Is former Pepsi man Tim Davie the right man to lead meltdown BBC? If they split the job he might be

BBC director-general George Entwistle has resigned following a staggeringly poor showing on the BBC’s own Today programme yesterday morning and former Pepsico marketing boss Tim Davie (pictured) has taken over as interim director general.

Davie must regard this as a mixed blessing – he was due to take over as head of BBC World in December, the Beeb’s collection of commercial media assets assembled through the taxpayer-funded licence fee and due, one day, to be hived off to the private sector. Not the world’s most demanding job but one which will probably, one day, make its boss rather rich.

Entwistle found himself well and truly in the shit again (following the Jimmy Savile affair) thanks to a Newsnight investigation (another one) which wrongly accused Tory politician Lord McAlpine of being a paedophile. It really doesn’t get any worse than this. Yet all Entwistle could think to say to a disbelieving John Humphrys on Saturday was that he couldn’t do anything about it because no-one had asked his opinion. Do you ignore the evidence of your own eyes and ears, Humphrys asked? The answer seemed to be yes.

The prospect of Entwistle (left) being hauled before a vengeful Parliamentary culture committee for the second time was more than even BBC chairman Lord Patten could contemplate (at the moment Patten, who is clinging to his job by a thread, resembles nothing more than a dodgy West End impresario past his prime).

So how will Davie cope? Davie joined the BBC as, in effect, its marketing director and went on to run BBC Audio, the radio and music bit. Early on in his reign he had to deal with the fall-out from Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross abusing Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs. Both were sacked.

So far so so good. But the job of BBC director general combines being CEO of a huge sprawling media empire with the role of editor-in-chief, precisely what Entwistle had not been doing properly in his two brief months in charge. Former D-G Mark Thompson seems to have fallen down on this part of the job too.

But you can’t do both. It’s the equivalent of the chairman or CEO of News Corporation signing off every front page or news programme running order. Not even Rupert Murdoch does that.

Entwistle was the wrong man to attempt to do either part of the job in the first place, essentially being a mouse. But the job needs to be split between a CEO to run the organisation and an editor to take responsibility for journalism and programme quality (news and features). The latter should report to the former.

Davie is perfectly capable of doing the first. Pepsico is a rather more efficient organisation than the BBC. The first job of the new editor (who would probably be called something much more grand) would be to bring all BBC ‘investigations’ (like the two disastrous Newsnight ones) under some form of central control and authorisation. This should have happened anyway under news boss Helen Boaden, who also seems to have been asleep at the wheel.

Would this kill off the BBC’s appetite for such things, which occasionally produce worthwhile results as in the case of Panorama’s investigation into care home abuse? It shouldn’t but at the moment they’re in danger of killing off the BBC.

You May Also Like

About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. I agree with all of your comments. Finally a summary of the present mess the BBC finds itself in and a piece of journalism that I would have expected to have seen in the national press but haven’t. Can the ex-PepsiCo head lead the BBC? Yes he can. For too long we have had ex-Journalists being promoted into positions beyond their competence. Whilst the BBC is a peerless organisation and top-quality has been at the heart of their credibility, running what could be considered the most powerful media operation on the planet requires more. As long as journalistic integrity and commerce are kept independent in the new regime, all will be well. Greg Dyke was a great DG and in the process of turning the internal organisation around when he fell on his sword over not dissimilar circumstances. It’s Art & Commerce and it’s time for a bit more commerce.