On Thursday (September 3rd 2020) new Director-General Tom Davie published a speech for BBC staff to explain his aims and objectives.
As expected, most of his commencement address was pseudo-motivational guff but within the waffle were a few important points that indicated Davie’s commitment to continuing the errors made by his immediate predecessor Tony Hall.
Free-to-air versus commercial arm
Davie admitted there will be severe cuts to budgets.
“We are going to look in all areas and identify how we can have more impact by making less. I want us to consider what we would do if we could only make 80% of our current hours. What would we stop? To be very clear, this is not about cuts to save money, it is about re-allocating funds to where they generate most value.”
He claimed budget changes will be re-allocation of funds but admitted later that the “commercial Studios business” is the model for “other areas of the BBC.”
“Our commercial Studios business is investing in new jobs. Looking to the future, and at the success of initiatives like Britbox in the US, there are big opportunities to develop direct-to-consumer services in news, video and audio across the globe. We need to keep building major partnerships with the likes of FX, Discovery, ITV and Tencent, so we grow as a global provider of services and premium content. Also, we should be open to consider what other areas of the BBC could benefit from a Studios model.”
That is, he said funds will re-allocated – 20% cuts – from free-to-air BBC to the commercial arm.
Davie inherited a BBC that does not understand what balance and impartiality are for a broadcaster and he asserted his intention to persist with that ignorance.
He required “research” to “show that too many perceive [the BBC] to be shaped by a particular perspective” but, bizarrely, Davie chose to assume that the “particular perspective” was BBC’s staff’s perspective.
“If you work here, nothing should be more exciting than exploring different views, seeking evidence with curiosity and creatively presenting testimony. Making use of our own experiences but not driven by our personal agendas.”
There are two problems with Davie’s reduction of perceived bias at the BBC into an issue about employees’ own outlooks.
- He erased any concept of there being establishment bias ingrained within the BBC’s ethos
- He asked that all BBC staff become stenographers and parrots
Davie expressed his desire to neuter all political opinions at the BBC. His preferred agenda for BBC news was “free from political bias, guided by the pursuit of truth, not a particular agenda.”
All major issues that affect people’s lives are political issues and their causes and solutions are political. Any opinion that is totally free from political bias on an issue that affects people’s lives is a worthless opinion. To claim “pursuit of truth” was separate from any political philosophy or analysis was to severely restrict the capacity to find any truth, and to do that was a political decision. Davie’s desire for an apolitical agenda was an extremely political demand.
Echoing Tony Hall’s hapless comments in his final ‘Annual Plan’ report for the BBC in March this year, Davie confused impartiality with acceptance of all views.
“We need to explore new ways of delivering impartiality, seeking a wider spectrum of views, pushing out beyond traditional political delineations and finding new voices from across the nation.”
What political opinions are they beyond “traditional political delineations?” Davie doesn’t want political opinions because he doesn’t want useful opinions and he doesn’t want thorough analysis and solutions to problems. He wants chatter.
Davie discussed “value” a lot. The word appeared nineteen times in his speech. He meant “value” in three different ways.
- Basic value for money – the cost of the licence fee
- Value of the BBC as an enhancement of people’s lives
- General values in a civilised society
The second definition is the interesting one. Its use depicted the BBC as pastoral care-giver to the public, in Britain and around the world.
“How much value [are we] delivering to each member of the public?”
“We are creating work of outstanding public value across the globe.”
“We must grow that value. That is our simple mission.”
“Ensuring everything we do is  in line with public service values.”
“Far from eroding our value, surely the BBC online offers a big opportunity for us to connect deeper with audiences, helping them to find more, get information faster, and interact with us.”
“Create a customer experience that delivers maximum value.”
“Those are our four priorities as we seek to bring more value to all.”
“I love our values but they mean nothing if they do not result in the right behaviour.”
“We are only as good as the value we deliver our audiences, our customers.”
Admittedly, some of the examples above blurred the divide between the philosophical definition of “value” and the monetary definition. It was not clear sometimes which meaning Davie used; the overlap between the two exposed his market-driven morality.
Whether blurred or not, copious use of the pastoral meaning of “value” by Davie was an odd strategy to use to describe the relationship between a broadcaster and its viewers and listeners. Most people perceive broadcasters as suppliers of information and of entertainment. Davie’s pompous insistence on delivering value revealed his detachment from the public and his grandiose perception of the BBC as elevated above them.
Social media and independent media
Davie offset his claim that the BBC is trusted worldwide with a disdainful reference to social media and independent media.
“In the age of fake news, social media campaigns, echo chambers of opinion, and noisy partisan media outlets, this, surely, is our time.”
He demanded staff be neutered online regarding any political comment as part of his aim that the BBC must be utterly apolitical.
“If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then you should not be working at the BBC.”
Davie’s peremptory attitude toward independent media and public campaigns coupled with his supercilious praise of BBC’s renown was an expression of a deep-rooted establishment philosophy that belied claims throughout the speech of wanting “to focus on those we serve: the public.”
Posh kids at the BBC
Poor recruitment at the BBC, whereby skill and talent were considered secondary to which school an applicant attended, led to a woefully disproportionate ratio of privately-educated staff.
Davie appeared to be aware of a disconnect between staff and the majority of the public but he chose not to mention the substance of that difference.
“[We should not just] surround ourselves with people like us.”
“Across the UK, across all political views, across all of society, and across all age groups, people must feel their BBC is here for them, not for us.”
He accepted there may need to be changes to recruitment practices but avoided suggesting a specific change of ignoring an applicant’s alma mater.
“We must move away from any sense of a ‘BBC type’, and not hire in our own image.”
Davie’s reputation preceded him: A conservative and a marketing expert. The bulk of his speech was meaningless tripe about listening to the public while belittling the public’s voices on social media and in independent media. He opposed BBC staff saying anything other than reporting what others said thus facilitating free rein for politicians and professional talking heads to spout lies with the merest of responses from interviewer or panel chair. He advocated vox pops for the public and platforms for the professional opinionators.
Davie’s redistribution of funds will travel from free-to-air to BBC’s commercial entities. He did not attempt to alleviate concerns about his record at the BBC that had included trying to cancel 6music.
Davie will restrict the BBC as a tactic of differentiating it from other broadcasters and media outlets.