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Is Entwistle the right man for BBC director general?

04 July 2012

George Entwistle, the next director-general of the BBC, is a highly respected BBC lifer. Apart from an initial stint as a journalist at Michael Heseltine’s Haymarket Magazines, he’s worked his way through a number of key posts at the BBC, largely in factual programming, and has taken on huge responsibilities, most recently as director of BBC Vision.

He is definitely a safe pair of hands.

But is he too entrenched in the Corporation, too much of a traditionalist and will he have enough political nous when confronted with Whitehall demands and the huge sea changes that broadcasters are experiencing.

Today’s Financial Times reports that analysts are pointing out that he has no corporate experience and little management experience. One media analyst, who asks not to be named, noted that Mr Entwistle had no great political links in his cv.

Nick Thomas, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media says, “The fears are that he is not enough of a digital bod to understand that for millions of its consumers, the BBC is now as much a provider of digital content as a broadcaster."

Thomas goes on to say: “The DG’s job now seems to be more political than ever, too. It’s all about managing up, working effectively (and forcefully) with Whitehall to fight
the BBC’s corner. Other candidates – such as Ofcom boss Ed Richards and BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson – seemed to have more experience in those circles.”

Others are dismayed that the post has once again gone to a man.

Answering questions about Entwistle’s qualifications for the post on Radio 4’s World at One today, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said, “George showed us in his interview that he’s capable, as an insider, of standing back and seeing the changes that need to be made.”

The Trust has put creative excellence at the top of its list of priorities, while acknowledging the importance of technological changes and BBC Charter discussions. “The most important thing is to make even better programmes with less money around,” said Patten.

All Comments
TantyR  | July 5, 2012
Will this appointment have anything to do with reversing the BBC's disastrous 'Multi Skilling' policy under MT? Bring back two person shooting crews where the cameraperson can concentrate on filming beautiful, thought provoking imagery and for god sake let us hear some consistently well recorded sound? Technically the BBC at present is a laughing stock. More programme makers less Execs!
StephC  | July 4, 2012
My heart lifted when I heard of George Entwistle's appointment as Director General of the BBC today.
I wonder whether Pippa Considine or Spike really know much about this man?
I can say, having worked alongside him creatively from the early 1990s onwards, that he is a very convincing leader and manager - and also a great programme maker. With any luck, he will strive to grow the BBC's digital lead and will also pioneer a new age of creativity and distinct programme making in the BBC.
And what's wrong with his credentials - he has moved up the the BBC ranks but has worked on all the heavy weight departments and programmes - and being Editor of Newsnight surely gives him the gravitas for the job.
Give this man a decent chance - I know from working closely with him that he has the strength and determination to lead the BBC and certainly can tackle any politician - "suppliers, estate agents, terrorists and the BBC troops! He's worked on the most demanding of programmes - and wrangled with the most irritating MPs, and he is deeply admired by many BBC "troops" he has worked with.
The criticism directed at him, from what I have read, comes from those without ANY working knowledge of him who appear to attach scathing tags to his character as if they live next door to him!!
So give this man a chance - he has pure BBC passion running through his veins and that's what the BBC needs - not a hatchet man.
Spike  | July 4, 2012
This appointment is underwhelming.

So we follow the personality-free Mark Thompson with someone with (incredibly) even less charisma for one of the most important and certainly toughest jobs in media.

At best a "safe pair of hands" but perhaps what the BBC needs is a Champion - someone who can articulate a vision for the BBC and communicate the BBC's relevance and value to the disparate stakeholders the BBC needs to engage with: from furious politicians to the judgemental professional classes; from the arguably naive readership of the Daily Mail and Express to the long-term unemployed and retired. This is a challenging role for anyone but even more so for a man with little gravitas who in a different world would more likely be a senior accountant, perhaps in an old-fashioned dusty book publisher?

I'm sure he can waffle a good line on social inclusion, Nations and regions... To his credit he has worked in serious factual content creation although more recently with little that has his name on being memorable. He's been around some talented programme makers (Norma Percy and others) from which he only benefits by association but has actually been at the heart of a dumbing down culture within BBC factual where everything has to be celebrity presenter-lead or include notional, homegrown BBC "talent". Despite being associated with various industry awards, his primary credit seems to be the launch of the Culture Show on BBC2, which generally disappears up its own self-importance. Last we heard his leading role within the appalling BBC Jubilee Boat Pageant coverage had scuppered him...

With real talent to choose from both within and outside the BBC, George is the most risk averse choice... while in reality being possibly even the most destructive. Can you really imagine George standing up convincingly to MPs in a Charter Renewal debate? Negotiating with suppliers and estate agents, let alone with terrorists or pirates on behalf of BBC employees? Commanding deep respect in the boardroom or addressing the BBC troops when under siege? Or simply delivering a rehearsed speech and holding an audience's attention?

Another sad day for the BBC and even more sadly perhaps another nail in its coffin. Murdoch, Dacre, Desmond et al must be delighted.
Jane  | July 4, 2012
I don't think being 'not enough of a digital bod' will have an impact; Entwistle is a mega brain and will completely grasp the digital implications. I say, an excellent appointment.

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