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BBC Names Tony Hall New Director General

Tony Hall - H 2012
Luke Macgregor/Reuters

UPDATED: The BBC and TV industry veteran, currently CEO of the Royal Opera House, will look to rebuild the public broadcaster's reputation amid a recent crisis.

LONDON – The BBC has appointed BBC and TV industry veteran Tony Hall as its new director general.

Currently the CEO of the Royal Opera House and deputy chairman of Channel 4, Hall is expected to start in early March, with interim head Tim Davie remaining acting director general until then.

The appointment follows the shock resignation of George Entwistle late on Saturday Nov. 10 after just 54 days in the top job at the U.K. public broadcaster amid a crisis following allegations of sexual abuse against late former BBC host Jimmy Savile and a mistaken news report that forced the BBC to issue a retraction. The report on flagship news show Newsnight wrongly accused a veteran politician of being involved in a child abuse scandal.

BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten in a mid-day Thursday statement described Hall as "the right person to lead the BBC out of its current crisis."

The veteran TV executive occupied the role of head of BBC News and Current Affairs from 1996 to 2001. While in that post, he oversaw the launch of BBC News Online, as well as Radio 5 Live, BBC News 24 and BBC Parliament. The launches give him experience in digital media and new business development at the public broadcaster, something Patten had said the Trust, the BBC's governing body, was looking for in a candidate. Hall more recently was chairman of the Cultural Olympiad, a series of cultural events tied to the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

His salary will be the same $715,000 (£450,000) per year that Entwistle received before his resignation after just 54 days amid a deepening crisis at the U.K. public broadcaster.

The BBC Trust said it unanimously agreed on the appointment of Hall, who had been seen as a top outside contender for the post, in a Thursday morning meeting. That made good on its promise to name a new BBC head "within weeks" of Entwistle's departure. The appointment was made following a direct approach from the BBC Trust without an application from Hall.

“While there are still very serious questions to be answered by the on-going inquiries, it is in the interests of license fee payers that the BBC now starts to refocus on its main purpose - making great programs that audiences love and trust," Patten said. "In doing this it will need to take a long, hard look at the way it operates and put in place the changes required to ensure it lives up to the standards that the public expects."

Patten highlighted that Hall has the necessary news credentials that will be key amid the recent crisis in the BBC's news unit. “Perhaps most importantly, given where we now find ourselves, his background in news will prove invaluable as the BBC looks to rebuild both its reputation in this area and the trust of audiences,” he said.

Patten added: "Tony Hall has been an insider and is a currently an outsider. As an ex-BBC man he understands how the corporation’s culture and behavior make it, at its best, the greatest broadcaster in the world. And from his vantage point outside the BBC, he understands the sometimes justified criticisms of the corporation - that it can be inward looking and on occasions too institutional."
 
Said Hall: “This organization is an incredibly important part of what makes the United Kingdom what it is. And of course it matters not just to people in this country - but to tens of millions around the world too. It’s been a difficult few weeks – but together we’ll get through it. I’m committed to ensuring our news services are the best in the world."

Patten explained the hiring process, which had been the topic of much debate in recent days as observers said going through a full-fledged recruitment process would take too much time and cost much money. Many observers had expected direct approaches to top outside candidates, including Hall, and the short-listed candidates from the last recruitment process this summer. Instead, the Trust said it focused on Hall who was interviewed this summer, but declined to move on to the final interview round, saying he was focused on his work on the Cultural Olympiad.

“Just over four months ago the Trust completed a thorough recruitment process. Tony Hall wasn’t available then, but I am delighted he has agreed to come on board now," Patten said. “Of course we might have considered going through the whole lengthy recruitment process again with a new round of advertisements and another global hunt for candidates. But I believe the approach we have taken is ultimately in the interests of the BBC and, most importantly, license fee payers as we have got the best candidate and he will help the organization quickly get back on an even keel.”

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai