Edinburgh TV Fest: BBC Boss Tony Hall Makes Surprise Appearance

8:12 AM PST 08/22/2013 by Georg Szalai
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BBC director general Tony Hall

UPDATED: The U.K. public broadcaster's director general talks about key first decisions and future challenges.

EDINBURGH – BBC boss Tony Hall made a surprise appearance at the annual Edinburgh International TV Festival here Thursday.

Half-way through a panel discussion with four experts on his biggest challenges since he started in his post in April and going forward, Hall was brought out on stage and joined the panel.

Discussing one key issue he wants to change over time, Hall said the BBC has a problem of a culture where fingers are pointed. "I want the sort of culture where people can take risks…and learn from our mistakes," he said. "That's a very different sort of culture."

By spending about a day a week to meet teams across the BBC, "I really want to heal the appalling divided between the people running the BBC and those people doing all the hard work, making programs," which has been a big focus in staffer's heads, he said. That has hurt moral, he explained.

Asked about a recent BBC severance scandal, Hall said "I hope I can get to the point soon to put this behind us" and focus on the future.

Hall said he just got off a plane from San Francisco where he spent 48 hours, quipping he was living off coffee.

Abroad, he said he saw "how powerful and creative the BBC is" in people's minds. When speaking to the likes of Google and Apple, "they want to talk about [BBC shows] The White Queen, Top Gear, as well as the news," he said.

"I want us to get our creative bounce back," he said in concluding.

Asked about the BBC decision to bring back singing competition The Voice for a third season, which has been criticized by industry observers who are against big spending on entertainment shows by the public broadcaster, Hall said entertainment is a key part of the BBC's mission, especially on Saturday night. "We show real ambition and real creativity," so renewing The Voice was the right call, he concluded.

Asked about the recent appointment of former The Times editor James Harding as head of BBC News, Hall lauded his skills and predicted quick results from him.

Asked about the recently criticized salary of James Purnell, who Hall brought back to the BBC as director of strategy and digital, the BBC said he needs "the people who can deliver" on his team to ensure "a BBC we all can be proud us." Purnell is also doing "a fantastic job," he added, emphasizing that nobody would allow the BBC these days to return to the higher rates of pay it had over the past decade.

Hall on Thursday also announced a new promise to put more women in on-air positions. He said BBC is targeting to, by the end of 2014, have 50 percent of its local stations to have a woman hosting the high-profile breakfast shows - either in a solo capacity or as part of a team.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

 

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