Lisa Campbell argues attacks on senior managers are misplaced in the current crisis
Ever since George Entwistle’s resignation and subsequent mauling by the press, those who have known and worked alongside him have described the pain and torment he would be going through. Then, as if to prove it to the world, he appeared before Pollard this week looking nothing like his former self. The clean-cut, clean-shaven Entwistle was bearded, bleary-eyed and noticeably thinner, an appearance that speaks volumes about the toll this has taken.
Lord Patten’s defence of him this week will be welcomed by an industry widely appalled by the treatment of a man who, however incompetent he turned out to be in a crisis, did not deserve to end up with his 23-year career in tatters. Little wonder that his lawyers fought hard for a pay-off in excess of 12 months’ salary.
Not surprisingly, however, the package has been slammed in the press. Patten’s suggestion this week that the National Audit Office assess future severance deals is a sensible one. It would take the heat off the BBC and reassure licence fee-payers who are outraged that the BBC can fork out £4m to 10 execs in two years.
Patten’s support for his former DG also extends to the principles and strategies he was beginning to put in place. Patten may have encouraged him out of the door with the now famous line, “we are not urging you to go, but we are not urging you to stay”, but he stands by Entwistle’s determination to address the “disparate silos” and “warring tribes” that, ironically, were partly responsible for his downfall.
He also backed Entwistle’s call to establish a culture of self-criticism and self-awareness. Indeed, both Patten and acting director general Tim Davie were robust on the idea, ridiculous to some of the MPs at the select committee, that the BBC should allow its own journalists to scrutinise its inner workings.
What other organisation would have done what Panorama did, they asked? None, and that’s the point. What Patten got wrong was talking in too general terms about the BBC being “overmanaged”, referring to “the sheer weight and numbers of senior people, their pay, their titles, their jargon”.
Not only is this an excuse for the tabloids to talk about ‘overpaid pen-pushers’, it is also demoralising. “There are morale issues, frankly, about whether managers are on their game,” added Patten, which is hardly going to prop up those suddenly landed with enormous responsibilities in their new “acting” roles.
Davie spoke about “aggressively pursuing” the volume of senior managers and their pay, although he suggested the upper salary bracket – covering “huge editorial jobs” – would be protected due to market forces. We don’t yet have answers as to how many of the remaining senior managers are ‘pen-pushers’ or programme- makers, but the best way out of this crisis is for the BBC to keep producing faultless content.
Those in charge should be doing every thing they can to boost morale among those with the power to make that happen.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast.