We should elect the BBC Director General

Posted on November 11, 2012

The scandal rushing through the offices and studios of the BBC has many sources – horrifying historic sex offences on a staggering scale, poor journalism making it to air due to an apparent panic within Newsnight and a disastrous failure of management at the very top have all played their part.

The results of the crisis are clear to see. The Director General has gone under the professional guillotine. Newsnight’s future is in doubt. Less than half of the public, who fund the Corporation, now think it is trustworthy (according to a ComRes poll carried out before the erroneous report aired and Entwhistle resigned). Infighting has gone public, with various famous faces slugging it out in the press.

The question now is how to solve this mess.

Simply hoping that the next DG, and all of his or her successors, will have a better approach to crisis management than the beleaguered George Entwhistle, is not enough. As the misappointment of “Incurious George” showed, the current system cannot guarantee it will always pick the right candidate.

Not only is the appointment process flawed. Entwhistle’s flailing attempts to hide behind protocol and process rather than step up and deal with the scandal showed that the position itself has a fatal lack of legitimacy and authority.

The next Director General must be selected through a process which is transparent, which openly tests their abilities and policies, and which confers on the winner a genuine authority and legitimacy. In short, the Director General of the BBC should be elected by the licence fee paying public – an electorate who, through a recall power, should also be able to sack them if they so wish.

Only that way will we end the oddity of the people’s broadcaster (and its multi-billion pound budget) being run by an anonymous suit anointed by Lord Patten for reasons unknown. Only that way will we prevent a re-run of the farce in which the Editor-In-Chief of a publicly-owned Corporation seems surprised that the public expect him to answer to them when things go wrong. Only that way will the people be willing to place their trust once more in the BBC’s discredited leadership.