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Why Patten & Hall Are Wrong For The BBC

I admit up front that I am no fan of the BBC, I ceased giving them credence years ago when I came to believe that their output, both current affairs and entertainment, was rather one-sided in outlook. I am not accusing the BBC of intentional bias, I think their lack of balance stems simply from their hiring a particular type of people so that they fail to represent the views of the wider population. This is common enough, we tend to hire “people like us” and the consequent groupthink becomes part of the cultural identity of our institutions. Which brings me to the Lords Patten and Hall.

The BBC is currently mired in scandal, the new Director-General has left after a mere 54 days in post, and Chris Patten has appointed Tony Hall to replace him. At this time one might have thought that it would be important to the BBC to conduct an extensive search and recruitment process to secure the best possible available talent to clean the stables and restore the corporation’s tarnished reputation. It would be a lengthy and tiresome but necessary process, it would demonstrate the corporation’s commitment to “getting it right” and to good governance. The new Director-General would have been selected following intense examination of a group of exceptional candidates and, being demonstrably the best of the best, would have the moral authority to lead and the right to challenge the status quo which is so demonstrably inappropriate for the UK’s state-owned broadcaster.

Instead Lord Patten has reached out to another BBC insider, Tony Hall, and in double quick time appointed Lord Hall as the new Director-General. Instead of an extensive search for the best available talent Patten has, in under a fortnight, orchestrated a deal which will see a long-standing BBC insider return to the helm. Lord Hall cannot be regarded as having a mandate to lead, there has been no process to establish that he is the best candidate, nor can he claim any authority to lead change given that he is a 28-year veteran of the BBC and in his last role there led the entire BBC news organisation that has brought the corporation into such disrepute.

Irrespective of their talents, and both Patten and Hall are talented men, this appointment demonstrates why they are both unfit for their positions. In Patten’s case it is simple; instead of demanding the most exhaustive possible search to recruit the best leadership talent for the BBC, he has circumvented any concept of fit and proper process and disregarded the need for and purpose of good governance. As the man personally responsible for the governance of the BBC he has demonstrably undermined it and can no longer claim any authority or integrity in his role of overseeing the corporation. But what of Hall? He has agreed to take the job without due process, knowing that the method by which he has been appointed is illegitimate and that he has been gifted the job without any proper test or mandate. Is this the behaviour appropriate to a man who is to be leader of any major state institution? Personally I don’t think so.

If the BBC were a private company it could appoint a leader by any means it desired, if it were a public company it could appoint a CEO only within the mandate given to the board by the shareholders, but instead it is a major organ of state, the United Kingdom’s publicly-owned broadcaster, and the job of running it, one of the most powerful and well paid jobs in the UK public sector, has been gifted to an individual, seemingly on a nod and a wink. This exemplifies poor governance, and Patten and Hall have brought not only the BBC but also the entire cause of good corporate governance in the UK into disrepute.

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