BBC Crisis: Rupert Murdoch Pushes for Government Role in Reforms

Rupert Murdoch
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There's a witch hunt brewing, and the target is Rupert Murdoch. At least that's the opinion of media analyst Laura Martin, who wrote Aug. 22 that Wall Street is underestimating the "long list of powerful personal Murdoch enemies."

The U.K. government wants to take a hands-off approach though as a list of candidates for the top job seems to focus on former contenders and interim boss Tim Davie is set to outline his plans.

LONDON - News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch doesn't typically embrace government intervention, but late Sunday, he suggested that the U.K. government could use the crisis and leadership vacuum at the BBC to reorganize the public broadcaster.

In a couple of tweets, he argued that Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron should reform the BBC and its organization.

"BBC mess gives Cameron golden opportunity [to] properly reorganize great public broadcaster," the media mogul tweeted. "Fast inquiry to include both critics and supporters."

He added in another tweet: "BBC mess gives Cameron great opportunity to reshape and improve."

But a BBC news report and a Guardian report late Sunday suggested that the Prime Minister didn't feel that the BBC faces an existential crisis that it could not address itself after Saturday night's surprise resignation of director general George Entwistle after only 54 days in charge.

Entwistle resigned amid a deepening crisis of confidence in the public broadcaster. BBC flagship TV news show Newsnight had accused a British politician of child abuse and had to retract the report. Entwistle, who as the BBC director general was not only the top business executive, but also served as its editor-in-chief, resigned. His move came after weeks of criticism amid the sexual abuse scandal surrounding late former BBC host Jimmy Savile and the revelation that Newsnight late last year had dropped a planned report about the allegations against him.

Cameron acknowledged that the current situation was "very difficult, very serious" for the BBC, but he felt the broadcaster could reform itself and address shortcomings in editorial processes, according to the BBC report.

The BBC and Guardian reports added that Cameron trusted BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten to make the necessary changes and pick a new leader soon. Cameron felt that pushing for Patten's resignation, like an editorial in Murdoch's Times of London did on Sunday, would only further destabilize the BBC, it added.

Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, tweeted Sunday that the BBC needed to introduce reforms and pick a "strong" director general "to restore trust in one of our great national assets." But he also didn't immediately call for any form of political intervention.

Acting director general Tim Davie has held discussions during the day with the BBC Trust, the broadcaster's governing body, the BBC also reported Sunday. Davie is expected to outline his plans for addressing the most pressing issues and restoring public confidence in the BBC on Monday, it added. It wasn't immediately clear when those plans would be made public.

The Guardian, meanwhile, said that Patten and the BBC Trust held a late Sunday emergency meeting, suggesting that Patten may indeed focus his search for a new BBC leader on the short list of candidates who had lost out to Entwistle this summer as some observers had suggested.
That list included Caroline Thomson, the BBC's former COO, and Ed Richards, CEO of U.K. media regulator Ofcom who industry watchers have mentioned as among the likely top candidates. The paper said that Patten was expecting to speak again to the two and "one or two other" candidates.

Patten had earlier on Sunday said he was hoping to name a new director general within weeks rather than months. 

Twitter: @georgszalai

Sandusky or Paterno on the show," explains Sorkin of his surprising outreach.