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Tony Hall leaves the BBC with an uncertain future

Tony Hall leaves the Corporation well-liked, but his record is not all positive. Credit: Getty

January 21, 2020 - 7:00am

Tony Hall’s decision to resign as Director-General of the BBC after seven years in the job is well-timed. He is now nearly 69 and ideally the BBC is going to need continuity at the top over the next five years — years that could prove very challenging for the man at the top and the organisation as a whole.

So what of his record? The first thing to say is that the BBC owes him a debt of gratitude; when he was appointed in April 2013 the Corporation was in crisis, reeling from the Jimmy Savile scandal and the Lord MacAlpine disaster. Hall’s predecessor, George Entwhistle, had lasted just weeks in the job and what was desperately needed, above all, was a steady hand on the tiller. Which is exactly what Hall — who knows the BBC inside-out — provided.

The second thing to say is that he leaves the Corporation well-liked; a courteous and civilised individual, those who have worked closely with him testify to his qualities as a boss. He looks well-suited to The National Gallery — to where he’s now moving as chairman.

But the record is not all positive. For an organisation which ceaselessly champions liberal and progressive causes, it is a mystery how it was so wrong-footed by the equal-pay issue; surely someone might have seen this coming? The real problem is that it has taken so long to sort it out; after the first case arose it should have been dealt with quickly and comprehensively instead of which it has been a long, drawn-out PR disaster.

However the main item on the charge-sheet is his failure to tackle the obvious bias in the Corporation’s news output. Brexit is the issue that everyone talks about in this context but it is by no means the only one; from Trump, to climate change, to transgenderism, the BBC has nailed its colours firmly to the liberal mast. That is unfortunate when, by dint of December’s general election, it now faces a strong Tory government in a position, and possibly a mood, to settle old scores.

For all his good points Lord Hall never showed the least interest in tackling this problem; there was no attempt to achieve any kind of political diversity among staff. Some voices, my own included, have been warning for years that unless the BBC tried harder to realise its fabled ‘impartiality’ there would one day be a reckoning. That day might now be upon us, but it will be Lord Hall’s successor who must deal with a government which feels it owes the BBC nothing.

Robin Aitken was a BBC reporter for 25 years; his book: The Noble Liar – How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda is published by Biteback Publishing

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