Were I a psychiatrist with executive powers I’d be calling in emergency cover for Tony Hall, the new director general of the BBC and candidate for 24-hour supervision. The lack of eye contact, the jerky gesturing driven by little bursts of interior impulses, the things he says! He is a sketch of unfathomable depression.
By contrast, the low-hanging sloth that is Lord Patten gave off such enviable ease you might be drawn into wanting to run the BBC Trust yourself. “I am 69. I am beyond human ambition,” he told the committee. It looks as if it’s true, the cunning old arboreal.
So: Bullying. Helen Boaden. Second jobs.
Lord Hall had been fretfully describing how “really, really well” his newly-recruited team was doing. How hard they worked. The real sense of pride they felt. How they did their best. There may have been some talk of “people I speak to going round the country”. And most worrying symptom of all, he singled out for praise the work of Ian Katz – yes, the new editor of Newsnight.
Hall insisted the culture of bullying and harassment (you know what liberal offices are like) was being rooted out of the BBC.
Ben Bradshaw asked about the three senior news managers denounced for bullying by multiple accusers. Didn’t this suggest a “hornets’ nest”? Lord Hall said he didn’t care for the term “hornets’ nest”. He preferred to think of it as “issues to be addressed”. Some barking at the screen, mainly laughter.
Leaflets had been put up round the BBC advertising a bullying and harassment hotline. It encourages people to get in touch if they think they’ve been bullied or harassed.
So, about the news editors . . . ?
“Of the things that can be done, what are the things we can do?” He said one course of action had led to an apology. And “one I apologised to personally.” He runs the shop, he said, he takes the blame. Ah, hence the anxiety and depression. The shop is vast, the blame perpetual. It’s heroic, in fact.
So what of the case of Helen Boaden, the £354,000 executive who (she insists) took the Jimmy Savile programme problems to the then-director general Mark Thompson (he denies it). Who was correct?
Both were. Both? Each was telling the truth. Perfectly possible to have two views of things. Really? That is, really, really?
There is certainly a Rashomon effect in complex situations, but this was a matter of simple fact. How was it to be resolved?
The important thing in the Director General’s view was “to move on”.
Whoah, back up just a second there. Philip Davies pressed the point – Ms Boaden was or wasn’t telling the truth. Which was it?
Lord Hall started off in that most regrettable way, “What matters is this”. Blair invented that manoeuvre on those rare occasions when he had no excuses any more. It is a suicidal thing to say in public life.
Conor Burns – a Tory with a therapeutic manner said he totally understood Lord Hall’s purpose, challenge, strategy, but didn’t “moving on” include “confronting the reality of what happened”? Wasn’t Lord Hall curious which of those two enormously highly-paid princes of the public service had a firmer grip on reality?
“I don’t have much more to say,” he told the committee, and that at least was factually correct. “I want us to change. And move on.”
The committee in the form of Ben Bradshaw and Paul Farrelly moved on to fabulously-paid BBC executives who had jobs on the side. The DG didn’t disapprove of them. He didn’t say he would stop them doing it. You could earn £280,000, you could run the BBC’s digital division, you could create a £100m horlicks and still have a second job.
Lord Hall wanted employees to bring experience of the outside world back into the BBC. The more employees got out into the real world the better. “I think people can earn a lot,” I heard him say. No; learn. Learn a lot. There was “a real benefit in people seeing what life outside the BBC is like.” Although he did admit it was important as well for said employees, rich in knowledge of life to do “their day job” as well. It was the one fascistic note of the morning.
It looks like the committee is delighted with Lord Hall. They have a new toy to break.