BBC boss tells MPs there are imbalances of power in ‘strange’ TV industry

Tim Davie appeared in front of MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday to answer questions on a wide range of topics.
Tim Davie appeared in front of MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday to answer questions on a wide range of topics. Tim Davie appeared in front of MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday to answer questions on a wide range of topics.

BBC director-general Tim Davie has said “imbalances of power are dangerous and we care about them” as he answered questions about safeguarding at the corporation from MPs at a parliamentary committee amid the departure of Phillip Schofield from ITV.

Mr Davie and two of the broadcaster’s other executives appeared before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday to answer questions on a wide range of topics, including impartiality and accuracy, funding pressures and progress to address unequal pay.

The director-general was questioned on safeguarding at the BBC following Schofield’s departure from ITV’s This Morning programme after admitting to an “unwise but not illegal” affair with a younger male colleague.

Mr Davie said “we do have imbalances” in the “strange” TV industry, with top tier talent earning high salaries compared with producers – but confirmed the BBC has a “robust” process to combat safeguarding.

He told committee chair Caroline Dinenage: “I do think from the leadership there is an absolutely clear signal very direct, and this is born from experience.

“I have been personally been through a number of reviews looking at the history of the BBC and I think your concerns are well-placed, which is imbalances of power are dangerous and we care about them.

“The first thing is culturally at the top of the BBC I am very, very direct that that is something I do not want to see at the organisation.

“It’s also about the leadership being very clear that (that) is unacceptable and we do have imbalances and it is a strange industry but not wholly strange where you’ve got people earning… talent salaries versus producers, all of that, this is an environment in which there is power in place.”

Culture Media and Sport Committee
Culture Media and Sport Committee David Jordan, director of editorial policy at the BBC, Tim Davie, director-general of the BBC and Charlotte Moore, chief content officer at the BBC, appearing before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

Mr Davie said the BBC sets a “cultural framework” underpinned with process with the broadcaster spending “a lot of time on BBC values and policies when you sign up to a production”.

He also said he is “confident about the culture of the BBC” when asked during the select committee session about toxicity, amid a debate over the alleged toxicity at ITV’s This Morning following 61-year-old Schofield’s exit.

ITV boss Dame Carolyn McCall will appear at a parliamentary committee on Wednesday to answer questions about the broadcaster’s approach to safeguarding and complaint-handling.

Mr Davie also addressed the review of the BBC’s social media guidelines on impartiality after Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker was temporarily taken off air after tweeting a criticism of the language used by the Government to promote its asylum plans, saying it was not dissimilar to that used in 1930s Germany.

The director-general said he will “always regret” that audiences were affected and the broadcaster wasn’t able to deliver a full programme.

He also said it is “tough” deciding where to draw the line between social issues and party political issues while conducting a social media review for employees at the corporation.

“I think we want to find the right balance,” he said.

He added it was “not right” to say that everyone across the BBC did not have a right to express a view.

“I think audiences are smart, they can say, ‘OK this individual has views but they’re presenting a nature programme’.”

Asked if he is happy with how Lineker has tweeted since, Mr Davie added: “That hasn’t been a concern of mine. What’s been a concern is getting the social media review to a point where it can be delivered flawlessly, and that is not easy.”

Gary Lineker File Photo
Gary Lineker File Photo Match Of The Day presenter Gary Lineker (Mike Egerton/PA)

He added that he is expecting the report back “pretty soon”.

Earlier in the session, Mr Davie said the BBC doesn’t always get its obligation to impartiality right, but it has had a “good year” amid “enormous pressure” around the world for free press.

He told MPs: “As editor in chief, my orders are very clear: we report without fear or favour with due impartiality.

“I’ve never claimed we get it perfect all the time, and sometimes we don’t get it right, but overall and the vast majority of occasions, I think we’ve had a good year in maintaining impartiality in a world where there are fierce storms around us.”

During the session, Mr Davie confirmed he expected the investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against DJ Tim Westwood to be completed in the “next couple of months”, while being questioned on alleged bullying and harassment within the corporation.

Andrew Flintoff injured
Andrew Flintoff injured Top Gear presenter Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff was involved in an accident while filming for the show (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The director-general added that there is also an ongoing review into Top Gear as presenter Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff continues to recover from an accident which occurred during filming at the programme’s test track at Dunsfold Aerodrome in December.

Similarly, he addressed the row over cuts to local radio services, describing changes as “very difficult and unpopular” but adding: “Local radio is precious.”

Last year, the BBC proposed plans for local radio stations to share more content and broadcast less programming.

Mr Davie said: “I believe we’re doing the right thing in a situation in which we understand and are listening and have already made some adjustments to our plans to make sure we’re making the right choices with very limited money.”

He said he is “empathetic” to BBC journalists who are currently on strike because change it “stressful” and it has been a “very difficult time for people working in local radio”.

“I’ve been through restructures myself and it’s not nice, so I understand it. I am utterly committed to BBC local growing for the long term,” he said.

2017 Virgin Money London Marathon
2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charlotte Moore, BBC Director of Content (Chris Jackson/PA)

BBC director of editorial policy and standards David Jordan and chief content officer Charlotte Moore were also at the scrutiny session.

Asked about the future of chamber choir The BBC Singers, chief content officer Ms Moore told the select committee: “We are absolutely committed to our classical musical and performing group provision at the BBC,” adding that they “spend £60 million annually on classical music”.

The broadcaster had previously announced plans to scrap its in-house chamber choir and reduce salaried orchestral posts across the BBC English Orchestras by around 20%.

In April, it U-turned, and said it is committed to exploring “alternatives” to cutting classical performer jobs at the corporation.