Magazine article Management Today

Favourite Auntie Gets a Face Lift: Michael Checkland, Director General of the BBC and a Companion of the BIM, Is Trying to Change the BBC's Reputation for Stodginess and Secretiveness

Magazine article Management Today

Favourite Auntie Gets a Face Lift: Michael Checkland, Director General of the BBC and a Companion of the BIM, Is Trying to Change the BBC's Reputation for Stodginess and Secretiveness

Article excerpt

Favourite Auntie gets a face-lift

|Unmanageable, profligate, bureaucratic, uncommunicative.' If you believed certain sections of the press, you might consider these to be statements of fact, rather than opinions, about the BBC. As Hazlitt wrote: |Prejudice is never easy unless it can pass itself off as reason.'

In fact, any outsider scrutinising the BBC's record since 1987 would see a quite different picture. Such an observer would see an organisation funded by the public's money, eagerly getting to grips with fundamental change in a period of increased competition, financial restraints, turbulence in its core product - broadcasting - and a management as vigorously committed to encouraging creative excellence as cost efficiency.

For three years from 1988 the licence income was RPI-linked: in real terms that meant a squeeze at the very time when the broadcasting landscape was changing radically. The changes the BBC had to face were comparable to those of other major companies and market-leaders simultaneously facing reduced real income, increased competition and costs, with the added ingredient of frequent external reviews and performance appraisals. The objectives have been the same as those of many other companies steering their business through a period of cultural and market change, while seeking to maintain a necessary level of stability. That is why since early 1987, the BBC has put away the begging bowl and been seen, in deed and attitude, to be helping itself.

The fact that the BBC is a 70-year-old institution meant that it had to face some highly complex management problems. A change in direction means a change in the traditional culture: that is why external and internal communications have always been high priorities on its agenda.

Probably the most significant structural change was the merging of news and current affairs activities right across TV and radio into a single directorate. This ended artificial rivalries and duplication and energised programme output in this most vital of areas. A highly significant development in my early days was the setting up of the Policy and Planning Unit.

Other priorities included the consolidation of regional broadcasting into a single directorate, responsible for all television and radio in the national and English regions.

The setting up of a Corporate Affairs directorate to handle all its external relations reflected my strong feeling that the gap between the BBC's deserved reputation as an outstanding programme-maker and its undeserved reputation as an unwieldy, secretive bureaucracy had to be closed. …

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