BBC chief executive Tim Davie said the broadcaster needed “a really serious dialogue with the government” amid the replacement of Nadine Dorries by Oliver Dowden as Britain’s new culture secretary.
Dorries has been a vocal critic of the BBC in the past. In 2018 she tweeted that the broadcaster was “a biased left-wing organization that seriously fails in its political representation, top to bottom” and in 2014 she wrote a blog in which she described the license fee as “a tax on ownership of a television” and “a completely outdated concept”.
The MP will now be responsible for agreeing the next license fee deal with the BBC, but Davie remained optimistic when asked what he thought of the prospect, although he noted his organization contacted the Government yesterday to engage in dialogue, rather than the other way around.
“I wouldn’t be too distracted by that [Dorries’ past comments]. There are good quality people in government and we will have constructive conversations… we will have a real dialogue around the BBC,” Davie told RTS Convention today. “There will always be some theater around the dynamics of the nominations.”
On the appointments, Davie addressed the recent hiring of Jess Brammar to a senior role at BBC News, despite controversy in some circles over her past tweets about the government.
“My expectation for anyone joining our organization is to leave your politics at the door. It’s quite dangerous [to not hire people based on political opinions]. I think Jess is a great recruit,” Davie said. “We are conducting a completely open process. We are in dangerous territory if past political opinions, tweets, exclude you from certain jobs. I don’t want to be in a position where we can’t hire the best. When you come to the BBC, you leave that behind and provide absolutely unbiased coverage.
Davie is reportedly undecided on whether Andrew Neil could be a future date, following the culmination of the broadcaster’s ill-fated switch to GB News. Neil is due to appear on the BBC Question time this evening. “I haven’t spoken to him since his adventures… He’s an exceptional talent, I’m sure he’ll get a good gig, we’ll see where he ends up,” the BBC DG said.
Asked to comment on the new “Britishness” requirement the UK government is putting in place for public service broadcasters, Davie said he “got warm to it”.
“We should focus on what we do differently and what we can do better,” he said of the UK. “We want global ideas, but the best ideas are local, they’re locally focused, they have that integrity. The threat to us is if culturally we don’t soak up those ideas, don’t find the best talent, don’t get those people.
The BBC CEO called comparisons between the organization and commercial broadcasters such as Sky and Netflix “lazy”. Asked if his organization can compete with these deep-pocketed rivals (the top three streamers are expected to spend $200 billion on content by 2030 alone), Davie said the BBC has “enough scale to compete if we let’s make the right choices” and added that not being hostage to commercial concerns was a plus. “We can choose to do things that are not profitable because they are in the public interest,” he commented.
Davie oversaw major shake-ups at the BBC which cut some 1,200 jobs in his first year at the helm. “I think we need to drive change,” he said, adding that he would continue to reform the organization, putting culture and inclusivity at the top of the list.
Davie was also asked to respond to comments made by BBC Chairman Richard Sharp at the RTS convention yesterday that Sharp did not believe the BBC would be invented today and that the potential privatization of Channel 4 was ” a small local problem”.
Davie largely dodged the first question, joking that he had to agree with his chairman, but said he thought Sharp’s comments on Channel 4 had been “slightly misinterpreted”.
“No one says there is no need to change [Channel 4]. You have to reform,” he commented. “The BBC’s positions are very clear – we have no position on the ownership structure of C4. What interests us are the wonders of PSB ecology, it’s a wonderful thing, we play with it at our peril.