What Does The BBC’s Director-General Actually Do?

With incumbent Mark Thompson (seen here shortly after dropping his toupee outside Television Centre) set to leave this autumn, the BBC needs to find a new Director General and fast. Jeremy Paxman was rumoured to have an outside chance of getting the gig, until he blew it with that kebab remark, but we’re wondering what the hell the person in charge of the Beeb ACTUALLY does.

Let’s start by looking at the job description on the BBC website shall we? “The director-general is responsible for the effective and efficient operation of the BBC,” it says. Which makes sense. “Along with colleagues on the Executive Board, the Director-General is responsible for delivering the BBC’s public service and commercial operations in the UK and abroad, within a framework approved by the BBC Trust..” (Incidentally, it’s the BBC Trust who’ll be picking our next DG) “..The Director-General is the editorial, operational and creative leader of the BBC. Leading a significant global workforce, the Director-General is responsible for the Corporation’s services across television, radio and online.â€?

In short, the Director-General’s role is to ensure that the aims of the BBC are maintained, whilst sustaining it in the market. We all know where the Beeb gets its cash from (us – unless you’re a TV Licence Van-dodging student) meaning that the Director-General’s focus isn’t so much maintaining and expanding a customer base, but making the services relevant to the corporation’s existing customer base, which effectively, is everyone in the United Kingdom.

It’s this which appears to be the real crux of the job – balancing the demands of the users of the BBC’s services, from high-brow (Stephen Fry’s Planet Word) to low-brow (Mrs Brown’s Boys). Both sides of the argument are loud. Some say that commissioning obscure history programmes for BBC4 is a waste of money and others maintain that more-or-less all of BBC3 is irrelevant rubbish and to suggest it appeals to the youth audience is patronising.

Thompson will mainly be remembered for steering the Beeb through a difficult time following the damning Hutton Enquiry (not to mention Sachsgate) while making the iPlayer such a success and moving everything to Manchester. But others have criticised the way he signed off the licence fee freeze with Jeremy Hunt without consulting anyone and allowing a lot of high-ranking employees, to keep very high wages in the midst of severe cuts throughout the rest of the corporation – including himself (reportedly £834,000 PA) and Jonathan Ross.

As such, because the license-fee is more or less mandatory, the debate on how it is to be spent is likely to be a constant part of the Director-General’s job. (This graphic by Paul Scruton of The Guardian explains exactly where your money goes last summer..)

Perhaps a bigger problem with which to grapple is the one of non-partisanship and objective journalism. Despite the criticisms concerning the “dumbing downâ€? of BBC content, the BBC still has a heavy emphasis on journalistic output from various News Bulletins, to Question Time, to investigative documentaries like Panorama and Horizon.

Whilst every media source has been accused of having a left/right bias on both sides (reading comments left on the Guardian website by keyboard Marxists would lead you to believe that it’s a mouth piece for Neo-Conservativism), the BBC has been consistently accused of having a left-wing bias, particularly by The Daily Mail.

This is not an accusation that’s been made just by those on the fringes of the political spectrum, but often from within, as Thompson himself once admitted: “In the BBC I joined 30 years ago, there was, in much of current affairs, in terms of people’s personal politics, which were quite vocal, a massive bias to the left.â€? Whilst, arguably, the BBC is more objective now, it appears that there’s some way to go, with an internal BBC report criticising it for not providing coverage of immigration and Euro-scepticism, which is said was “off-limits in terms of a liberal-minded comfort zone.â€?

It may be the job of editors in other broadcast and press outlets to set an editorial line and an “angleâ€?, it seems that Thompson made it his job to try and cut any perceived biases in the organisation he heads.

In short, The Director-General’s job similar to that of a Juggler with several balls. Objectivity, world class journalism, entertaining content, factual content and most importantly.. spending, a subject which will be even more crucial in the light of the funding cuts that the Beeb is currently working through. Whoever succeeds Thompson, they have a lot to live up to. In 2009, Forbes put him as 65th most powerful person in the world. That’s above Hugo Chavez, who has an army. With guns and everything.

Who’s Heading The Race to Replace Thompson?

Ed Richards (Chief Executive of Ofcom) 7/4
George Entwistle (Director of BBC Vision) 9/4
Caroline Thomson (BBC Chief Operating Officer) 10/3
Helen Boaden (Director of BBC News) 8/1
Michael Jackson (King of Pop) 8/1
Carolyn McCall (Chief Executive of EasyJet) 14/1
Danny Cohen (Controller of BBC One) 16/1
Sophie Turner Laing 20/1
Jay Hunt (Chief Creative Officer, Channel 4) 20/1
Peter Salmon (Director of BBC North) 20/1
Mark Scott (Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) 20/1
Peter Fincham (Director of Television for the ITV network) 20/1
Lionel Barber (Editor of the Financial Times) 20/1
Tim Davie (BBC’s Director of Audio and Music) 20/1
David Abraham (Chief Executive of Channel Four) 25/1
Dawn Airey (former Chief executive of Channel 5) 25/1
Jeremy Paxman (News bloke) 100/1
Jonathan Ross (chat show bloke) 500/1

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