The British Broadcasting Corporation is looking for a new chair of the BBC Trust, the governing body of the organization. If you are reading this in the United States (and most of NACD’s 10,000 members will be) there is no reason for you to care about this as much as I do, but nontheless I hope you will look carefully at the job description because the UK’s public service broadcaster needs great governance as never before. Brush up on your British English and get your application in.
Here’s a primer to get you started: in the UK every household with a TV pays a fee to the government and the entire population can access BBC television, radio and online content for free and on demand. The license fee, as it is known, is supplemented by sales of programs and formats ( including Dancing with the Stars, The Office, Dr Who, Life and all of David Attenborough’s output) overseas.
In recent years the BBC has been under threat from Rupert Murdoch’s satellite and cable service which of course carries all the BBC channels. Rupert owns a lot of rights to major sporting events and he also owns the technology which beams those events into people’s homes. He charges a lot for this. People who choose to watch sport rather than comedy, drama, nature, children’s programming (yes, the BBC brought you the Teletubbies) and who pay their bill to Sky, don’t see why they should pay up if they don’t choose to watch the Beeb. This said,more than 95 per cent of the British population avail themselves of some BBC service every week – the broadcaster remains resolutely at the center of everyday life.
With the election of a new coalition government, the UK is facing public service cuts that not even Maggie Thatcher would have dreamed of. The BBC will suffer a 16 per cent cut in its income and the Chairman’s salary has taken a similar hit.
Less income means staff cuts, more repeats in primetime, and limits on the kind of technological innovation that has led to the BBC becoming one of the world’s most trusted digital guides.
This matters to me because the BBC practically brought me up. I was one of those children with square eyes, a pasty complexion and the ability to make great halloween costumes, sex a tortoise and identify the cuisine, terrain and music of all world capitals because I had seen it on TV. I learned to expect the Spanish Inquisition, and had my own silly walk. Like all Monty Python fans I knew when a parrot was an ex parrot. All my crushes were BBC presenters and my female role models were too. They still are.
My first job was with the BBC and I was the envy of everyone I knew for there could be no more exciting and interesting place to work. Here, I could learn faster than I could anywhere else, and each morning as I walked through the Television Center scene dock past the Tardis and the sets of my favorite sit coms (Mrs Bucket’s table for candlelit suppers, Mrs Slocombe’s shopfloor bust from Are You Being Served? and, later, Edina and Patsy’s office from Ab Fab) I felt lucky to be there and proud to be part of the BBC. I worked in the newsroom then. I didn’t last long. The BBC demands a rigor in its news services that to which I was totally unequal. Sidelined from the serious stuff, I went on to run the BBC’s daytime services and later came to the US to be part of the early years of BBC America.
I still love the BBC and I am glad to say others do too. Check out this video, now something of a hit in Britain. For a slightly more upscale appreciation of the BBC services check out this promotion for the range and diversity of music featured by the public service broadcaster.
I expect the job of chair of the BBC Trust will go to a Brit, and someone well-known to the current UK government, but I urge you to think about it carefully. The BBC is worth having, and so, therefore, is this job.