Ruling the waves

Baroness Deech

Lord (Chris) Patten has been, and will continue to be, the most excellent Chancellor of Oxford University, held in affection by all. He is there when needed, his speeches are always a delight and apt for the occasion, and his attentions are directed to all colleges equally (unlike his predecessor Lord (Roy) Jenkins, who made it quite clear that very few colleges, and certainly no former women’s colleges, could be regarded in the same light as Balliol.) So I am very sorry indeed to learn that Lord Patten has been unwell and, along with all those who have worked with him, wish him a speedy return to good health. He has had to take off the mantle of chairmanship of the BBC, and the papers are rife with speculation about his possible successor.

I have read that the government would like to see a woman in the role.  I am against quotas and affirmative discrimination, but I support the notion in this case.  Women generally are not nearly as prone to squandering money on large pay offs and salaries, and on the whole do not determine these matters on macho lines. As a governor I protested to the then chairman about the size of, and the need for, bonuses for senior staff who, after all, were already well paid and not there to make a profit: he told me that as I was an academic (cue curl of the lip) I was so badly paid that I could not understand money. A new chairman who comes from a profession or background where one has to be more parsimonious would be welcome. Maybe someone from the charity or not-for-profit sectors. Please no bankers or investors to whom £m are trifling sums! So value for money will be the watchword of the new chair. I was also right about the superfluity of BBC3, which I thought should have been sacrificed years ago.

Will a new chair be expected to reform the governance of the BBC? We have lived through that. Even before the Gilligan affair, the Governors were distancing themselves from the executive, and even from Broadcasting House, and went off to Marylebone High St. That distance I think was too far, for it was all too easy to lose touch with what the executives were doing and thinking every day and, on balance, we governors (now trustees, but there is no difference) were better informed when we were closer to the executive. Maybe one board containing executives and non-executives is the answer. Yet the possible styles of governance seem to me to be less determinative than the personalities on board. 

Whoever is the new chairman needs to love, watch and listen to the BBC and understand its profound influence on our lifelong education, entertainment and information. No matter how much the future is digital, watching and listening figures have held up, and for trustworthy informed sourcing there is as yet nothing better. The new chair must understand IT and digital developments, in order to keep abreast and to avoid more losses on over-ambitious data projects. Public service is the ethos, and transparency, no more resisting FOI and holding back documents that will tell us all where our licence fee money is going.

For years I have found the BBC complaints system unsatisfactory: the number that succeed is so tiny that one suspects resistance to challenge and overconfidence. The BBC ought to have an outside ombudsman to settle complaints, rather than leaving it to insiders, whose decisions are bound to seem less independent than they ought to be. In my 2012 Gresham lecture on this topic I discussed the issue –

The biggest job confronting the new chair will be renewal of the Charter in 2016, already underway. As I have written in relation to press regulation, ( a Royal Charter is a curious way of making law, in many ways less democratic and accountable than an Act of Parliament, and vulnerable to being a stitch up between Ministers. It is however more flexible and is renewed every 10 years in order to reflect the current developments in media and the needs of the BBC and its public.  The future of the licence fee must be a pressing issue, given that many viewers and listeners are on line rather than in front of a box, and there are claims for top-slicing to fund other worthy ventures.

A multitasking chair navigating from Salford to W1A, from analogue to digital, from world service to local – a few tears along the way – it takes a woman!

4 comments for “Ruling the waves

  1. maude elwes
    14/05/2014 at 1:08 pm

    What has been chilling to experience over these most recent months, since Lord Patten took the chair at the BBC, is how obvious it is they are the propaganda arm of government, no matter the colour. They don’t have to adjust very much on change of leadership as they tend to mainly beat the same dreadful drum.

    Of course I was aware of much of it, but, even cynical old me had not really absorbed how much we are ruled, both here and in Europe, by the US mantra on all things. The insane and juvenile way the game is being played against Russia is laughable. And more than that, how inept our stooges placed in positions of so called ‘world power’ really are. Kerry, Nuland, Ashton, and all. My goodness this is what we are forced to follow and respect and pretend is in our best interests. Pleeeeeese.

    The fear is, who will take over from Patten? What is there in line to replace him? Another female PC individual, or, fat controller akin to Bunter, or maybe the fashionable Islamic who will robotically move in rhythm to the instruction of the lunatic on the end of the joy stick. The same way one does with Christian Songs of Praise on a Sunday BBC TV.

  2. Howell of Trent Valley
    15/05/2014 at 6:31 pm

    “I was also right about the superfluity of BBC3, which I thought should have been sacrificed years ago.”

    I have very much enjoyed many of the programmes on Radio 3 for quite a few years; in fact my musical theory education has beenn “acquired” from it, quite apart from the little that I received as a school boy.

    I sometimes wonder whether there are more than a few hundred listening to the programmes at any given time. it is highly likely that there are not.

    There is a very good case for putting it exclusively on to the internet. I t might well gain listening numbers rather than lose them

    with regard to the complaints procedure i have been was seriusly libelled twice in my life,by prime time presenters, both of which libels surface from time to time in my public life although one of these has been courteous enough to apologize
    (while my lawyer Cherie Blair was present), an apology which i was glad to accept.

    I have had no such apology from the second; the question of production company also arises; when the complaint is against the production company and when against the BBC.

    I expect to get satisfaction for the second defamatory remark
    before long, but I wont say how …for now!

    When one has the power to speak with privilege in a parliamentary (main)chamber it is rather easier to deal with such defamation.I have only had the committee rooms, in which to put my spoke, and even then it might well have been out of order for a member of the public to speak.

    Shelling out tens of thousands on libel writs, is not something anybody wants to do, especially as a youth in one’s 20s!

    • maude elwes
      16/05/2014 at 12:00 pm

      @ Howell of Trent Valley:

      Not only BBC3 knocked on the head, so has our Radio 4 Today snippet. I listened to that for years, day after day, and enjoyed it immensely. Now, I can’t listen to it for a minute. It has so little to do with my perception of daily life in the UK. To gain any interest at all, I would have to be a foreigner living in the wonderful microcosm of the world to get the gist of this programme emanating from the UK.

      And whilst I’m at it. Why have all our TV presenters, mainly strange looking women, taken to gurning as they present any programme they elected to carry. The odd facial emphasis as they speak leaves one unable to track the meaning of the topic, as you become wrapped up in the secret message of face pulling. Not to mention the latest obvious effeminate leaning of the very few male additions. It’s got to the point where I forget how a regular man presents on screen. Where have the hunks gone? Silly, soft and wet is not an attractive alternative to masculine testosterone. Even Nureyev was able to exude masculine prowess to the delight of female audiences.

      And the great man himself.

    • Baroness Deech
      Baroness Deech
      16/05/2014 at 9:51 pm

      I hope you are not confusing Radio 3, the classical music programme for listeners, which is very valuable; and BBC3, a TV channel aimed at 16-34 year olds, offering “comedy”, and watched by 1.4% of the population

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