Chris Patten has just appeared on the Andrew Marr Show to discuss the resignation of George Entwistle and to evaluate its fallout. Patten conceded that the BBC is mired in a mess of its own making and that it was inevitably under pressure as a result. He opened a media war while defending the BBC’s independence, saying that the corporation was ‘bound to be under fire from Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers’ and sceptical (Tory) MPs, adding later in the interview that Murdoch’s papers would be happy to see the BBC diminished. (There is no love lost between Murdoch and Patten, after the Murdoch-owned publisher Harper Collins decided against producing Patten’s account of his time as Governor of Hong Kong, allegedly on the grounds that the book would offend the Chinese authorities.)
Patten was adamant that he would not resign. He said that it was his job to serve the ‘interests of licence fee payers… to show that the BBC has grip… My job is to make sure that we learn from [the impending Pollard and Smith inquiries]… and restore confidence and trust’ in the corporation. He said that he would not be ‘grandstanding’ and neither would he be taking editorial decisions; but he vowed to be ‘vociferous’. He recalled his joke that there are more senior managers in the BBC than there are in the Chinese communist party, only he recalled it with little humour. He said that there would be a ‘thorough radical structural overall’ of the management structures which allowed the Newsnight scandal to develop. He said that viewers and licence fee payers need to be sure that ‘Newsnight and other programmes are properly managed’ to guard against the recurrence of what he termed ‘shoddy journalism’.
This talk of structural reform led naturally to the future of the director generalship. Patten said that he would choose a new director general, perhaps from outside the organisation, within ‘weeks rather than months’. He will also ensure that the appointee is surrounded by a team that can make the job do-able. Here Patten was drawing on the advice offered by Sir Max Hastings and Jonathan Dimbleby earlier in the programme; it was that kind of interview: an exercise in showing that he, and therefore the corporation, were responding to criticisms and that he has ‘grip’ (his word) on the crisis.
UPDATE: Patten’s good work on Marr was partly undone by the bizarre decision not to appear on Sky News, a decision that was reversed a few moments ago when Patten gave an interview to Sky. He repeated much of what he had said to Andrew Marr about restoring trust and guiding reform. And he renewed his assault on the Murdoch press, saying: ‘I’m not going to take my marching orders from Mr Murdoch’s newspaper.’ This hectoring tone was a reference to the Sunday Times’ leading column this morning, which says ‘If [Patten] has any sense of honour, should take responsibility for promoting his creature and go too. He made great play about defending the corporation’s independence against a perfectly innocuous inquiry by Maria Miller, the culture secretary, over the Savile affair. Yet her concern has been amply vindicated. The corporation is out of control.’
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