Outgoing BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson has offered words of wisdom to new director general George Entwistle, in a speech that both attacked the corporation’s current culture and suggested how it could be put right.
Addressing the Church and Media Conference at the Beeb’s new Salford HQ MediaCityUK, Thomson – who was overlooked for the top job in favour of Entwistle in July – warned: “It’s quite easy for the BBC to get a bit above itself and forget about everyone else.” Advising the organisation to be “confident, but not arrogant”, Thomson stressed that the current closeness of senior ranks concentrated in London was dangerous, and had led executives to “eat and drink with each other and marry each other and have affairs with each other and so on”.
However, she added that, in units such as the new Salford centre, it was “much more likely” that the BBC would be outward-looking and less prone to exist in its own, myopic bubble. Plans for further decentralisation under Entwistle are already in place, with 1,000 more posts set to head north from the Capital, so Thomson’s critique would appear to be an endorsement of the management strategy – although rumours of a rethink abound following criticism from staff resistant to the relocation, and shows such as BBC Breakfast struggling to draw high-profile guests to the northern locale.
With Thomson departing in the wake of a swift restructuring drive, which saw her department subsumed into one business division under finance chief Zarin Patel, many media observers were braced for a broadside – particularly as Thomson had been pegged a favourite for the DG role. But with Entwistle already stating his aims for the corporation to be more flexible and self-critical, the speech is a sign that both parties wish to part company on amicable terms at the dawn of a new management era.
Image courtesy of BBC