The marketing man with a Conservative background is the exactly the right person to defend the corporation from a determined assault from the rightby Jean Seaton / October 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
“Can you survive being DG?” Tim Davie asked me when he was temporarily catapulted into the job of Director-General of the BBC in 2012. Davie had previously been passed over for the job in favour of George Entwistle, who came and went in 54 days as the BBC was engulfed in a scandal that struck at the institution’s soul. Having been too quiet for too long on the rumours about Jimmy Savile, the corporation had then broadcast false allegations of paedophilia against an unnamed Conservative politician, soon identified online as the former Tory chair Lord McAlpine. Amid this mess, Davie was watching Skyfall with his wife and three sons in a Reading cinema when he got the call from the BBC Chair Chris Patten.
Eight years later he has the job outright, after waiting undercover like a cheetah—with the presence and the power to spring. And he’s hungry for it too. Last year, he turned down an approach to head the Premier League on a salary significantly higher than he will earn at the BBC. Indeed, Davie is taking a £150,000 pay cut from his current position as head of the commercial arm, BBC Studios. The person who one former BBC journalist described as “this South London geezer who is proud to have made it” could be the one to shift the BBC from its current defensive posture.
The challenges are epic. Domestically, Davie faces a new order of political attack. Boris Johnson’s government has the BBC in its sights as part of its (so far) successful game plan to turn established institutions into enemies of the people—so that their independence can be stymied and their authority tamed. (The rumour is that the last Director-General, Tony Hall, adroitly retired in August to protect the independence of his successor’s appointment from any potentially hostile new BBC Chair—David Clementi steps down from that post at the end of this year.) For some key players in government, hostility towards the broadcaster long predates the BBC’s Brexit coverage, which Leavers have regarded as being biased towards the Remain side. A 2004 blog post by the New Frontiers Foundation, a short-lived think-tank run by the Prime Minister’s now-chief aide Dominic Cummings, states: “There are three structural things that the right needs to happen in terms of communications… 1)…