When Tim Davie assumed the Director Generalship of the BBC, many people hoped he would bring about a cultural change at the national broadcaster. They cheered when Davie announced the targeting of left-wing comedy shows as part of a wider reforming process. Restoring the BBC to its intended state requires a principled approach; many big names working for Aunty are barely able to contain their personal bias let alone uphold the impartiality ideal. Davie, having made a good start, has since shattered any optimism that he is capable of going toe-to-toe with anti-reformist figures and those who have shown complete disregard for impartiality rules.
Davie’s decision to reign in the Twitter accounts of prominent BBC employees was a sage move, rightly hailed as a necessary move to remind the likes of Emily Maitlis how a journalist at such a revered organisation is supposed to behave. Yet any expectations that Davie possessed the chutzpah to bring high-flying names back down to earth have been dashed thanks to an exemption handed to Gary Lineker and other big names regarding their Twitter accounts. Leading lights will not be bound by the new impartiality rules. If reports from the Daily Telegraph are accurate, this brave new era of leadership has already failed. Failing to reign in the main offenders of impartiality guidelines renders any effort to change the political culture pointless. Much more courage is required to bring about success. Now, any meaningful change is troublesome to imagine.
A key problem now emerges: If the new Director General of the BBC can’t bring himself to lay down the law for the organisation’s biggest stars, what else will he give up on? As starts go this is not a good one. Working for the BBC is not a normal job. Just like police officers, employees are always on duty. Impartiality demands journalists and presenters alike remain impartial even when not in the studio. To ensure that the BBC is a broadcaster the public at large supports and, crucially, are willing to pay to access, Davie cannot shirk the challenges ahead as he has done with the use of Twitter by high-profile figures.
Whether content will now be subject to any serious divergences in direction is in somewhat greater doubt than when Davie first took control. Certainly the creators of shows with overt political leanings—such as The Mash Report, a poor imitation of late night TV in the United States—are hardly likely to be worried, not now Tim Davie has already demonstrated himself incapable of applying his ideas without fear or favour.