Diversity record makes BBC more relevant than ever – Lord Tony Hall

SEVEN years ago the BBC was an organisation in crisis. It was in the wake of the Savile scandal, there were failings over executive pay-offs, there were fundamental questions hanging over our future. Today we’re an organisation transformed, inside and out.

The BBC has undergone many changes since Lord Tony Hall became director-general seven years ago.

We’re leaner and more efficient than ever. Our overheads are at industry-leading levels – just five per cent of our total costs, meaning 95 per cent goes on programmes and services.

Seven years ago we had an in-house production operation in decline. Today we have BBC Studios – the most-awarded British production company in the UK. We have a first rate partnership with ITV to run BritBox bringing the best of public service programming both globally and now in this country too.

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We’re more out of London than ever before. A decade ago, a third of the BBC was based outside the M25. Today it’s half.

Lord Tony Hall is director-general of the BBC. This is part of his speech to the Edinburgh International Television Conference.

In the last few years, we’ve doubled the proportion of programmes produced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And our new BBC Scotland Channel has been a major success. In its first full year, it’s reaching one in six people each week.

This matters not only because it means so much to audiences to see their lives and communities represented on screen. But also because, as the national broadcaster, spread across all our nations and regions, who is better placed to support the levelling-up agenda?

Of course, the best case for public service broadcasting is made through the quality, the range and authenticity of the programmes. That’s the way to the hearts and minds of younger audiences or indeed all audiences. When I look at something like Michaela Coel’s extraordinary I May Destroy You, I see a unique voice and talent given unprecedented creative freedom to speak directly to a generation about issues and experiences that matter right now.

When I watched Once Upon a Time in Iraq I’m seeing not only a documentary about the horror of war told by those who were there, but I’m also seeing a series that pushes the boundary of what the genre does. I’ve seen nothing like it.

The acclaimed work of David Olusoga has been praised by Lord Tony Hall.

When I watched David Olusoga’s outstanding programmes on Empire, on Windrush, on being black and British, I thought that these are programmes with deep public service values at their heart. Helping the country, us all, to wrestle with complex issues of identity and history. That’s what we’re all here to do.

This is what we need to stand for. A duty to take risks. To create a space where artists, performers, writers, directors, journalists – do the work of their lives.

So who we employ and how we employ people matters. You don’t know where the talent of tomorrow will be found. That’s why we have massively upped our game on creative diversity. We’ve prioritised £100m of our commissioning budget for diverse and inclusive programming. And we’ve introduced a new mandatory 20 per cent diverse-talent target in all new network commissions from next April.

But to get the best people we also need the best working environment. And the most inclusive one. Satya Nadella, the boss of Microsoft, talked about the culture of Microsoft as being one where people are encouraged to realise their personal passions. I like that.

We need to attract people who are different, who have different ideas about what matters, who draw on different experiences, who come from different backgrounds. That for me is the argument for greater diversity. It’s about creativity – promoting talent to deliver diverse thinking. And that, in turn, brings about great programmes that make sense of, and reflect the world, in which we live. And we have got to be better at that than anyone else.

So there is no doubt in my mind that PSBs can do more than ever for the UK in the years ahead.

We have to keep banging the drum for what only we can deliver. The role we can play in helping to find the answer to so many of the biggest issues now facing society. From division and polarisation, to the rise of fake news and disinformation, to our creative and cultural strength, even to helping society safely navigate a path through the Covid crisis.

I was much taken with what Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, said to me last year. In the next 30 years, he said, only those companies with strong values will survive. That’s why public service broadcasting is so much more than an idea of the past. It’s an idea whose time has well and truly come. More relevant, and more needed, than ever.

Lord Tony Hall is director-general of the BBC. This is part of his speech to the Edinburgh International Television Conference.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson