Tony Hall: “If we didn’t have a BBC funded by a licence fee, we’d have to invent it”
Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, addressed colleagues on Monday, and presented a picture of a national broadcaster at a “cross-roads” as it seeks to exploit the potential of new technology while facing charter review and calls from critics for it to be cut down to size.
The BBC has struck a more bullish note in recent times and Hall certainly spoke like somebody who knows the stakes are too high to let those with commercial or political scores to settle steer the debate unchallenged.
Hall said those who don?t support the BBC “should be transparent about their motivations, and honest about the consequences” – consequences which he believes would include the loss of balanced, impartial quality journalism, free from the influence of “shareholders, advertisers or any other paymasters”.
“Take news,” said Hall, taking aim at the journalistic output of unnamed rivals. “It’s easy to find something on the internet that looks like a fact, that squawks like a fact but that isn’t a fact. Central to our democracy is that we all proceed on the basis of shared information and don?t just make up our own.”
Hall even went so far as to suggest “if we didn’t have a BBC funded by a licence fee, such is the world we face, we’d have to invent it”.
Of course such bullishness is both understandable and fairly predictable. Hall is defending his patch at a time when he may feel forces are conspiring against him. The general election this year may well return a government who would relish the opportunity to preside over the charter review.
Last week, parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee declared the licence fee was “becoming harder and harder to justify and sustain”, though its suggestion of an unspecified levy on all households will have softened that prognosis somewhat. However, there were plenty of warning shots across the BBC’s bows in the Committee report, including the suggestion the BBC should pull back from areas already well-served by commercial broadcasters.