesn’t give a hoot what Tim Davie thinks. On Friday, he launched a political advocacy video pushing the need for open UK borders which suggests that we would not have fish and chips if mass immigration not been in full flow throughout the centuries.   

And what of restoring impartiality in a more general sense? Here, Mr Davie has the biggest mountain to climb. The rot set in decades ago with the BBC’s pathological hatred of Margaret Thatcher yielding programmes such as the Panorama edition ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’ and reaching its zenith under the recently-retired Lord Hall of Birkenhead. 

He never tired of telling us his BBC was free from bias while shutting down whole rafts of national debate over issues such as climate change and swearing blind that Brexit coverage was balanced when patently it was not. 

The problem with BBC bias, of course, is that it is not just in news and current affairs programmes. It totally saturates output. Dramas are now made primarily to preach political points and to reflect diversity targets. Doctor Who, according to BBC director of content Charlotte Moore is ‘inspirational’. Why? Because it’s cracking good drama? Of course not! It’s because it has a female in the main role. The fulcrum of most BBC comedy is ridicule of Donald Trump. Nature programmes such as Springwatch have become, in effect, Extinction Rebellion propaganda manuals. So-called science documentaries are commissioned and constructed to make political points, and history programmes are a sustained exercise in attacking the United Kingdom and its achievements while simultaneously pushing a globalist agenda. 

So what is Mr Davie going to do about this avalanche of bias and distortion? This was largely absent from his speech last week, apart from the headline-catching assault on tweeting. He said he was ‘committed’ to it, and said vaguely that there would be a re-casting of internal editorial guidelines and some ‘training’.  

That’s like using a toffee hammer to demolish a house. There are no new internal measures for reviewing and policing output, and nothing about bringing independent scrutiny to challenge the decisions and judgments made by BBC staff. And David Jordan, the BBC director of editorial standards, who some credit with offering a smidgeon of ballast against the relentless tide of wokeness under Lord Hall, has been axed from the Tim Davie executive committee, while June Sarpong, the Lord Hall-promoted director of diversity, remains.

Mr Davie was virtually silent about how to restore impartiality, but, by contrast, not so on ‘diversity’. That, he said, was a top priority in every editorial meeting and every future staff appointment, in steps towards creating BBC staffing which is 20 per cent black and ethnic minority, compared with 13 per cent in the population as a whole.       

And what of the licence fee? On that subject, not a peep, even though polls have suggested that 60 per cent of the UK population oppose it and view it as an anachronism in the world of Sky Q, Netflix and Amazon Prime.  

That’s an astonishing omission, given the pressure now building to abolish it, especially as Mr Davie also declared that he is opposed to a shift to subscription financing. We will be watching to see if the promises of Mr Davie’s first few days turn into action. 

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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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