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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1099-i
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Culture, Media and Sport Committee
THE Priorities FOR the new Director-General of the BBC
Thursday 25 April 2013
Lord Hall of Birkenhead CBE and RT HON Lord Patten OF BARNES CH
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 158
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Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
on Thursday 25 April 2013
Mr John Whittingdale (Chair)
Mr Ben Bradshaw
Mr John Leech
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Lord Hall of Birkenhead, CBE, Director-General, BBC, and Rt Hon Lord Patten of Barnes, CH, Chairman, BBC Trust, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning. This morning the Committee is considering the priorities for the new Director-General of the BBC, and I am pleased to welcome the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, and the new Director-General, Lord Tony Hall. It is worth observing I think, Tony, that you are the fourth Director-General within a year to be appearing before us in this Committee, so we hope we shall be seeing you again.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I shall think about that carefully when I leave this place.
Chair: I understand you would like to say a few words before we begin.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Thank you very much, Chairman, I really appreciate the time to say a few words of introduction. I thought what I would say is a little bit about how I have approached the first three weeks in the job. First of all, I now have a top team in place. That strikes me-and struck me when I got this job-as something that I should try to achieve quickly with the right mixture of talented insiders, and also bringing in the right talent from outside as well, and then getting that team to work together properly. I am really pleased; I do think we have a group of people there who can lead the BBC forward.
The second thing I have been doing is going around the country-and indeed around London-meeting people. I have been to Cardiff. I have been to Bristol. I have been to Birmingham. I have been to Salford. I am going to Northern Ireland at the crack of dawn tomorrow, and I am going to Scotland next week. I have talked to staff openly about what I hope we can do with the BBC but also issues facing the BBC. I have talked to programme-makers and I have also talked to external partners in a number of places, because I think their perspective on the BBC is crucial and interesting. As I said on day one, all of those conversations are to help me and the BBC shape the next chapter for the BBC and give a sense of where the BBC should be going. I hope to have that work completed by September/October.
There are three things I want to do before then; first of all, I want to begin making a simpler BBC. There are brilliant people doing some fantastic programmes, but there is too much bureaucracy, too many processes and too many structures that hinder rather than help the programme-makers. We need to deal with this and do so in a specific and concrete way that makes a difference to their lives and helps them to make great programmes.
Secondly, we also need a BBC that is in tune with the times. Like everybody else we have to deal with efficiency savings and cuts, so we have to do the same with less. Everyone else is doing that; so should we. But we cannot be tone-deaf to what licence fee-payers-the public out there-have said to us about pay-offs for redundancies and so on. So, I have announced this morning that we will consult on a £150,000 cap on redundancy and severance payments to affect all senior management, old and new. We have to deal with this problem. The level of some payments wasn’t right. I hope that will deal with the problem clearly for the public. I must point out that is in line with the civil service, which is why we chose the £150,000 cap.
Thirdly, we have to continue to rebuild trust in the BBC. The Corporation has been through a really difficult time-you know that, I know that-but not as difficult as those who were directly affected by Savile and others. We need to learn the lessons of Pollard and the Rose review-which will be coming out shortly-and take those absolutely and clearly on board.
But I just want to say one other thing, and it is a bit personal. I have had a fantastic and inspiring first three-and-a-bit weeks. It is a remarkably creative organisation. I have talked about news. I have talked about local radio and its importance to music. I have seen a 3D Natural History Unit film of going through a reef, which is absolutely stunning, and-among others-I have talked to the Food Programme about black puddings, one of my favourite dishes. So I feel optimistic about the future of the BBC. That is not to say there isn’t a very large job that I have to do. Thank you, Chairman.
Q2 Chair: Thank you. We will come on to look at a number of the areas you have raised in more detail. When you say you want to see a simpler BBC, does that mean, firstly, a smaller BBC, is it a BBC doing less, and does it mean a BBC with fewer middle managers?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: That is what I am talking to staff about as I go around the BBC on how we can free them up. I think what happens with organisations is they accrete layers or they accrete regulations or they accrete roles. I want nothing that is going to be reckless. I want nothing that takes the commonsense from all our managers about what they should refer and what they shouldn’t refer to senior managers. However, I do want a sense that managers are empowered to both excite people and to make great programmes, but also empowered to take responsibility for their decisions. As I go around the BBC, in some areas there are some absolutely brilliant things going on that I would like to see applied across the BBC. For example, in Salford, there are some remarkably exciting projects going on there that, again, I think we could learn from.
Q3 Angie Bray: Lord Hall, were you surprised to be offered the Director-General’s job, given that you had not actually applied for it?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: The honest answer to that is I was surprised to be offered the job; to be invited to have a conversation with the Chairman. Like others, I watched in huge sadness at what was happening at the BBC. I have said in other places, and I say to you, the only thing that would have made me move from a job I enjoyed, and got huge satisfaction from, would be the BBC. I am there because the BBC was in crisis. I felt I should return to the BBC and do what I can to repair the BBC, but also to take it on to great things.
Q4 Angie Bray: The offer came out of the blue, did it?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes. It happened in a matter of days, yes.
Q5 Angie Bray: You did apply for the job yourself in 1999 and on that occasion failed to get it. What do you think has changed that made you not suitable for the job then but very suitable-in fact, so suitable that there were no other people considered-this time round?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I applied once. I have not applied on other occasions, because I was extremely happy in my life in music, in ballet and in the arts generally. I hope what is different this time, but I am not complacent about this, is that having been outside the BBC for 12 years, having understood the impact the BBC can have on culture, having seen the impact the BBC can have on the Olympics-they were crucial in all sorts of things, not just in the sport but also in the culture too-I can bring that sense of having seen the organisation from the outside and help to repair it inside, and I think that an outsider’s perspective is important to any leadership role.
Q6 Angie Bray: Looking forward, perhaps it might be quite a useful thing for the BBC to consider appointing more from the outside and less from internally?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: It is a real balance, isn’t it? I thought very hard about this when constructing the top team for the BBC. You have to get the balance right between, on the one hand, bringing in talented committed outsiders-the very best-with the very best of insiders too. I have to say, as I walk around the BBC, as I go and meet people, I see some extraordinarily talented people doing extraordinary things.
Q7 Angie Bray: Thank you. Lord Patten, you said that the BBC has a duty to operate as transparently as possible. Doesn’t the way that Lord Hall was appointed actually fly in the face of all that?
Lord Patten of Barnes: No, I don’t think it does. When we began the search for a successor to Mark Thompson-and we were criticised by some people for spending so long over it and for employing an executive search company-I had actually talked to Lord Hall at that stage, at an early stage, to get his views on the BBC and to find out whether he was going to apply, and, for understandable reasons, he said he wasn’t. During the course of that search, we looked at the field, including Americans, including people from this country, including people from other countries as well. We had a pretty good idea of the available talent, both within and outside the BBC.
We had to find a successor to George Entwistle, who ironically was brought down in part by some of the very issues that he had raised with us as needing addressing, during his negotiations and discussions with us about the job. When we had to find a successor for him, and had to do it clearly, swiftly and decisively, I thought, we thought straight away of Tony Hall, who offered both a sigh of relief and-to mix my metaphors-a wind of change, so I wasn’t at all bothered about not going through the whole process again. I think if we had we would still probably be in the position of searching for a Director-General, and I am not sure that we would have got as good a one as we did get. When Tony Hall’s appointment was announced, I was very pleased by the very supportive things that were said, including I think by one or two Members of this Committee; but certainly the supportive things that were said by Ministers and shadow Ministers and newspapers. We acted quickly, and I think we took the decision within 12 days of the departure of George Entwistle.
Q8 Angie Bray: Nevertheless, you said, "I thought", before correcting yourself to "we thought". There will be a perception out there-as I said to Lord Hall-that he applied for the job in a fair and square competition in 1999 and did not get it, but you went straight to him to offer him the job without any open competition. Given that, as far as appointments are concerned, your own reputation must be slightly tarnished by the way that you were so personally associated with the rather disastrous appointment of George Entwistle, wouldn’t it have been better to demonstrate an open competition to allay a lot of the concerns that the public may have about the way that these appointments have been going?
Lord Patten of Barnes: No, I don’t think so. I seem to recall that we were criticised last time out for taking so long and for employing an executive search company, so I don’t accept your argument. The decision is taken by the Trust-it is not simply taken by the Chairman of the Trust-and it was unanimous both in the case of George Entwistle and in the case of Lord Hall.
Q9 Angie Bray: But I think you might accept that the perception is-and perceptions are important in this, particularly when you have licence fee-payers-that this seems to be a pattern of appointments done by a very small group right at the top of the BBC.
Lord Patten of Barnes: It is true that I had met Lord Hall before. One or two newspapers have suggested he got the job because he had invited me to his box at the Royal Opera House. I say, with some feeling, that he never invited me to his box at the Royal Opera House. Indeed, I am not sure what I did wrong. I very much admire what he did at the Royal Opera House, but, much as I like opera, I never got one of those freebies. So, it wasn’t taken as a result of an inside track. It was taken because he was clearly-not least, in those circumstances-the best person for the job by far. Unless I have misunderstood what Ministers and shadow Ministers and others said, I think that was the reaction of the political community, which I will repeat: that we had acted swiftly and decisively in difficult circumstances.
Q10 Angie Bray: Nevertheless, a pattern does seem to have been set, because we then had the Director-General doing exactly the same with an internal appointment and inviting James Purnell to take on the job as the Director of Strategy and Digital, again without any open competition. Aren’t we seeing a pattern emerging here that is not necessarily very acceptable?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I am sure that the Director-General will want to speak about the appointments that he has made himself, but all I can say is I think he has put together an exceptionally good team.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes. When I was constructing the team and thinking about constructing the team, I felt that the BBC was in some crisis. I wanted to move quickly to get the top team in place, and so, in those exceptional circumstances, a mixture of direct appointments of people who are stars in their world was right, as well as moving some people and also having an open competition for some of the other jobs. I wanted to make a structural reform in what became James Purnell’s area, because I wanted to bring together what was a series of separate little directorships, so we could have a real emphasis on where the BBC is going, going forward, because that is something that I thought was absent from our deliberations. James Purnell is someone who I worked with some time ago when he was in the BBC. I knew-not from James-that he was after a new challenge and I felt he would be an outstanding strategy director. Exactly the same with Anne Bulford, who I knew from working with her in a variety of locations; she is the best finance director that you could want for the BBC. So, in both those circumstances, I was pulling together a team that I felt was the best and the brightest.
When it comes to news, when it comes to television-I have just announced television this week-the situation is different. We advertised those and we had competition from people, both internally and externally.
Q11 Angie Bray: It does sound a bit cosy, people you already knew. Is there seriously nobody else that might have been able to do the job that James Purnell was just handed?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: On both of those, I used the non-executive directors to sound them out about the appointments and the quality of the people that I wanted to appoint. They met both and were impressed by both, and then we went through the procedure of them approving them.
Q12 Angie Bray: So, no other names were even considered?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: We considered other names. I sat down and looked at the people who could do those jobs, and in both cases I felt those were the best people to do those jobs.
Q13 Angie Bray: I have a question here that says, "When is open competition necessary and when is it desirable?" I could put it another way and say, "When is open competition not necessary and undesirable"?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have a principle, and I peremptorily raised it with the staff, to say, "I believe in open competition. I think that is exactly the right principle, but-"
Angie Bray: Except when you have some friends that you want to appoint.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, I believe in open competition, except that we were facing a crisis and I wanted to get the top team in place as quickly as I could with the best people, and I think I have-in fact, I don’t think, I know I have the best people.
Q14 Angie Bray: Lord Patten, would you like to say something about open competition being necessary and desirable, or perhaps what are the occasions when it is not?
Lord Patten of Barnes: It depends who wins the open competition. I can think of some open competitions, just as I can think of some election results, that have been disastrous. That is open competition for you.
Q15 Angie Bray: That is a recipe for appointing from the top, is it?
Lord Patten of Barnes: No, it is a recipe for trying to get the best people and using open competition most of the time, but-as Lord Hall has mentioned-the rest of the field were looked at by the non-executive directors who were able to benchmark against the other talent that is available. I think it is an extremely good team. I am particularly pleased that we have somebody in from outside, to run the television news and current affairs, who has experience of print journalism.
Q16 Angie Bray: Can I just ask a couple of questions about Lord Hall’s contract, and the gagging clause that prohibits him from making any derogatory or unfavourable remarks or statements-in writing or orally-with regard to the BBC, during the term of his appointment or within the following two years? How is that in the public interest, Lord Patten?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I am not sure whether it is or not and I think that we probably need to look at those gagging clauses. They are part of the standard contract. I think that they are sometimes regarded by employment lawyers as a way of safeguarding the person who has signed them against criticism from his previous employers when he or she leaves a job. I cannot conceive of circumstances in which a chairman would try to stop a Director-General actually sounding off about the BBC. Since almost every Director-General in the history of the BBC has sounded off about it afterwards, I am not sure that gagging clauses are anything other than a ceremonial part of the constitution.
Q17 Angie Bray: Why has it not been struck out?
Lord Patten of Barnes: A very good question.
Q18 Angie Bray: Are you intending to do so, to allow Lord Hall to criticise where he feels he must?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I cannot believe that Lord Hall will not speak his mind when at some-I hope-distant point in the future he leaves New Broadcasting House.
Angie Bray: Thank you.
Lord Patten of Barnes: You will know as well as I do that there are sort of implicit gagging clauses in politics as well. Do they work? Do they hell.
Q19 Chair: Lord Patten, you said in your evidence you have absolutely no doubt that in Lord Hall you have the best candidate for Director-General. Lord Hall then said that he had got the best possible candidates to be director of strategy and chief finance officer. How can you know that these are the best candidates if you don’t ask anybody else if they are interested?
Lord Patten of Barnes: You will know that the Chairman of the Trust doesn’t make appointments in the BBC apart from the Director-General but as the Director-General pointed out to you, he actually consulted the non-executive directors of the BBC about other candidates who might have been available, and they took the view that he was right to make the appointments he did. I am perfectly content with that.
Q20 Chair: Lord Hall, that is not saying that you know these are the best people.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am confident they are the best people, but the best judge of that is what we do together over one or two years or perhaps even sooner than that. What I was keen to do was to find a generation of people who could lead this £3.6 billion corporation, with another £1 billion coming from Worldwide, and lead that creatively. In James Harding for news, we will have an outside view on what is a core part of what the BBC does. In Danny Cohen we have an exceptional talent-not yet 40-to lead BBC Television forward. James Purnell, again I think he is someone who is going to contribute hugely, and is contributing hugely, to the discussions we are having about where we want to take the BBC.
Q21 Chair: You will be aware of the controversy over the very high pay levels that are set for senior management at the BBC. James Purnell is coming in on a salary of something like £300,000. Anne Bulford is coming in pretty close to £400,000 a year. One of the arguments that the BBC has always made is that you have to pay these rates because these are the market rates. How do you know what the market rates are, if you don’t have a competition and find out who else might be available?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: We do test the market, and I go back to what am I trying to do: to get the-
Q22 Chair: How have you tested the market of all the chief finance officers?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: The personnel department has data on what other finance officers are taking. In terms of Channel 4, Anne Bulford was on a higher pay rate than she is getting at the BBC. We also have the principle I have learned in the last three weeks, which I think is a thoroughly good one, which is testing the market outside and then discounting what we would pay by something between 50% and 70%. So that is an important test. On top of that, the executive team that I am putting together now, the executive board, is costing us less than it did before. I am absolutely committed to lowering the senior management pay bill by looking at where we can make savings and contract still further. I have to balance that against making sure that for a £3.6 billion corporation we have the best and the brightest running that corporation. That means there is a market out there for those people. But there are big things about coming in and working in the public service at the BBC. Of course that is a big thing too, but you are balancing two very different objectives.
Q23 Chair: There does appear to be an extraordinary disparity in top salaries. Danny Cohen has just been appointed at around £330,000. James Harding is on £340,000. Peter Salmon, who is not on the executive board at all, is on £390,000. How are these figures determined, because they look as if they are just plucked out of the air?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Of course, Danny came earlier in his career from Channel 4 and came in at a slightly higher level than people who have been in the Corporation a long time. But I go back: the important thing here is that we get the best and the brightest to come and work for the Corporation. One of my jobs, apart from going around the Corporation over the last few weeks, has been to chair my first Remuneration Committee this week. There was a case of somebody-and it would be wrong of me to say who-being offered double their salary to leave the Corporation. That is someone who is critical to our future and they are being offered large sums because, actually, other companies outside can see the talent there is in the Corporation, so there are areas where we are in a competitive market. It goes back to what I think about making the BBC a great place to work. We have to work very, very hard on making sure that people can give of their best, make the programmes they want to do, all the ambition we want to deliver, but also be cognisant of the fact that they could make a lot more outside. That is not saying we would be reckless, but we just have to be aware of that.
Q24 Chair: Just in connection with James Purnell’s appointment, can you give any example previously of where a senior management position within the BBC has been filled by somebody who is not just politically affiliated but has been a very active recent participant in party politics?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: My judgment about James is that he has hung his boots up at the door and left politics behind some two and a half to three years ago. He has a superb sense of television, and also broadcasting more generally, and I think he is an outstanding character. Do I think that he can leave all of where he has been behind him? Yes, I completely do. Wouldn’t it be a sad thing if people, who had done amazing things in political life or in public life generally, could not say at some point, "I am going to give something to a corporation that I believe in", which is what he believes.
Q25 Chair: But you would accept that this is unprecedented?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am putting forward the best team I can to run the BBC. If that is unprecedented or not unprecedented, my aim is to get the best people to run this £3.6 billion organisation. That is what I have to do.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I think Lord Reith was an adviser to a Liberal-Conservative coalition before he began on his noble endeavour, but perhaps that is a bit too far in the past.
Chair: I am not sure that is strengthening your case.
Mr Sutcliffe: Lord Coe was somebody who had been very visible in politics as well.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I think it is fairly widely known that I have a past.
Chair: Indeed, but nobody is suggesting that the Trust should be immune. Indeed, a number of appointments to the Trust-or to the Board of Governors, the predecessor to the Trust-have been political. That is not the same as the management of the BBC itself.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think the key thing is-James’s job of course is not editorial-do you believe that the people who are coming to work for the BBC will be impartial, buy into its impartiality or not. That for me is the key test. In James’s case, I am satisfied that is the case; as, indeed, with James Harding who has run a large newspaper. That is the test that I think is important.
Q26 Jim Sheridan: Lord Hall, you have been three and a half weeks in the job. Do you think you will see the month out?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: As I hope I said and made clear earlier, I very much hope I will see the month out because what I am finding invigorating is going around the Corporation, meeting the programme-makers, talking to them about the programmes that they are making and listening to their concerns, because I do believe-and I felt that very much in my previous job-that what you pick up, and what you learn from the shop floor like that, is phenomenally important and leaders need to be in touch. I very much hope I will do much, much more than a month, because I am enjoying myself.
Q27 Jim Sheridan: Could I refer to my colleague Angie Bray’s question about the gagging order? Have you signed the gagging order?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have. To be quite frank with you, I read the contract and I read the gagging order and I just thought, "That is one of those standard things that you put in contracts", and I thought no more of it than that. What you need to know is if I felt something was wrong, or there was something I felt passionately about, then I would say that.
Q28 Jim Sheridan: What is the punishment if you break the gagging order?
Lord Patten of Barnes: A hundred lines. I have to say that if this turns into an issue for the Committee, I would be very happy to look at the contract again and sign another one.
Q29 Jim Sheridan: With the greatest respect, it is not about the Committee, it is about the public. You are trying to gag someone you have just appointed. Why is that?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I don’t think we are.
Q30 Jim Sheridan: Why is it in there, then?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I tried to explain earlier that these are standard clauses in contracts, but if it concerns people we will write a new contract and sign another one.
Q31 Jim Sheridan: You are taking the gagging order out, then?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I would be very happy to do that.
Q32 Jim Sheridan: Yes. Lord Hall, you mentioned in your opening comments about this £150,000 cap, which you are going to be consulting on. Who are you consulting with?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Consulting with staff, consulting with the unions. We have to do that. It is a change in terms and conditions.
Q33 Jim Sheridan: There won’t be a public consultation, then?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, it is a contractual change for senior managers and for other members of staff that, quite rightly, we have to consult on.
Q34 Jim Sheridan: So if you are consulting internally and saying that we are going to restrict the payments to £150,000, you are expecting the staff and the unions to say, "Thanks very much, that is great"?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am very much hoping that people see that it is an issue that we have dealt with and dealt with early on, that I know the public felt very strongly about, as indeed did I.
Q35 Jim Sheridan: If you don’t get the agreement you are looking for, what happens?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I very much hope I will get that agreement. I am confident that people will see the sense of it. I am very confident about that.
Jim Sheridan: So, what is plan B if you don’t get it?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Mr Sheridan, I am confident that we will get the agreement to the £150,000 cap.
Jim Sheridan: Do you have a plan B?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have just said I am confident that we will get agreement to £150,000. I think this is a matter of principle for me. I addressed senior managers about this, this morning, and made it absolutely clear this isn’t something done lightly, but it is something that I think responds to the public mood out there. We have to do something about this. I said I would do something about it publicly when I was interviewed on the Today programme a couple of weeks ago, and I am responding quickly to what I think is an issue.
Q36 Paul Farrelly: Lord Patten, when you came in, you were very clear that you want to bridge the perceived divide, outside and internally in the BBC, between the Chiefs and the Indians. Yet, after appointing George Entwistle, there was a big controversy about some of the pay-offs that were revealed, which seemed to show to the outside world that the Chiefs were pretty much doing the same thing on your watch. That in turn is still perceived very negatively by the Indians, some of whom have been out on strike recently, so what would your comment be to that happening on your watch?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I think that there was and is a general welcome for the fact that we were the first public-sector organisation that introduced the Hutton principle into our pay policy, capping the multiple of the Chief Executive’s pay to median earnings and capping the average of senior leaders’ pay to median earnings. The cap for the Director-General’s pay to median earnings has fallen from over 16 to 11. The cap for senior executives pay to median earnings has fallen now to just over 8, and we are committed to bringing that multiple down. I hope other public service organisations will follow the Chancellor’s, in our view, welcome commitment to seeing that happen across the board. I think it was a pretty good indication of the direction of travel in which we want to go. We are also very pleased by the announcement that the Director-General has made about capping severance payments.
Q37 Paul Farrelly: That doesn’t address the question. Let’s take the Caroline Thomson pay-off. It doesn’t address the question of how that could happen on your watch, and the message that that gives to employees inside the organisation.
Lord Patten of Barnes: It could happen on my watch, as other things happened before my watch, because that was what people were contractually entitled to. In addition to contractual entitlement, which was an issue with the former Director-General-and I have shared with the Committee the legal advice we have on this-it is also an issue in relation to constructive dismissal. If Parliament thinks that constructive dismissal produces arrangements that are too generous, then Parliament can do something about it.
Q38 Paul Farrelly: Could you follow up with a note? You have just said that the pay-off to Caroline Thomson was her contractual entitlement. Could you check that and let us have a note afterwards?
Lord Patten of Barnes: Of course. She lasted only a few weeks into the director-generalship of George Entwistle, but I will certainly let you have a note on exactly why that was the case.
Q39 Paul Farrelly: One of the concerns that has been raised by friends of mine at the BBC, who are among the Indians, is that this is still demoralising the Corporation and that was one of the reasons behind the strike. A couple of people have urged me to ask questions about how the human resources department of the BBC operates and, in particular, your HR Director, Lucy Adams; what role she played in the authorisation of an assessment of some of these pay-offs. I wonder whether you might include that in your note.
Lord Patten of Barnes: First of all, can I say I recognise exactly the arguments that you are putting on this. That is one reason why we ourselves asked the NAO to come in and look at severance payments. I hope they will report this summer, and I hope they will take a positive view about the arrangements that the Director-General is proposing to staff, but I am sure they will have some pretty crisp observations to make about what has happened in the past.
Q40 Mr Leech: I want to follow up the issue of the severance being capped at £150,000. Two questions: first of all, what proportion of staff at the BBC would that have an impact on; and, if this is implemented, can we have an assurance that that won’t result in additional bits put on people’s pensions to compensate for that?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes, no extra bits and 250 people.
Q41 Mr Bradshaw: I imagine that you could, with new contracts and new staff, implement discounts from now.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes, that is right.
Q42 Mr Bradshaw: The problem is going to be rewriting the contracts of existing staff. That is your challenge.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Exactly so, and that is why we are consulting. As I said to Mr Sheridan, be of no doubt this is a really important matter of principle for me, that we are seen to be tackling this problem right up front now, in week four.
Q43 Mr Bradshaw: Lord Hall, can I ask you some questions about the aftermath of the Pollard report, which I know preceded your time? Were you involved or consulted on some of the personnel changes that took place as a result of the Pollard report?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: The acting Director-General, Tim Davie, talked me through what he was doing. I made absolutely clear the judgments he was making were his own, but I supported what he was doing, yes.
Q44 Mr Bradshaw: How is it justifiable that senior BBC executives, who were so severely criticised in that report, were simply shuffled sideways and are still in very high posts, very well paid in the BBC?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: The BBC went through a huge trauma, losing their Director-General. They lost the Head of News Programmes, and I now have replacements in for both the Director of News-I have moved Helen Boaden to radio-and for the news programmes job as well. For the others, I supported Tim Davie’s judgment that the public humiliation, which a number of executives had been through, and then moving into roles that needed to be done, was enough for those people. They had rightly been through a period of huge discomfort, much less discomfort than those who have been directly affected by Savile and others, but I felt that was appropriate.
Q45 Mr Bradshaw: George Entwistle resigned before Pollard reported. Nobody lost their job following Pollard’s very severe criticisms. You say that the corporation lost its Head of News. She was moved to become Head of Radio on the same salary, having been really excoriated in the Pollard report. She was described as absent when her department was in meltdown. They were completely incapable of coping with the crisis. There was all this personal animosity and back-biting. How can you hope to restore public trust in the BBC and staff morale when, just like the banks or the utilities, what we see here is reward for failure?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: The decision I had to make about Helen Boaden was: in my judgment would she make an outstanding Director of Radio? Her background in radio is exemplary. That is where I first met her. I know how passionate she is about radio, and that is why I moved her to that position. If I didn’t think she was going to be good and a brilliant Radio Director, I wouldn’t have moved her. We talked about Pollard and we talked about what she had been through, and I felt that was the right position and move to make. It also means that I have been able to go outside for someone to run news-news and current affairs, I should say, because I want to put current affairs back in the title-and I felt, having seen the market, having talked to people, having interviewed various people, that James Harding would be excellent. I don’t need to tell any of you this: that I think the news operation is so important to the BBC here in this country and globally. I felt it was important to have a fresh breath of air into that organisation, and that is why James is now running the organisation.
Q46 Mr Bradshaw: Can you see from the fact that nobody lost their job after the Pollard report, that people will ask themselves, "What does it take for a senior BBC executive to lose their job for anything"?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I go back to the top, in a way, which is George Entwistle lost his job, resigned. The Head of News Programmes is no longer there as well. I felt that that was appropriate for the scale of the things that had had gone on. Two other people were moved out of the way and put into other jobs, and again I felt that was appropriate.
Q47 Mr Bradshaw: You say Helen Boaden is no longer there. She is. She is Head of Radio. She is in charge of BBC radio on £350,000 a year. What this does, fairly or unfairly, is it just gives the impression, held outside-and I have to say by some people, some of the Indians who were referred to earlier, inside the BBC-that there is a management cadre who just look after each other. They watch each other’s interests and backs. They are not accountable. Nobody takes responsibility. These were central to Pollard’s criticisms of the BBC. Incidentally, they are also central to Lord Patten’s Trust’s response to the Pollard report, about what was going to be important going forward. This has to change, doesn’t it?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes. It does have to change, and I think what you are talking about here is a cultural change in the way the management board work together. The big takeout for me from Pollard was that people need to talk about issues that matter to the corporation, editorial issues and all that, and come together at the very top and give leadership as a team. This is why I keep stressing team working. The judgment on Helen Boaden was: could she be an effective and good member of that team? My judgment was: absolutely. But I go back, in my first three-and-a-bit weeks, I have been working very hard to bring together the management board of the BBC to discuss lots of editorial issues-and there have been quite a few in my first two weeks-together collectively, because I believe that is what was absent in the whole Savile affair, and that is the thing I want to rectify.
Q48 Mr Bradshaw: Can you clear up this apparent disagreement? I think we are going to publish two letters that have been sent to us, one by Nick Pollard himself, the other by Helen Boaden, over a difference of recollection about the phone call-the infamous phone call that was made in which Helen Boaden claims she did tell the former Director-General, very clearly, that the allegations against Jimmy Savile were about child abuse. He denies that. What is your position on that?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: My view, and I clearly wasn’t around at the time, is that if you go back that far, it is perfectly possible that two people can be saying what they think is the truth and there is just a difference between it. For me, the important thing, taking a judgment about both of them, is not what they have each written or each said, but is the evidence of Nick Pollard himself, who said, "This was not material to my judgments about the BBC and conclusions". Had he said otherwise that would be a different issue, but he didn’t. He said this is not material.
Q49 Mr Bradshaw: The letter kind of says that, having looked at all the evidence, he came down on the side of Mark Thompson as being-I don’t think this is fair language-credible. That is where he came down on. But that again implies serious criticism of Helen Boaden’s recollection, doesn’t it?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think we read this differently. I have talked to Helen Boaden about this. I think it is perfectly possible that two people can think they did the same thing. Remember, the other thing that I think is key here-looking at this from outside-it is a story that didn’t happen. In the conversation Helen had with Mark, apparently, she was saying effectively, "This is not a story that is going to be one that is going to come to air". We all know now that was for the wrong reasons, probably, but it is a story that didn’t happen, and I think it is perfectly possible to believe that both people are telling the truth. Now-I go back-what I have to take a judgment on, coming in here, three and a bit weeks in, is: is this something that is material to Nick Pollard’s conclusions? His overwhelming conclusion is that it wasn’t.
Q50 Mr Bradshaw: How are you getting on with the challenge you set yourself of transforming the culture of BBC News within three months?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: It starts with the management board. The management board, which meets every Tuesday, is now not only taking the managed programme list and discussing that list-again I think that is absolutely key, that comes out of Pollard-but I have also introduced a new system that, not very creatively, is called "a red flag system", whereby the directors of the key output areas, television, radio, news and the nations, flag to me twice a week, once on the management board, once on a morning call that we take every morning on issues arising, programmes that are of concern with them. We then discuss those. Again I go back to the Pollard conclusions, because the absence of that discussion or the informality of those discussions or the fact they are done on emails, as opposed to people talking to each other, is what I want to correct.
Below that, I am talking to James Harding about how we can ensure that we have the right structure in news to cope with all the pressures and the things that we want to do. We will be appointing a new editor of Newsnight, I hope in the next two weeks. Normally, from my experience, I don’t think a Director-General would be on the interview process for an editor of Newsnight. But I am absolutely on that process, because I think it is a phenomenally important job, so I am involved in that. Then I also want to look at the management of current affairs, not just because we make difficult programmes in current affairs because that is what we should do, but also I want real ambition from our current affairs output. Mr Bradshaw, by the way, that is why I have put "current affairs" back in the title of the Director of News.
Q51 Mr Bradshaw: Are you confident that news is already being better managed, because one of Pollard’s other findings was that it was well-known that Newsnight was in trouble? Helen Boaden even admitted herself that it had been a troubled programme for some time, and yet had completely failed to manage that problem herself. Are you confident that there are people there now who are properly managing your news programmes?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am confident in the acting Director of News. I am confident in Kerry Thomas, and I am confident in the person who is editing Newsnight at the moment. I also recognise that Newsnight has been without a full-time editor for some time. That is why I have put it high up my priorities to get that sorted, I hope in the next couple of weeks.
Q52 Angie Bray: Lord Hall, and perhaps Lord Patten too, can I take you back one more time to "who knew what, when" about the Savile investigation and the allegations swirling around the BBC, and the continued denials by Mark Thompson that he knew anything about the Savile investigation, even as he departed from the BBC? We do know now that Helen Boaden did speak to him about it on the telephone, albeit, he says that he has no great recollection about it. Perhaps you could shed some light on the letter that was sent, on behalf of Mark Thompson and Helen Boaden, from the BBC’s lawyers, Mills & Reeve. I think £804 was the licence fee money spent on it. It was sent in September 2012, on behalf of those two, to The Sunday Times threatening a libel case were they to publish various aspects of the story they wanted to publish about the investigation and who might have suppressed it. What we have here, it would seem, is a lawyer on Mark Thompson’s behalf, at taxpayers’ expense, saying that he had nothing to do with suppressing a sex story that he subsequently knew nothing about. Would you like to comment on that?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I wonder if I could make an observation before Lord Hall responds. First of all, I don’t think the situation is quite as it has been described during these discussions. I think I am right in saying that, judging by Ms Boaden’s letter to the Committee, she changed her mind about whether or not she had spoken to Mark Thompson. In an email she sent to a friend, she said there hadn’t been this discussion and then I think she had a different recollection, and Mark Thompson’s recollection was different from hers. In my experience, it is not exactly unusual. Perhaps it is my age, but I have difficulty remembering what I said to people a month ago, let alone a year ago. Sometimes I go upstairs and I can’t remember why I went-
Q53 Angie Bray: But there can be no dispute about this letter from the lawyers.
Lord Patten of Barnes: No, but this was examined in huge detail by Nick Pollard, an extremely experienced journalist and manager of journalists, in an inquiry that will have cost more than £2 million. I don’t think I can second-guess Nick Pollard’s judgment, which is that this disagreement about who knew what, exactly when, does not provide evidence that the BBC-which was the principal charge made-dropped the Newsnight programme, in order to protect its Christmas schedule or to cover up its corporate reputation. He says that the decision to drop the programme was a big mistake. He writes a report that makes extremely uncomfortable reading for the BBC, but the-
Q54 Angie Bray: But Lord Patten, sorry, if I can just interrupt you, because I understand what Nick Pollard said-
Lord Patten of Barnes: I am struggling to find-
Angie Bray: -but what I am struggling to understand is how Mark Thompson could continue to say that he knew nothing about it, even as he left the BBC towards the end of 2012, when in fact the BBC had spent a considerable sum of money on a lawyer’s letter, on behalf of Mark Thompson and Helen Boaden in September 2012, threatening a libel case were they to proceed with the story. I should also say that this was preceded by a letter to Mark Thompson with 10 questions about the Savile Newsnight investigation, so why could Mark Thompson be sending a letter via a lawyer denying all this and at the same time denying he knew anything about it?
Lord Patten of Barnes: This is a perfectly legitimate story for Miles Goslett, who is a very good and experienced freelance journalist, and The Sunday Times to pursue. It is the sort of thing that happens in journalism. In my view, none of it overturns what Nick Pollard concluded, and what he said in his letter to you. I don’t have any further reflections on exactly who in the Director-General’s office saw that letter from the BBC’s legal advisers.
Q55 Angie Bray: The letter was sent to The Sunday Times by BBC lawyers without Mark Thompson’s knowledge?
Lord Patten of Barnes: You will have to ask Mark Thompson. I think he was asked and said it was sent without his knowledge, or without his knowledge of the detail. I think that is what he said, but I am not going to put words in his transatlantic mouth.
Q56 Conor Burns: Lord Hall, can I pick up on some of the questioning that Mr Bradshaw was pursuing? I declare an interest. I am a Thatcherite Conservative and a holder of a minority opinion of that group. I am a great supporter of the BBC. I make no criticism of the way you were appointed. I was one of those whom Lord Patten referred to that welcomed your appointment as Director-General. I think you are the right man to restore trust and credibility to the BBC at a time of crisis, but I fear that you may have damaged yourself and that mission by the fact that no one has taken responsibility, in terms of what Pollard said and particularly Helen Boaden. Given the severity of the criticism that was made of Ms Boaden in that report, can you understand how some of us worry that the fact that she was simply shunted across to another role, at the same salary and the same status, will worry those who think that people did need to take responsibility in order for you to have the fresh start, the drawing of the line to take the BBC out of crisis?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Thank you for what you said at the beginning, and I also recognised a "but" was coming somewhere along there. Thank you nonetheless. Look, I sat down on a number of occasions with Helen Boaden and talked to her about Pollard, talked to her about what she and the BBC, had been through, and took the judgment that she would make a very good Director of Radio. That is my judgment. It is no one else’s. I can understand your point of view. To be frank, I also felt that when the BBC had been through a real trauma-and anyone who knows anyone in the BBC knows it had been, the Director-General had gone; the Head of News Programmes had gone; there was a crisis over the leadership of the BBC, by the way, brought back brilliantly into balance by Tim Davie-that to use the talent within the organisation, notwithstanding all it had been through, was a judgment that only I could make. My strong belief was that Helen Boaden, whose roots and instincts in radio I think are formidable, would be a very fine Director of Radio. I understand exactly where you are coming from. I understand your judgments, but, having spent time with her, I took a different line.
Q57 Conor Burns: Those within the BBC that I know and respect at reasonably high levels, felt that George Entwistle had the potential to be a very great Director-General and felt that his forced resignation, crisis of confidence, was also unfair, but also believe he took the right decision in the end. You can see how people, not discounting what you say about Helen Boaden’s merits, will feel that your task is harder now, that nobody took responsibility post-publication of Pollard.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Post- or pre-, I suppose, these are a matter of judgment. When I was appointed, I felt that the corporation had been through a trauma, that the top team had disintegrated and I wanted to build that back as quickly as I could. That is what I have done within three and a bit weeks. Equally, though, underlying your point is a really important point for me personally, which is I also want to make sure that I understand what the staff are thinking. I am out there talking to them, getting their views and they are, as ever in the BBC, direct about these things. Because I do believe that going forward-which is what I have to do, take the organisation forward- I need to be in touch with what they are thinking, and take responsibility for judgments that I make.
Q58 Jim Sheridan: Following on from the comments of Conor Burns, the approach you took with Helen Boaden-is that consistent throughout the food chain in the BBC? People further down the food chain at the BBC, if they have a different view or did something that they shouldn’t be doing, are they offered the same fairness, redeployments, same salary, and same conditions, or is it just the senior ones that get this preferential treatment?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think there is an underlying point to what you are saying, which I think is really important, and it is one where I think the answer is difficult. I don’t know the organisation well enough yet to give you an assurance that is the case. I do know I want an organisation where people feel confident to say that they have done something wrong and own up to things that they have done wrong quickly and speedily. There is then a matter of degree of things that you can own up to and say you have done wrong and carry on, and other things that are much bigger than that. I do think there is a point there about the sort of culture that I want. I want a much more open culture. In all the hours of output that we do each day, each week-and it has grown remarkably since I have been away from the BBC-we are bound to make errors. To my mind, the quicker we own up to those errors-the quicker we say we have it wrong-the better. I want a culture that does that, and anything that gets in the way of that I would resist.
Q59 Chair: One of the other observations in the Pollard report is that he questioned the Director-General’s status as Editor-in-Chief. Do you intend to continue to be the Editor-in-Chief of the BBC?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I do, Chairman. I want to make sure that, of course, I have the right people around me. But as I have realised-as if I even needed reminding-over the last three weeks, in the end the buck stops with me and I have to take responsibility for the programmes and the services. I have to take the great things, and there are so many great things the BBC does, as well as the harder and tougher stuff too.
Q60 Chair: It is a huge burden, and another of the observations that has been made is that perhaps it was a mistake to remove the position of Deputy Director-General a few years ago, and, had Mark Byford been there, some of these things might not have happened. Do you think there is a case for restoring the Deputy Director-General?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am a huge fan of Mark Byford and what he brought to the BBC, but I think we have gone beyond that. I think making sure that the management of news and the other factual areas, and reporting difficult and testing programmes to me so I can get involved or not involved, according to the level of risk involved in those things, is really key. It is also part of what the job is. I don’t want patsy journalism; I want journalism that really is bold, is risk-taking, never reckless, but which I believe that increasingly only the BBC will do. I need to make sure I have the support around me, and the systems and the people to do that, and I believe I am getting there.
Chair: Perhaps we might examine an example of risky journalism. Ben.
Q61 Mr Bradshaw: Would you like to potentially save yourself, the Chairman, us, and everyone else, a great deal of time and grief by asking the Chairman to have an investigation into how the BBC Panorama programme handled the North Korea incident?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am very happy to tell you how we handled it, and tell you of my involvement in the North Korean Panorama. I think there are two compelling issues there: one is the request made to me to stop the programme, to ban it; and then for me the most important thing is did the programme pass the test? That is a crucial one, which is, is there a public interest in this? Go back 10 days, the headlines each day were of all sorts of threats from North Korea-real or otherwise-and the Monday on which the Panorama was going out was the anniversary of the founder of North Korea; his birthday or his death, I cannot remember which now. So, there was a big public interest.
Over the weekend I checked the nature of the film with a variety of people and then watched it myself on the Monday before it was transmitted. The first thing I had to think about was is this programme worthy of transmission? The second thing was to look at how the programme had been made, and I satisfied myself on two occasions, first, in a series of one-to-one or one-to-two interviews, that there had been clarity about what was going on, i.e. a journalist was going with the tour to North Korea; and then at a second meeting, with a member of the Panorama team present, that had been gone over again, and then again, of course, in Beijing before they flew to North Korea.
One of the issues then is-and as you know this is a matter of dispute-how much should they have been told? Me, I would go for absolutely telling everybody everything in terms of what is going on. The people in the severe risk team, who look at how the BBC works in some really difficult situations, had been through a risk assessment of this, obviously, and had said that their conclusion was that the likelihood of them being found out and then deported was the biggest risk, i.e. detained a little bit and then sent on a plane out of Pyongyang. They also said-and this is an area of judgment-it is better in those situations that students, the TV, the tourists, know, but not too much. I noticed a number of people saying, "Would it have been better to have written consents?" and I have to say I started off by saying, "Do you know what, I think written consents would have been better". Perhaps that is something we need to learn going forward, but their advice was, "We will be really careful because deniability in these sorts of situations is important". There are areas of difficult judgment and they come out of the BBC, rightly, wanting to do difficult pieces of journalism.
Q62 Mr Bradshaw: You said written consent would have been difficult, but they wouldn’t have had to take the pieces of paper with them to North Korea. Chapter 6 of your editorial guidelines, which is a whole section on the important principle of informed consent, says, "Based on respect, openness and straight-dealing", and, at 6.4 paragraph 31, "We must ensure that our contributors recognise and accept all the identified risks in writing". It also says, "Consent must be capable of being proved". That did not happen.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: This is why I started off by saying that I think written consent would have been better. But in this case the people we use to consult on risky ventures like this in difficult situations said, "Better you don’t and better you keep the information more limited". I think another guideline, 6.4.17, says clearly that there are situations-and I think this is one of them-where it may be acceptable for us not to reveal the full purpose of the output to a contributor, but-
Q63 Mr Bradshaw: That is referring to illegal activity that you are exposing, not to the use of third parties as a way of the BBC getting surreptitious access to a country illegally and putting those third parties at risk. Surely, that is an argument for not only abiding by your own editorial guidelines but going the step further.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I completely understand the point. As I have said, I think it would have been better if we had obtained written consent because then we wouldn’t have had this ding-dong on different views afterwards. But the judgment at the time was it was safer for them to know less than more, and indeed that went as far as written consents.
Q64 Mr Bradshaw: I am pleased that you have conceded it would have been better to get written consent, but wouldn’t the problem have been then that the students would have refused to go and you wouldn’t have had a programme?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, because the process we went through in two sets of meetings and a third in Beijing was that students were aware of the risks and were content to go along with what was being proposed, although one or two now say they weren’t. Indeed, six of them have written a very forceful letter to the LSE saying that point.
Q65 Mr Bradshaw: Yes, but equally we have had very forceful and compelling written evidence from others, who completely challenge the current and existing BBC version of events, and this reminds me terribly of the problems we had over the Newsnight issue and a false account by the then editor of Newsnight. Are you not worried that, without a proper investigation into this, you are in danger of making a similar mistake?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am satisfied with what I have been told and the accounts I have been given by the team, by the Head of News Programmes and also by the Director of News. But I really do want to say, without in any way criticising the programme, because I thought it was a very fine programme, and I thought the journalism was very good, that when making programmes like this we should stand back and say, "Do you know what, what can we learn for the future?" and there are two issues there about consents. But I shall also be meeting shortly with a number of people, including the British Academy and the University Association, to talk about lessons from this so I can understand lessons and how we can learn from it.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I wonder if I could chip in because of something that Mr Bradshaw said. First of all, it is a pound to a penny that the Trust will be looking at this, because it is pretty certain that a complaint will come to us and we will look at it in the Editorial Standards Committee, and so we should. Secondly, there is a point of principle, which I think the Director-General was just mentioning. Clearly, the BBC does not want to find itself in a knock-down argument with a great university, which the LSE is, or with the university sector as a whole. The British Academy, the Royal Society, Universities UK, LSE, all concede that it is very important to continue with investigative journalism. How do you do that while at the same time respecting the academic integrity of institutions like universities? But it is not just a question of universities. You can imagine a similar thing happening with a non-governmental organisation like the United Nations Association or with a church group. So, there is quite a big issue of principle for us to get right here. I hope that one result of this unfortunate argument-and I repeat what I said about my admiration for the LSE and its Chairman-is that we can not only avoid something like it happening again and also get a clearer understanding ourselves about how we can conduct investigative journalism, going into Syria or Zimbabwe or the other planet of North Korea, while not putting people potentially in danger or putting people’s academic reputations in danger.
Q66 Mr Bradshaw: Can I ask Lord Hall: did the risk assessment include an assessment of the risk to academics and students and their future research and travel, and to the danger to the guides in North Korea?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: You are talking about something that was approved and done before my time. They looked at the risk to the programme teams and looked at what would happen to all of the students on the trip if they were discovered.
Q67 Mr Bradshaw: But not the risk to-
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: They didn’t talk about the guides, no.
Mr Bradshaw: Or to academic life in the United Kingdom and the value of such visits?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: As Lord Patten was just saying, that is why I want to talk to the British Academy and others about how we can balance out the issues that they have raised about academic freedoms going forward. We must learn from this. But I go back to the fact I think the programme was an important programme and well worth doing. I think the team did a very fine job in getting that programme on the air, but then we have to talk about some of the issues that arise from that and learn from that.
Q68 Mr Bradshaw: We can have a debate about the value of the programme. I have noticed a number of people, who know much more about North Korea than I do, say that added absolutely nothing to what we know about North Korea at all. So, I am not sure it is worth trying to justify it on public interest grounds.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I have been to North Korea in a previous incarnation and I thought that what one saw of North Korea in the programme was a pretty faithful illustration of a state that has been in free-fall for decades, and in which the people have been ground into poverty by an appalling stone-age Stalinist system. I think I am right in saying that the viewing figures for that Panorama of 5.1 million or thereabouts were historically very high for Panorama. So, more people will now know what a terrible place it was, if they did not already know what a terrible place it was.
Q69 Mr Bradshaw: That might have been connected with the fuss around it. But will you publish the risk assessment and all the other relevant documentation around this controversy in the interests of transparency, which we are repeatedly hearing is the new mantra in the BBC?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I don’t plan to publish the risk assessments. I think there is a difficult balance here between wanting to make sure that people do difficult stories, difficult investigations and the editorial decisions that we have to make. I am happy to talk about or discuss them. I think that is an important role of what we do. I thought Ceri Thomas did that very brilliantly on a variety of programmes. But I think going into the interstices of why we did what we did is something for us to talk about, discuss and stand up for, rather than going through trails of who said what to who, when. I don’t want to inhibit difficult decisions being made by people thinking at every stage, "This might be discoverable at some point", or whatever. I want our journalism to be strong and to be bold and then for people to discuss why we have done certain things afterwards. I thought one of the changes for me was to see the head of programmes, Ceri Thomas, out there discussing this in a variety of locations, which I thought was absolutely right.
Q70 Mr Bradshaw: Lord Patten, will part of your investigation include publication of some of this documentation?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I would be amazed if, in reporting the way this complaint has been handled when it comes to us-which I am sure it will-there wasn’t a good deal of material made available that was germane to our own discussion. I don’t want to commit myself before we have actually received the complaint, or before we have dealt with a potential complaint, to exactly what we would publish. If you look at how we deal with these complaints, which you will have seen from time to time, the reports are pretty full.
Q71 Mr Bradshaw: I remind you of what the Trust said in response to the Pollard report, "Change must start with people at the top behaving differently, taking responsibility, sharing information, embracing criticism". Do you think the BBC’s handling of the North Korea furore reflects what was said there?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I agree with what the Director-General said. I am pleased that Ceri Thomas, who is an extremely experienced news manager-many of you will know him because he was editor of the Today programme-was out there trying to explain what the BBC had done. That was an extremely welcome development.
I repeat that since we are likely to have to find on the complaint, at this stage I wouldn’t like to bind myself into some conclusions, which might be regarded by my colleagues on the Editorial Standards Committee as slightly shooting their rabbit. So perhaps I can leave it at that, but plainly, from what the Director-General has said, this is an issue that has concerned us. The Trust does recognise, from the very responsible way in which Sir Adam Roberts from the British Academy and the President of the Royal Society have pursued it, that this is not an attempt to prevent investigative journalism. It is an attempt to have a serious discussion about the terms in which investigative journalism can properly take place.
Q72 Mr Bradshaw: Lord Hall, you are not concerned at all that Ceri Thomas’s account has been challenged on a number of fronts?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, I am satisfied with the account that Ceri has given to me. This is something I have taken a huge interest in. Interestingly enough, in terms of the way that the management at the BBC works, this is something we have also discussed at the management board. I think that is important too. Of course the Trust will do what they want to do, and that is important, but I want to be clear that I am also very interested in what the President of the British Academy, the Royal Society and Universities UK, have to say to me. I want to go to meet them and talk about this issue of damage to academic research. That is an important issue that we should be cognisant of going forward.
Q73 Chair: I think in this case it went beyond damage to academic research. You have praised Ceri Thomas, but it is the case that some of Ceri Thomas’s statements in public about this have been directly challenged, the fact as to whether or not the students were properly informed of the existence of a journalist with them. Certainly we are told that at no point were they advised that it was a BBC journalist. The person who told them wasn’t a representative of the BBC. She happened to be married to the journalist, although she did not say that. The whole process of obtaining the consent of students was not as described. These are very, very serious allegations. They come just weeks after the BBC has had two catastrophic episodes regarding the integrity of their journalism. You have been in the job for three weeks, and we have had a third current affairs programme that it is claimed potentially put at risk the lives of young people, certainly put at risk the lives of guides, and yet it appears that both of you sit there saying you are perfectly happy that there shouldn’t be any external investigation or publication of the outcome.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have not said we are sitting there in a sort of blithe way just taking what we are being told for granted. The risk assessments that were made by our key advisers on this said that lives were not being put at risk. Let me just say to you now, when people talk about a human shield and lives being put at risk, if I had thought that, this programme would not have gone ahead. We would not put lives at risk. What they said, and I will repeat, was that the worst thing that could happen was them being deported out of North Korea. So I think we need to put some context on that. I have already said, Chairman, that in-[Interruption.]
Chair: I am going to have to adjourn the hearing. There is a lot more still to cover in this area, so we will adjourn for 10 minutes; if you will forgive us while we go now.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q74 Chair: We will recommence. Lord Hall, before we adjourned you were saying that the BBC would not have done anything that might have jeopardised people’s safety, and that you had had a full risk assessment. You also said earlier that no consideration had been given to the welfare of the guides. Are those two statements not in conflict?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Can I say that I am presuming on people who have made the decisions earlier, but of course we want to be aware, and are aware, of all the conditions surrounding this programme and the people who are involved in it. The thing that I have not said yet, which I do want to put on the record if I may, Chairman, is that in my letter to the Chairman of the LSE on the Saturday before the transmission, I said two things: one was we did not intend to raise the issue of the LSE or the involvement of the LSE in the programme at all; and second, that we would blank out or disguise all the students’ identities in case they had second thoughts about this. The pity of it is that things that we were putting forward, and I thought reasonably, to say, "Let’s deal with these issues", were unfortunately blown apart by the subsequent publicity.
Q75 Chair: You must accept that, even on its own, these are very serious allegations that have been levelled against a flagship current affairs programme. For this to happen just a few weeks after the double disaster of Newsnight, must do further damage to the perception of the integrity and quality of BBC journalism.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, I disagree, Chairman. As I view this programme, there was-as there is around this table-some disagreement about the nature of the programme. Did it reveal new things or not? I felt very strongly it did say new things about North Korea. There was a public interest in that programme being broadcast, and I think the reporter and the team did a very good job and, for whatever reason, the audience figures were high.
Q76 Chair: However good the quality, and we can debate whether or not it was a good programme-even if it was a good programme-if some of these allegations are correct, that proper consents weren’t obtained, that proper consideration to safety wasn’t given, the fact that the programme might have revealed one or two things about North Korea does not excuse that, does it?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: It revealed more than one or two things. But let me go back: the students were talked to twice, and then a third time in Beijing.
Q77 Chair: Not by the BBC.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: On one occasion, the second occasion, with a senior executive from Panorama being present to make sure that the questions were properly put and they understood where they were. Of the 10 students, six have written in very strong terms saying that they were absolutely pro the programme, were very glad that it was broadcast and were critical of the LSE. As I understand, two have been very critical of us and disputing the record. That is why I said I think one of the pieces of learning that we have to do, while appreciating that this is an important piece of journalism in very difficult circumstances, is to see whether in future written consent would have been better. Of course in this case written consent would have been better. We would have known up front.
The second point I want to make is that I really do want to talk to the British Society, the Royal Academy and others, about how we can factor this issue of the importance of academic independence into our judgments in the future. What I am hoping is-
Q78 Chair: Can you clarify, the briefing of the students where a senior BBC executive was present, who was the BBC executive and when was that?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: A senior person from Panorama; forgive me, but I cannot remember the person’s name. That was the second meeting, which took place where all bar one of the students were present. The other one, if I recall-
Q79 Chair: Is this the one that happened in the pub?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes.
Q80 Chair: This was the on-campus pub during happy hour, when a briefing took place of students. As we understand it, there wasn’t a senior BBC executive there, and it is not certain that all the students were there either.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: It was a senior member of the Panorama team. My recollection of this, when I was briefed and asked questions about this, because I had been across this story, was that one of the students who went on the trip wasn’t there. If I recall, that person was in Singapore and that person was talked to separately and gave their consent.
Q81 Chair: The fact that there are these fundamental disputes as to whether or not proper consent was obtained, surely this does mean that there does need to be a proper independent investigation with publication of the findings in order to restore confidence.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: To be frank, my problem with that is, if every time we do a contentious piece of broadcasting we have an inquiry into that programme, then the difficult investigative and other forms of journalism that I profoundly believe in, and profoundly believe in the BBC doing, is going to become very difficult, if not impossible. I have said two conclusions that I take from this episode: in hindsight, would it have been better to get written consent? Yes, I think that would have been better, even though we were being advised not to. Second, I do want to understand, which is why I am putting forward the meeting I shall be having with academics, to understand the issues there too, and learn from that. I think, as we do difficult programmes, we should stand back and learn and have the confidence to do that.
Q82 Chair: Will you supply this Committee with a breakdown of exactly what briefings occurred, who undertook them, where they occurred, the dates, and what consent was obtained as a result of those?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Of course, I will supply you with whatever document on the issue you want. Of course, that is a proper thing to do.
Chair: All right. A few of my colleagues also have questions.
Q83 Paul Farrelly: I will declare that the reporter, John Sweeney, was a colleague of mine at The Observer. He is a fine and very brave journalist. Clearly there are questions that need to be asked and we have been asking them here now. Lord Patten, just with a little balance here, you have said you have admiration for the Chair of the LSE, who was not the man who made the initial reaction, and for the LSE itself. Do you not feel that the LSE ought to be looking at how it reacted and handled the situation, starting with asking-absurdly I think-for the broadcast not to be made; and second, possibly scoring an own goal for the academic fraternity by simply not coming out and saying, "This was not an LSE-organised visit"?
Lord Patten of Barnes: As I said earlier, I am not keen that the BBC should find itself in a prolonged argument with great universities or researchers. I think it is quite easy to exaggerate on both sides. We will be accused of exaggerating the importance of this programme, in terms of revealing what life is like in North Korea. Others will be accused of exaggerating the impact on higher education and research. I don’t think for one moment that it is now going to be very difficult for somebody doing oncological research to go into Cuba or for somebody doing epidemiological surveys to go into China. I don’t think that is true for a moment. There are some issues that we need to tease out, not just with the LSE, but, as Tony Hall has said, with the British Academy and the Royal Society. Getting the balance right, which may or may not have been right in this case, is going to be a difficult one. From the outset, the documents I have seen from the LSE make it clear that it understands the importance of investigative journalism but, obviously, there are some questions for everyone to answer as a result of all this.
Q84 Mr Bradshaw: At what level was the decision to go cleared?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I believe it was the Acting Director of News. I believe that, Mr Bradshaw.
Q85 Mr Bradshaw: Should it not have gone to the Director of Editorial Policy? I thought there was an obligation.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, the Director of Editorial Policy was also part of that decision-making process and approved the decision, as did our advisers on these sorts of situations.
Q86 Mr Bradshaw: Am I correct in thinking that BBC risk assessments must include the risk to local people, i.e. the guides, and in this case that did not happen?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I need to get back to you on whether it did happen or did not happen. I don’t want to mislead you in any way. What I do know is a full risk assessment was taken, which went back over a number of years, of everybody who had been to North Korea on these sorts of ventures and what happened to them when they were found out.
Q87 Mr Bradshaw: Have you read the risk assessment?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have not read the risk assessment, no, but I have been through this in some detail. It is something that I have spent a lot of time on over the last couple of weeks because clearly it is an important decision, as other editorial decisions are important too. It is part of my job.
Q88 Mr Bradshaw: Given the level of controversy over this, wouldn’t it be a good idea for you to read it to satisfy yourself that it was a good one, properly done?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am absolutely certain that it was a good one. I have had the Director of Editorial Policy tell me that, and likewise the Director of News. I have spent a lot of time on this, asking detailed, proper questions about this programme to satisfy myself that when I said this programme should go ahead it was right to go ahead.
Q89 Conor Burns: You say you have spent a lot of time looking at this: can you tell us when and how the decision was made by the BBC to use the students to gain entry into North Korea?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: This was way back before I started at the BBC when-as I described earlier, Mr Burns-there were three meetings, two in London and one in Beijing. The decisions about that had been taken both by the news management but also by editorial policy and, as I say, our expert advisers in these difficult situations. What I have been confronting in the last three weeks, is to understand exactly the way in which this programme was made and taking a judgment about whether this programme should be broadcast. I thought it was regrettable that the LSE should seek to stop the programme, and not want to have what I would have hoped would have been an interesting conversation about the making of the programme. I agree with the Chairman-I want to sit down and discuss these issues. I want us to learn, but I don’t want to inhibit proper investigations and tough and rigorous journalism.
Q90 Conor Burns: I presume that Panorama started with a desire to enter North Korea and then looked at a range of options as to how they could do that?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes.
Q91 Conor Burns: They decided the students were the best route to do that?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: John Sweeney’s wife had taken a similar group, a formal LSE group-this was not-the previous year. Indeed, she had written about it and I think given interviews about her time in North Korea in a number of papers. I cannot quite remember which ones now, but she had done.
Q92 Philip Davies: Just quickly, Lord Hall, on a couple of points of fact, is it right then that John Sweeney described himself on his entry application as a PhD student at the LSE?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes, he did.
Q93 Philip Davies: That is true. How did the other two BBC participants on the trip describe themselves for the purposes of their entry application?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think they described themselves as themselves. Mrs Sweeney described herself as "Mrs Sweeney" with her credentials, and I think the third person described himself as "a tourist", but I will check that for you.
Philip Davies: You will let us know?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes, absolutely.
Q94 Philip Davies: You said that you had made an offer to the LSE that all of the students’ identities would be concealed. The LSE say that initially the BBC refused their request to hide the identities of all the students. Can you clarify that particular point?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Happy to, Mr Davies. I said in my letter to Peter Sutherland, "We will"-and indeed did in some cases-"conceal the identities. Likewise, we will not reveal the way in which the LSE was involved". That was an offer that went out on Saturday. Regrettably, and it is regrettable, that was not taken up.
Q95 Philip Davies: Before you made that offer was there any refusal by anybody at the BBC to do that?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think there was a meeting that the programme team had with the LSE. Again, I am coming in to get a grip of this and to make sure that we are doing the right things. My understanding was that that offer was always there on the table. What I did in my letter was to say, "I, the Director-General, am telling you we will make sure these students are protected and made anonymous; and, second, that we will not mention the LSE", and I thought that was a proper thing to do.
Q96 Philip Davies: Will you look into that as well, whether or not any refusal was originally made?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Very happy to.
Q97 Philip Davies: Lord Patten, just to clarify, you said it was almost certain that there would be a complaint made and the BBC Trust would look into it. My understanding is that on 19 April Peter Sutherland wrote to the BBC Trust making a complaint. Have you received that official complaint from him?
Lord Patten of Barnes: Yes. We have an established complaints framework, and, because the Trust isn’t responsible for the editorial role of the BBC in the first place we pass that to the Director-General. If the response of the Director-General doesn’t satisfy the complainant then, if it is a serious enough complaint, we consider it in our Editorial Standards Committee and I think Peter Sutherland and the LSE know extremely well what the ladder is. It may be that the LSE will be satisfied with the response from the Director-General. If they are not, the complaint will come to us and I would want to see us deal with it as quickly as possible.
Chair: We will move to Paul.
Paul Farrelly: I am just losing the order here. I thought John was coming in. I am deferring to John.
Chair: In that case, I will ask Philip to come in.
Q98 Mr Bradshaw: While they are working out what they want to ask, doesn’t this episode and the episode of Pollard show that we should not be sitting in the same room together as the executive and the regulator, Lord Patten?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I don’t think it shows that at all.
Q99 Mr Bradshaw: We have had this conversation before. Do you not think that this governance structure of your role, as in the Trust’s role, being both regulator and cheerleader for the BBC, is not a sensible or sustainable structure?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I dare say, particularly as we run up to Charter renewal, or non-Charter renewal, that this is a conversation that we will have with some regularity. My own recollection is that the existing structure came into being because of dissatisfaction with the last structure. I think the present structure works not perfectly but well. To be the regulator doesn’t mean that when things go well you can’t point that out. When I look at the pressure we have been exerting on value for money, on distinctiveness and on other things, I think we are performing our role and I do not think we are compromised by the fact that, as you said, we are sitting in the same room.
Q100 Mr Bradshaw: It is not clear whether you are here to champion the BBC or hold them to account.
Lord Patten of Barnes: On the case we have been discussing, Panorama, I am here potentially to hold them to account.
Q101 Mr Bradshaw: Tony Hall, what is your view of the regulatory structure that you have inherited?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: My view is clear. I have it and I have to make it work. I have a management board that I absolutely want to be a fulcrum of thinking about the BBC and its direction going forward, both on editorial issues of the sort we are discussing but, more broadly, about our position and where we are heading. I have an executive board with four extremely good non-execs, and I want to make sure that they are integrated into our thinking. We had a very good session about the future, laying out some of the work I want to do before September, and their input into that session was wonderful. Then we have the Trust. My job is to make it all work and to-
Q102 Mr Bradshaw: As someone who has experience of other organisations, that doesn’t sound as if you do believe it is a logical fit.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think that there are loads of ways you could structure the BBC and its governance. As the Chairman has said, that will no doubt come up in all the discussions about the Charter renewal. What I have seen so far, and what I want to make work, is the structure we have. I am afraid I am one of those people who think, "Get upset about things that you can do something about". This is something that is there and I want to make it absolutely work. If I may say, Mr Bradshaw, what I have seen of the quality of people, both in the Trust and also of our non-execs, suggests that that combination’s thinking, if we can pull this off, about the future direction of the BBC will be really compelling and something that I would look forward to discussing with all of you in the future.
Q103 Mr Bradshaw: It just strikes me that every Director-General I have spoken to privately believed, both before they took the job and after they left it, that it was the wrong structure.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Well, I am the one-
Lord Patten of Barnes: That covers pretty well every structure known to man. I would make one point that perhaps puts this in context. I do not believe, whatever the structure of governance was in the BBC, that it would have affected the arguments we have been having or the discussion we have been having about the Panorama programme, and I do not think that a different structure would have produced better-quality journalism in the case of Newsnight, either the programme they didn’t do or the programme they shouldn’t have done.
Q104 Mr Bradshaw: Wouldn’t the BBC benefit from genuinely independent regulation rather than this form of self-regulation that the Trust represents?
Lord Patten of Barnes: Would it all have been different if, say, Ofcom had been the regulator? I don’t think it would have been. I am sure that is an argument we will find ourselves having sooner or later. To go back to a single board and then have a regulator in Ofcom, I am not sure that that would produce a better result. We will talk about that in due course, I am sure.
Chair: I am sure that is a subject we may return to in future sessions.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I am looking forward to it.
Chair: I thought you would be.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I really like talking about governance.
Chair: I have now restored us back on track.
Q105 Mr Leech: You said in your opening comments that one of the challenges was about restoring the trust in the BBC. A recent survey suggested that, as far as BBC journalists were concerned, there were more people who distrusted BBC journalism than trusted BBC journalism. What do you see as the main challenges to restoring that faith and trust in BBC journalism?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have taken some pleasure from the fact that the Trust’s scores-it depends on which pollsters you use-are going back up again, and I think that is important. The most important thing is getting the right people in the right place. I am looking forward to talking to James Harding, who is already around New Broadcasting House talking to lots of people, about how we can ensure we have the right editors, the right programmes doing the right things. I think trust is a lot to do with people seeing ambitious journalism from the BBC, and one of the reasons why I am very glad that James is coming is because I think he is a hands-on journalist. I think he is someone who will have discussions about the sort of stories we should be covering, about the nature of our journalism, and I want that to take place properly. So that is one thing.
The second point is I do want a sense among our audiences that not only do they trust the BBC but also they get a breadth of journalism from the BBC. In one of the little forays I made before I joined I went to Radio Nottingham, and a debate had taken place on Radio Nottingham about the closure of a hospital. They thought they were going to get X number of people, and it was X times three. Again, that says something very important about the importance of our local, national and regional journalism. I want to make sure that we can build ambitious journalism at that level, too.
Q106 Mr Leech: I am pleased you mentioned local radio there because I think, anecdotally and probably evidentially, people generally have more faith in local papers, local news, local radio, than they do in the national stuff. In fact, many people tell me that the likes of Allan Beswick and Andy Crane on Radio Manchester ought to be the Prime Minister, or whoever, rather than the current politicians, because they trust what they have to say. Is there a sense that we need to go back to more local programming, because clearly local radio and local TV has taken somewhat of a hit as part of the cutbacks? Do we need to re-engage with more local stuff?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think this is such an interesting area and it is an area that I am having a very close look at and talking to James Harding about. One of the glories of the BBC is that you can be global. Our reputation outside this country, as we all know and relish, with the World Service and BBC World, is very high. But you can also be very local, too. What struck me in news terms about the local radio stations that I have seen of late-and I have visited Manchester, regrettably, rather briefly but in Bristol on Friday of last week and, as I said, in Nottingham, Birmingham, the WM-there is the sense that we are the debate that those areas have about themselves.
You get a phone-in programme with issues of national and international importance or it could be local issues, but people are phoning in, they are debating them, and this is an important part of what I think we deliver to localities. I want to look at ways of growing that and not just in news. The introducing strand that local radio has been doing, which I saw first-hand in Bristol on Friday, I think is utterly brilliant. The notion there is a producer called Sam is pulling together across Gloucestershire, Somerset and Bristol and giving chances to bands and other acts to take part in local radio and then, in one or two cases, they end up on Radio 1 or Radio 1Xtra. That is another thing, which to me is why our connection into communities is important.
Q107 Mr Leech: Given that the BBC has identified journalism as its most important editorial priority, should it be protected better from spending cuts?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: At the moment, of course, it is making the savings that have to be made across the corporation, but less so than some other areas. It is one of the questions I have in my mind as I go around. Overall, we have to make these cuts. That is the deal. We have to make them. Everybody else is making do with less; so should we. As I go around if there are areas I think, "You know what, that could do with a little bit extra resource", then I will make my mind up about that. I am some months off doing that, but, to my mind, that is why I want to get out there and meet people on the shop floor and find out what is going on.
Q108 Mr Leech: Is there any evidence that financial constraints have had any impact on the decisions on programming and, therefore, the trust in the BBC?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No. Newsnight have not yet made the cuts that they are supposed to make. As you know, there has been some discussion about the merging of mid-evening, or whatever you call between 7.00pm and 10.00pm, programmes on local radio as part of a savings programme. Again, what I pick up is people are working very hard. I take my hat off to people in local radio stations and other programme areas as well, working very, very hard but that is not damaging the output.
Q109 Mr Leech: As far as Newsnight is concerned, you said they have not implemented cuts yet. Is there any sense that those cuts can’t happen now, because there is a danger that that will have a significant impact at a time when Newsnight has been under the spotlight?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: What I want to do with Newsnight-and the only way I can operate, to be honest with you-is finding, with the news management, the right editor and then get that editor to come and produce the most compelling vision for what Newsnight can be going forward. It is an important programme. I used to work on it a very long time ago, but it is important for the BBC after the 10 o’clock news, at 10.30 at night to have a programme that is reflective of the day, which is adding something that others don’t bring to the day, and on some days when the news perhaps does not reflect that sort of treatment to say, "Do you know what, we have correspondents around the world. We are going to have a look at something else that you should know about". In other words, doing the sort of features that perhaps The Economist does or The New Yorker does. My challenge to the new editor of Newsnight and to the team is: how do we produce that sort of journalism on BBC Two at 10.30 at night? Let us work that out and then work out whether that costs more, the same or, conceivably, less.
Q110 Mr Leech: You don’t rule out Newsnight getting more money rather than less?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: At three-and-a-bit weeks into this job, I don’t rule anything out.
Q111 Steve Rotheram: Can I continue the theme of trust and impartiality of the BBC? Is what happened around the single Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead an example of unnecessary censorship and a denial of free speech, a carefully considered response to uphold decency and good taste, or do you believe that you had to make a necessary compromise to report it but not play it, given the exceptional circumstances?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: That is such an interesting question, and I and the Acting Director of Radio and the controller, Ben, who runs Radio 1, had some interesting conversations about this, as you can imagine. Personally, I thought it was distasteful and it was a campaign, and I have made that absolutely clear. But neither am I into banning things, because that is not what I think my job is or my instincts. By the way, I also know, had we decided to ban it, it would have shot up even further in the charts because people would have said, "To hell with you lot, we will put it up there". What we came to was the right decision, I have no doubt about that, which was saying, "We will treat it as a news story". It is interesting that there was a campaign to get it up there. You couldn’t have the chart show not running a slice of it and then the news programmes all running a bit of it, so I felt it was the right judgment to take.
By the way, I thought Ben going out there, across however many different outlets explaining why we had done what we had done, is exactly what I think we should be doing. I take my hat off to him; I think he explained it very well. He also said something that I think is very interesting. He said, "You also have to set this in the context of Radio 1". Sitting with the Radio 1 team about two weeks ago and just having a chat about things, these are editorial issues they are dealing with all the time but without the kind of profile that that one produced.
Q112 Steve Rotheram: Did the BBC come under undue political pressure in regard to the wider coverage of Mrs Thatcher’s funeral and death?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have had no political pressure on the coverage of Baroness Thatcher’s death at all, nothing. Indeed, what was interesting for me, coming back into the BBC after 12 years in the land of music and dance, I remember vividly at 12.50pm being told, "Baroness Thatcher has died". It was interesting because, within a matter of moments, the then Acting Director of Television was there. The news was there. Everybody came round to then discuss what we should do, discuss issues of the nature of the coverage but also the breadth of it.
When I look back on that, I think we should be proud of the breadth of the coverage that we gave, because on BBC One that night there was an hour and a half obituary on Baroness Thatcher, which I thought was beautifully done by Blakeway Productions and Andrew Marr. Peter Riddell did the most amazing piece of radio on Radio 4, again brilliant. The news, it struck me, covered the bases extremely well. We then went over to the Commons and the Lords for tributes, properly placed in the schedules on the Wednesday, and then giving it fair whack with David Dimbleby doing a great job with the team at BBC One on Wednesday and on Radio 2. Then there are lots of other things that were done that I could pick out. For example, I thought Newsnight on the first night was terrific and a wonderful piece; another obituary there, which I thought was absolutely first rate.
Q113 Steve Rotheram: I don’t deny the extent of the coverage. I think that is one of the things I said about the impartiality of it. But in the terms of the BBC’s Charter, it says that the BBC should be "representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities". Do you think that the coverage accurately reflected all of those individual geographical locations?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I did, to be honest. I am sensitive, partly because of where I come from, to different views and different takes on Baroness Thatcher’s legacy. I thought we did that appropriately and over the seven, eight or nine days-I can’t count up now-that followed, I very much hope we gave a real sense of the different views about her and the Britain that she had helped to create. There is a generational thing here, which I think we thought about very hard. On the first day, Stephanie Flanders did something that you have to remind people about, which is before Mrs Thatcher we could not take more than £50 out of the country. What was BT called at that point, the Post Office or something? Anyway, it owned all the phones. I rapidly thought on our coverage, "We have to, with some of the audience, stand back and explain quite what was going on and give the history and the background to that", which, as someone who lived through that era as journalist, it was quite a valuable lesson to me to remember that.
Lord Patten of Barnes: On that last point, which is clearly an important one, I thought there was a package on the 10 o’clock news on the day of Baroness Thatcher’s death by Mark Easton, the Home Affairs Editor of the BBC, which was absolutely impeccable. It covered all the bases, including conveying some of the points that you would have wanted made. It did so in a wholly fair way and, I think, in a way that Baroness Thatcher would have recognised as being accurate herself.
Q114 Mr Bradshaw: Do you think there was too much of it, overall?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: If you look at the data we got back from our audiences, there were strong sentiments. It is not an overwhelming majority by any sense, nothing like. It was saying, "Was there too much?" We should think about that, but the trouble is the BBC has to give proper weight-almost, and I say this guardedly, despite what the audiences might be telling us-to big national occasions and marking significant people like this. If I am being honest with you, Mr Bradshaw, I would rather be criticised for doing too much than too little. I think that is what people expect of us.
Q115 Mr Bradshaw: You have had a lot of complaints from people that there was too much?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, the complaints are not huge. I am just giving you a flavour of the tone of some of those things. It is interesting that on the night of-I think it was more for television competitiveness reasons-our very fine programme that Andrew Marr did, we did not get the audience of the size I thought it might, but I think that is probably to do with the competition.
Q116 Philip Davies: Lord Hall, on the more general issues of impartiality, do you believe that the BBC does or has in the past had problems with being properly impartial, in either its general coverage politically or on specific issues?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: That is such a huge question.
Philip Davies: A simple "Yes" or "No" would suffice.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Thank you. What I will say to you is: do I believe in the BBC’s impartiality? I simply do. Do I believe our journalists seek to be impartial? I do. Does that mean we always get it right? No.
Q117 Philip Davies: Do you accept that there is a problem with political impartiality at the BBC?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No. I am saying that we have to watch impartiality extremely carefully, and make sure we are covering as many different bases as we can in issues of significance and importance. That is an active thing. It means that you have to keep saying, "If we did this one way one day, let’s do it another way this day and make sure we get a range of voices".
Q118 Philip Davies: Did you see the open letter that Peter Kellner wrote to you in Prospect magazine showing the result of polling?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes, I did.
Q119 Philip Davies: That showed that four times more people thought that BBC coverage was more biased to the left than the right. The figures were quite striking. Among Conservative voters, 34% thought the coverage was biased to the left whereas 29% thought the coverage was fair. Among Labour voters, 45% thought the coverage was fair. Only 6% thought it was biased to the right. What do those figures suggest to you?
Lord Patten of Barnes: Can I just mention some other figures that that survey also showed?
Philip Davies: I am asking about these.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I am sure, but inadvertently you may have missed the point as well. The figures in Peter Kellner’s article also demonstrated that, while trust in all institutions had fallen, I think the BBC was one of only five institutions in which people had a positive view of it. I think it came just after the monarchy and the armed forces and the NHS. I am not sure whether it is in that article or not, but when people are asked which news provider they trust the most, 58% select the BBC, ITV 14%, Sky 6% and newspapers some way behind that. I just offer that because it is obviously the case-
Philip Davies: We know you are the chief cheerleader for the BBC, although you are supposed to be its regulator all the time.
Lord Patten of Barnes: No, I am just offering; I know how keen you are on that.
Q120 Philip Davies: You were so keen to appoint Lord Hall. We would be quite interested to hear his opinions rather than yours.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I think the Chairman has put it extremely well and I think that is right.
Q121 Philip Davies: You just think what the Chairman thinks?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No. Come on, I am not saying that, no. What I want to try to explain to you is that being impartial is central to the BBC. It is something you seek to do all the time. The fact that some people think that you are one way and some people think that you are the other, that is how it is. What my guideline is on these things, and it is something I know James Harding will bring into the operation as do the current people running News too, is that we have to constantly think about, "Are we reflecting what is going on impartially and fairly? Are we reflecting the range of opinions and the range of views?"
Q122 Philip Davies: Those figures that I quoted about what Conservative voters and Labour voters think, and that, overall across the population, more than four times the people think that the BBC’s coverage is more biased to the left than the right, tells you nothing?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Of course, it tells me something. It tells me that-
Q123 Philip Davies: So, what does it tell you? That was my original question.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: It tells me what I have just said, which is it is important for our journalists and our journalism to ensure that we are covering all views on major topics and other topics that come before. But then I can return to other figures that show that trust in our journalism is high; not as high as I think it ought to be, but higher than other forms of news provision in this country.
Q124 Philip Davies: What do you make of the Wilson report that took place into the BBC’s coverage of Europe?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I have not read the Wilson report yet. I have been in the job for three and a half weeks, but I will absolutely read it and then give you a comment on that.
Q125 Philip Davies: Thank you. Can I bring you on to Question Time, which is one of your flagship current affairs programmes? Could you talk me through either how you know the audiences are selected or, if you don’t know, how you think the audiences should be put together for an episode of Question Time?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: My understanding, unless it has changed in the last few years, is the audience is selected to represent as many views as we can in the locality where it is taking place. Again, this is a matter of some detail and if you want me to write to you and explain exactly how we put together our audiences for Question Time, I am more than happy to do that.
Q126 Philip Davies: No, you are absolutely right. That is exactly how it is done. Basically, the audience is put together, according to your predecessor anyway, that reflects the location of Question Time, where it is being held. If we could go a step further. For example, if an episode is being held in Bethnal Green and Bow, would you expect, as the Editor-in-Chief, the audience to reflect the narrow political views of people in Bethnal Green and Bow or in London as a whole?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: That is an interesting question. I don’t know the demographics of Bethnal Green and Bow well, but I would imagine that there are a lot of very diverse views there about life in general, politics and all of that. Should it also reflect the broader make-up of London? Yes, I would encourage that too. What you want from Question Time is diversity of opinion, diversity of view, diversity of people-and I would not dare put words into your mouth-but if you are beginning to suggest that somehow there is a uniformity of view in some of the audiences that would not be what Question Time is there to be.
Q127 Philip Davies: I am looking for a fair reflection of the country’s opinions within a Question Time audience, which seems to me what people would expect from a national programme-that the make-up of the audience will generally reflect the political make-up of the country as a whole. If you want to do it in particular regions, I am trying to get to exactly how the BBC do it. I have a list here of all the locations of Question Time over the past two years because, of course, if you are determined to have a situation where the make-up of the audience reflects the local places then it becomes quite important where the local place is, doesn’t it?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I completely agree with you. If I may say, two reasons why I want to watch Question Time: one is that I think David Dimbleby does an amazingly good job presenting that programme; and two, because I do want to hear what people in various parts of the country are thinking and the diversity of opinion against those who are in power.
Q128 Philip Davies: Will you look at the locations of Question Time, and the audience participation in Question Time, to make sure that they do accurately reflect a fair balance of what the political allegiances are of people across the people or in those areas? I have tried to do this. You believe in transparency, which is a fantastic starting point for people like me, so do you think it would be reasonable for the BBC to let me know-perhaps you could find out and let me know-in each of the locations of Question Time that we have had what the political allegiance of the audience were in each of those locations, so we can all see for ourselves whether or not that was a fair reflection of the places where Question Time was held?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: What I will give you is my judgment about whether Question Time is reflecting the breadth of opinion in this country, not just in London but around the nations and regions as well. It is an important programme. I believe it does do that. But thank you for the idea; I shall make sure it is.
Q129 Philip Davies: It wasn’t an idea; it was a request for information from you. I wasn’t offering up an idea, I was hoping that the idea that the Question Time audience should be balanced wasn’t something that was completely novel to the Director-General. I was hoping that that might be an accepted principle. What I want to find out is whether or not the BBC is delivering on what it should do. The only way I and other people can basically judge whether or not it does that, is whether we can see for ourselves. The predecessor said that a lot of care was taken in putting together Question Time. Given so much care is taken in putting it together, why can’t we see what the outcome of all of that care was?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Mr Davies, I am more than happy to write to you on Question Time, its location and who are in the audiences. Very happy to do that. Because what I am taking from you, which I take as a positive, is that Question Time matters and it matters to me too. I think it is an important programme, and it is an important part of us doing something that reflects the national debate, people’s concerns, and worries, put to those in power.
Q130 Philip Davies: Can I briefly ask you about your view of the questioning of George Osborne about his crying at the funeral, which he was questioned about when he went on the Today programme to talk about something completely different, and Eddie Mair’s interview of Boris Johnson?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I thought both were proper questions to ask and I think the replies in both cases were proper too.
Q131 Philip Davies: Lord Patten, what did you make of both of those interviews?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I thought George Osborne won hands down.
Q132 Philip Davies: I wasn’t asking about the George Osborne bit, I was asking from the BBC bit. Did you think they were fair questions to ask, that they were reasonable questions and that they should be-
Lord Patten of Barnes: They are the sort of questions I have had to answer in the past, not least from Eddie Mair. I have not greatly enjoyed it, necessarily, but I understand the point of that sort of journalism. It is dangerous to put in your own mouth accusations about people but, on the George Osborne point, I thought that George Osborne’s answers were both eventually witty and won the encounter on his part, which doesn’t always happen when people are interviewed by the admirable Mr Humphrys.
Q133 Philip Davies: Finally, can you explain why the BBC spent so much money resisting a freedom of information request to find out who the people were that were advising the BBC on what their approach to climate change should be?
Lord Patten of Barnes: Are you asking me or-
Philip Davies: Either of you. You seem to both speak; it is like Romulus and Remus.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I am on my best behaviour today. I don’t want to add to YouTube. I am not sure precisely what point you are making, but I can say something general, which I think indicates that it is a point about which we have thought. It is the case that most scientists think that climate change and global warming are taking place, and it is also the case that most of the scientists who take that view think that mankind has contributed to that. It is also the case that there are many scientists and experts who dispute that. In covering the issue, what the BBC plainly has to do is to make sure that the views of the second group are reflected as well as the views of the first group. That is a difficult thing to do, but I am sure it is one that we should continue to do as well as we can. We haven’t always dealt with the issue as well as we could have done. For example, I will not mention the individuals, but one or two individuals have not been well treated on this issue in the past.
Q134 Philip Davies: Would you share all of that analysis, Lord Hall?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes, I think our job is to give proportionate weight to all views on issues. I go back to: what is the role of the BBC? I think we are there to reflect as many properly held views as we can, on issues of current debate and importance. Climate change is obviously one of those.
Q135 Philip Davies: In future, when people want to know things, like the panel of climate change experts that the BBC have convened to advise it on the topic, you won’t be rushing to court, as the BBC did in the past, to resist releasing that information?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I am not aware of the request that was put in, but again I will look into that.
Philip Davies: Thank you.
Q136 Steve Rotheram: Just to conclude on the impartiality questions, despite the bashing that the BBC sometimes gets in the right-wing press, how do you respond to the fact that a survey found only one third of Tory voters believe that the BBC did have a left-wing bias? Does that demonstrate that the vast majority, despite the right-wing press, of Tory voters believe that the BBC isn’t left-wing biased?
Lord Patten of Barnes: Can I make a couple of points about that? First of all, as Mr Davies was pointing out, we get a lot of freedom of information requests, not least from newspapers. I am not aware yet of a freedom of information request from a newspaper to compare the amount of trust people have in the BBC and the amount of trust they have in particular newspapers, and I am looking forward-
Q137 Philip Davies: They do not have to be impartial.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I totally agree but, nevertheless, trust is an admirable quality, as you pointed out to me once before, Mr Davies. Surely the real point though is this: that if you take a reasonably elevated view of British voters, the British electorate, British newspaper readers, British consumers of information, the fact that overwhelmingly they trust the BBC more than any other news provider must suggest something. I hope it doesn’t suggest that you think that they are out of their minds. I think it suggests that they are pretty fair about these things. Mr Davies is entirely correct to say that it is not the role of newspapers to be impartial, but people do want to have trusted news sources. The fact that they trust the BBC so much-but, as the Director-General said, not as much as we would like-does seem to me to be a matter of some relevance to this argument about impartiality and fairness. I listen to one of our editors, like Stephanie Flanders, I listen to Hugh Pym, those people talking about the economy, and I think it would be very difficult to imagine difficult subjects handled with greater care than they manage.
Just one final point. It must surely be the case that a sense that the BBC is not being impartial is always felt by supporters of a Government at any particular time, because the Government represents the orthodoxy of the day. I have been on Question Time when I was allowed to have opinions. I have been on Question Time as a member of the Government and as a member of the Opposition, and you get a hell of lot easier ride when you are in opposition than when you are in government, because you do not inevitably have to defend some quite unpopular actions. So I do think you need to factor that into the argument.
Q138 Angie Bray: Just two very short questions; first, on being careful not to abuse the trust that there clearly is in the BBC. You keep saying you are impartial. If you say it often enough, people believe you. What about the fact that during the controversy over welfare changes recently, in a debate across the Floor of the House, clearly the Opposition had a very good term for it. They called it the "bedroom tax". Why was it that successive news bulletins kept referring to the "bedroom tax", which is inaccurate? They called it the "so-called" but nevertheless called by who?
Lord Patten of Barnes: They may have made one or two references like that at the outset, but I think I am right in saying-and there is a very good letter from Fran Osborne on this subject, which I am sure we can make available to you-that very rapidly they referred to "what the Opposition referred to as the bedroom tax".
Q139 Angie Bray: Yes, but it took a bit of time for that to happen. So what is the mindset that starts out with the wrong-
Lord Patten of Barnes: I don’t think it did take all that long, Ms Bray. There is one other thing I would like to add on this question of impartiality. We are about to produce a review of the breadth of voice in covering three subjects, which I think are of particular interest to a lot of people: immigration, Europe and religion. I think that will be a useful contribution to the discussion to the debate we have been having this morning.
Q140 Angie Bray: Final question: do you think it was acceptable, on the day of Lady Thatcher’s funeral, for BBC Radio London in covering the fact that certain people felt that we should have had Prime Minister’s Questions on that day, but they were cancelled for the funeral, to put it that it was "a good day for burying bad news"? Was that acceptable?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I would need-
Q141 Angie Bray: It happened to me. The question was put to me, in fact.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes. I would very much like to see the context and what was going on around that remark before I comment on it.
Q142 Angie Bray: On the particular day of the funeral to talk about a good day to bury bad news?
Lord Patten of Barnes: I don’t know the detail but if you make a complaint we would certainly look at it. While I don’t know the detail, I think overall the coverage of Baroness Thatcher’s death and funeral were exemplary, and I think that is overwhelmingly the view of the public too.
Q143 Paul Farrelly: Lord Hall, I want to ask you about the strike that welcomed you to the BBC, but my mind just wandered off during Philip’s questioning. Perhaps we should resurrect the old clapometer for Question Time and have BBC uniformed ushers with bell boy and bell girl hats scurrying around, exhorting people in the audience to clap louder or more softly, so that every guest receives exactly the same clappage.
Lord Patten of Barnes: I must say the only time I appeared on Question Time and was aware of the authorities trying to gauge precisely what the views of every member of the audience were, was when I appeared on Question Time in Shanghai.
Q144 Paul Farrelly: Because we could have Peter Snow beamed in from North Korea in a top window to just verify the clapometer doesn’t discriminate.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: There was a very interesting debate programme on BBC3 that took place last night, looking at issues around rentals and all sorts of things, with a very young audience from Goldsmiths. There every answer given by the panel and tweets about their answer is monitored on a screen, so you know exactly what they are saying and, of course, that is how that audience thinks. It is not the clapometer but it is very interesting.
Paul Farrelly: I first realised the BBC must be on strike when I turned on the Today programme to find a lovely quaint-
Chair: Before you go to the next section, Jim wanted to come in.
Q145 Jim Sheridan: Very briefly on impartiality and, like Conor Burns, can I declare an interest in the fact that I believe very strongly in public service broadcasting. But I am a socialist, unlike Conor. I am a non-paranoid Labour supporter. There is an organisation I had never heard of, the Electronic Intifada. I don’t know anything about them. They have a headline reading "Apologists for Israel Take Top Posts at the BBC", and they go on to criticise you and say you are a very clear pro-Israel supporter. They then criticise James Purnell as former Labour Friends of Israel, when he was a Member of Parliament. Then they criticise Ceri Thomas for repeatedly inviting Israeli politicians to do interviews as opposed to the other side. I suggest that you properly challenge those allegations. But what checks and balances are in place to make sure when covering things, like Israel, Palestine, that both sides have an equal hearing?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Personally, I have had no connection whatsoever with any pro-Israel or other groupings, so I don’t quite know where that has come from. As we talked about earlier, James Purnell has no editorial role and has hung up his boots on all those issues. I go back to James Harding. When you enter the BBC you leave behind all those contacts you might have had, issues that you might have been involved with, and your job is about ensuring the impartiality of the BBC, and-per the interesting discussion we had earlier on-that means looking at all the ranges of voices across all issues, including Israel.
Q146 Jim Sheridan: What checks and balances are in place?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: There is me. There are complaints. There is the Trust. I can tell you now that James Harding and I will be absolutely clear about impartiality as we cover Israel or Palestine or any other issue.
Lord Patten of Barnes: There are some wonderful journalists, like Jeremy Bowen and Ian Pannell, who have been in Syria, who risked their lives to report news in the sort of way that I think you would approve of.
Q147 Paul Farrelly: Just very briefly to the strike, which I first realised was on when there was a charming programme about laverbread on in place of the Today programme in the morning. Members of the BBC who have gone on strike have cited concerns about the compulsory redundancies, excessive workloads, but also bullying and harassment and a general dissatisfaction with morale. Tony, as the new Director-General, could you say what you have done so far in meeting the staff and what have been the outcomes of your discussions?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: Yes. As I said earlier, I have been spending between a day and two days a week getting out there, meeting the staff and listening to their concerns. As I go around talking to them about the issues-in many cases, there are some very interesting editorial issues and creative issues about what they are trying to do, but also talking to them about the issues that matter to them-I have been in a number of staff meetings where I have said, "You can either ask me a question or just make a statement", and I think that is important.
Second, I have met the general secretaries of both the NUJ and BECTU. I am going to the NUJC meeting early next week, and I very much hope we can work out a way of handling things that are clearly in our interest: handling redundancies properly; handling properly any claims there are on bullying or harassment or it not being a good place to work. We have a report by Dinah Rose that is going to come out in the next two or three weeks, which I hope, in the way we present it, will be an exemplar for the broadcasting industry about how we can handle the tensions and the difficulties that go on in all creative workplaces.
I hope that there is an agenda that we can agree with the unions and the staff to take forward in a constructive way. But the constraint is that we, like everybody else in this country, are constrained by a licence fee settlement, which is flat, plus absorbing other organisations-which is good-helping S4C and so on. We have to absorb compulsory redundancies. You cannot get away from that. That is the nature of the beast, like every other part of the economy. So how we do that properly is a matter of concern to me.
Q148 Paul Farrelly: I referred to a conversation earlier that I had with an old friend, a long-serving BBC employee, not a union rep, not a militant, who said to me that, beyond all the reasons given by the unions, this is about despising the management. Those were his words, "This is about them and us. This is about Chiefs and Indians still". I asked him what his thoughts about you coming were. He described that when you were previously there you were known as "the Chief Prefect". The message that was coming over was the feeling very much from people on the ground floor; it was only the Indians that were getting the detentions while the top layer was still getting off scot-free and being rewarded for failure. How much of a priority is it for you to change that very real feeling within the BBC?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: A priority for me, and it is one of the pieces of work I want to do over the next four to five months, is to repair and restore that link between the management board and the staff. It is important to me because we are a creative organisation. I want us to be the place that people want to go to work. Also, I want the argument and discussion about where the BBC is going, going forward, to be one that the staff feel energised about and feel, "Do you know what, these people are listening and there is something here that will motivate us all going forward". So staff relations is something I take a huge interest in and I hope that, not just in my first few weeks but by continuing to go around the country and meet people, I will keep in close contact with the staff and what they are thinking. What has been interesting is a number of people have emailed me after various meetings and said, "I want to come and talk about this with you" or, "Have you thought about that?" and I take some comfort from that.
I also think it is about managers in the middle too. I have had some very interesting conversations, mostly by telephone, with the top 400, 450 managers. I hope that I can make a difference in terms of communication in the organisation, both physically and also in terms of other methods as well.
Q149 Jim Sheridan: Just a very brief question. The Education and Culture Committee in the Scottish Parliament expressed some concern about the capability of the BBC to cover the Commonwealth Games due to lack of resources. Are their concerns founded?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: The Director of Scotland, Ken, has told me that he is content he has the resources that he needs. Again, I will be honest with you: if he came back and said, "Do you know what, I am worried about the referendum", or, "I am worried about the Commonwealth Games", I will make sure he has the tools to do the job. Those are two mega-important events for the BBC, for Scotland, but also for the whole of the UK and, indeed, with the Commonwealth Games, for the whole of the Commonwealth.
Q150 Conor Burns: Can we move on to BBC Worldwide and Lonely Planet, which I accept predates your arrival? This transaction makes Gordon Brown’s sale of the gold look like a Warren Buffett moment. It is commercially disastrous. Who is taking responsibility for that?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: The Chief Executive Worldwide has gone. He is now replaced by Tim Davie. What Tim Davie and I are doing is working out a new way of working with Worldwide, so that globally we can take the BBC’s brand around the world but also, internally, handle decisions about Worldwide as if they were key BBC decisions within the body of the kirk. Because in a number of genres-in fact, many genres-investment by Worldwide is central to those genres, for example, like the National History Unit. I want to bind the commercial arm of the BBC into the way we think about making programmes, making dramas, making all of these sorts of things much more firmly, so that when we do make decisions on investment, or whatever, they are absolutely core to the BBC’s purpose.
Q151 Conor Burns: Tim Davie’s appointment to this position was warmly welcomed. He was superb in his role as Acting Director-General in stabilising the institution in its time of crisis. Before we focus on where they go next, can you confirm the reported pay-off of the outgoing Chief Executive, which was reported to be in the region of £1 million and a £4 million pension pot?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: I cannot confirm that. As I say, it was not in my time and that deal was done some time before I arrived.
Q152 Conor Burns: Lord Patten, do you have anything to add?
Lord Patten of Barnes: No idea what the figures are for John Smith’s departure. It is true that he, I think, has gone to the job as Chief Operating Officer of Burberry.
Q153 Conor Burns: I am not going to buy shares in them, I suspect.
Lord Patten of Barnes: It is true that over the last few years Worldwide has done incredibly well, and has put about £1.3 billion into the rest of the BBC. As I think the Committee knows, it is also the case that the Lonely Planet deal was at a time of a lot of M&A activity-ITV got involved in something that did not work frightfully well. That particular Lonely Planet deal is one, when I became Chairman of the Trust, I made clear I would not have been very happy about myself, and, partly because of what has happened to the Australian dollar in comparison to sterling, we have lost a lot more. Worldwide have lost a lot of money on it.
I don’t think it is the sort of thing that Worldwide should do. I don’t think it is core, and I wholly agree with what the Director-General said about the importance of Worldwide representing commercially what the public service BBC is doing. It does it fantastically well with the sale of programmes, like Top Gear and Strictly Come Dancing, and Sherlock and others, and I think will do it increasingly under Tim Davie in a way that doesn’t ever dilute the brand.
Q154 Paul Farrelly: We clearly looked at Lonely Planet very closely in 2008-09, when we looked at the BBC’s Worldwide operations. Could you just confirm that John Smith was one of the changes during George Entwistle’s short reign? Could you write to us to confirm the terms of his departure, whether they were voluntary or not?
Lord Patten of Barnes: Yes. I think that they were agreed, so voluntary I suppose.
Q155 Paul Farrelly: No doubt they will be disclosed in the BBC report and accounts in due course, so perhaps you could write to us.
Lord Patten of Barnes: Okay.
Q156 Paul Farrelly: There is no doubt that under his leadership Worldwide did-
Lord Patten of Barnes: Made a lot of money.
Paul Farrelly: -make a lot of money. But there was this one particular hiccup along the way. When we looked at it a few years ago, I was particularly astounded by the price that was paid. It was £120 million then, £130 million with the exchange rate, so going up now. That was for a business that was losing money and had a turnover of £45 million or so. So it was three times turnover and 87% of that turnover was in books. It wasn’t as if the BBC were going into a valuable social networking situation or was making a break into the worldwide travel agency market. It was a publishing deal and it didn’t look to stack up at the time, and I think time has proved that to be right.
We asked a lot of questions about the deal, and I won’t repeat them because they are in our report. But one of the questions that we did ask was what steps the BBC board took to make sure that it was satisfied independently that terms of any such deals were fair and reasonable. Zarin Patel gave me the answer. She said that is one of the reasons why the Group FD, which she was, is a non-executive director of the Worldwide board, so clearly something went wrong there. Zarin Patel has also left.
Lord Patten of Barnes: Is leaving.
Q157 Paul Farrelly: In similar terms, could you let us know whether that departure was voluntary and the terms of the departure?
Lord Patten of Barnes: It was voluntary.
Q158 Paul Farrelly: If you could let us know the terms of the departure it would aid transparency. Is Anne Bulford in place now?
Lord Hall of Birkenhead: No, she starts early June.
Paul Farrelly: Thank you.
Chair: We have reached our final destination, unless any of my colleagues have anything further. No. Then I thank the two of you for appearing this morning-and this afternoon.