Tim Davie says BBC is ‘no place’ for ‘opinionated columnists’

The BBC’s new Director-General has told staff if they want to be opinionated columnists or a partisan campaigners on social media they ‘should not be working at the BBC’.

Tim Davie, who took over this week, said the broadcaster needed to ‘urgently champion and recommit to impartiality’.

He insisted his drive was ‘about being free from political bias, guided by the pursuit of truth, not a particular agenda’.

But it came just days after he floated a radical overhaul of the broadcaster’s comedy output in the coming months, over fears it is seen as ‘too one-sided’.

His latest remarks – widely seen as a swipe at woke presenters mouthing off on Twitter – came after he ordered a u-turn on a ban on Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory at Last Night of the Proms.  

The comments were in his first official speech in Cardiff on Thursday lunchtime and follow controversies over impartiality, including Newsnight host Emily Maitlis sparking a furore with a monologue on the Dominic Cummings lockdown row.

The BBC later said the episode ‘did not meet our standards of due impartiality’.

BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty was also rebuked last year after commenting on remarks made by US President Donald Trump.

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker is also known for tweeting political views and opinions on his social media.

Mr Davie said: ‘We urgently need to champion and recommit to impartiality. It is deliverable and it is essential.

‘If you work here, nothing should be more exciting than exploring different views, seeking evidence with curiosity and creatively presenting testimony. Making use of our own experiences but not driven by our personal agendas. I wonder if some people worry that impartiality could be a little dull.

‘To be clear, this is not about abandoning democratic values such as championing fair debate or an abhorrence of racism. But it is about being free from political bias, guided by the pursuit of truth, not a particular agenda.

‘If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.’ 

New BBC Director General Tim Davie delivers his first speech with a few warning shots

Match of the Day host Gary Lineker

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis

Both Gary Lineker and Emily Maitlis have prompted controversy and accusations of partiality

BBC’s new Director-General Tim Davie made his first speech in his new job today

BBC’s new Director-General Tim Davie made his first speech in his new job today

New BBC DG’s TV highlight so far

‘If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC’

‘I want a radical shift in our focus from the internal to the external, to focus on those we serve: the public. From Cornwall to Shetland, from Suffolk to County Fermanagh’

‘I want staff to spend much more time outside the BBC listening to those who pay for us’

‘We must pick our battles carefully and make sure we get the biggest bang for limited bucks’

‘It is so easy to roll your eyes when we hear of bureaucracy and internal politics as if it cannot be changed. But we can and should be better than that’ 

He warned there was ‘no room for complacency’ over the broadcaster’s future.

The new director-general added that it was ‘still relevant in millions of people’s lives’.

But he insisted that ‘as we look to the future, there is no room for complacency. The truth is that for all our extraordinary efforts there is significant risk.

‘If current trends continue we will not feel indispensable enough to all our audience. We must evolve to protect what we cherish.

‘The evidence is unequivocal – the future of a universal BBC can no longer be taken for granted.’

He also said the broadcaster has spread itself ‘too thinly’ amid competition from streaming giants.

He suggested it is time to ‘stop’ making some shows and called for an end to ‘dangerous’ navel-gazing at the BBC.

His speech, as questions are raised about the future of the TV licence, made clear that he opposes the idea of ‘a subscription’ model, saying it would ‘serve the few’.

But the ‘deep attachment’ the audience have with the BBC ‘is under pressure and cannot be taken for granted’, he added.

He said there are no short-term plans to shut channels but ‘this moment marks the end of linear expansion for the BBC’. 

Mr Davie had reversed the BBC ban on patriotic anthems at the Last Night of the Proms

Mr Davie had reversed the BBC ban on patriotic anthems at the Last Night of the Proms

New Director General says BBC must ‘make less’ as he suggests there could be cull of content at broadcaster

The BBC’s new chief has suggested there could be a cull of content at the broadcaster.

The corporation has responded to competition from US giants by making more and more, Tim Davie said.

But it was time to ‘make less’, the director-general said in his first speech to staff.

‘The truth is that we have tried to cope with increasing competition by making more and spreading ourselves too thinly.

‘Of course, we need to offer a broad choice as the BBC, and we should not retreat to a narrow offer,’ he added.

‘But we have been too slow to stop things that don’t work.’

Davie, the 17th director-general, said: ‘We are going to look in all areas and identify how we can have more impact by making less.

‘I want us to consider what we would do if we could only make 80% of our current hours. What would we stop?’

He said the ‘simple’ move was not ‘about cuts to save money’.

Davie praised dramas such as Normal People, Line Of Duty, Fleabag, an EastEnders special, and documentaries Blue Planet 2 and Once Upon A Time In Iraq.

He said Strictly Come Dancing, Wimbledon, comedy This Country, the BBC’s VE Day 75 coverage, educational service BBC Bitesize, the World Service and regional and national news were all examples of where the broadcaster builds a connection with the audience.   

And ‘we will not hesitate to close channels if they do not offer value to our audiences’, he added. 

Mr Davie is also looking at options for alternative funding for the organisation.

The BBC’s current licence fee model is guaranteed until 2027 under a royal charter.

But speculation is growing that Mr Davie could opt to change the funding model earlier for a new long-term option, reports The Guardian. 

The Swedish-style income tax model is one option, while Mr Davie’s predecessor Lord Tony Hall has previously mentioned an option which would see the fee added to council tax bills.

Lord Hall’s exit after seven years in the role came amid a turbulent time for the BBC.

The broadcaster faces scrutiny over equal pay, diversity, free TV licences for the over-75s and competition from streaming services such as Netflix, as well as the on-going coronavirus crisis. 

Davie was acting director-general for four months following George Entwistle’s resignation in November 2012 before Lord Hall’s appointment, and previously served as the corporation’s head of audio.

Before joining the BBC in 2005, he worked in marketing.

Davie started as the BBC hit controversy over the decision to play orchestral versions of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory at the Last Night Of The Proms.

The BBC is also expecting to receive a report into the use of social media by its staff, including presenters, written by Richard Sambrook. 

It comes as The Mail on Sunday revealed how a former Downing Street adviser is behind a secret new project to set up an ‘impartial’ television news channel to rival the crisis-hit BBC.

Sir Robbie Gibb – who was a senior BBC executive before becoming Theresa May’s director of communications at No 10 – is spearheading a drive to raise funds for GB News.

The 24-hour station, due to launch early next year, aims to capitalise on growing discontent over the BBC, with sources describing it as an antidote to the ‘woke, wet’ Corporation.

Former BBC Director Lord Tony Hall had the role before Mr Davie and departed last month

Former BBC Director Lord Tony Hall had the role before Mr Davie and departed last month

Sir Robbie’s channel will use standard digital platforms such as Freeview, and has already been given a licence by broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

Pressure on the BBC will further increase with the development of a second rival news channel from Rupert Murdoch’s News UK company, likely to be streamed online in a similar way to Netflix.

Sir Robbie’s venture comes amid growing tensions between No 10 and the BBC, with Downing Street saying the Corporation speaks only to a ‘pro-Remain metropolitan bubble’ and Boris Johnson accusing the BBC of ‘cringing embarrassment about our history’.

The Government periodically boycotts flagship news programmes such as Radio 4’s Today, while Downing Street is also considering accelerating its plans to decriminalise non-payment of the £157.50-a-year licence fee. 

No Netflix-style subs BBC boss says 

The BBC will not switch from the licence fee to a subscription service, the new DG announced today.

Tim Davie said the move would relegate the boradcaster to ‘just another media company’ for ‘the few’.

 He added: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, I do not want a subscription BBC that serves the few.

‘We could make a decent business out of it, and I suspect it could do quite well in certain postcodes, but it would make us just another media company serving a specific group.

‘The UK’s creative industries have been a global economic success because of a rather enlightened blend of the free market and smart universal interventions like the BBC, and our landmark museums… open to all.

‘It is a brilliant national success that future generations deserve to benefit from. ‘ 

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