The BBC’s chairman has fiercely resisted potential government involvement in appointing a new director-general.
Sir David Clementi dismissed the idea as “inappropriate”, defending the corporation’s right to appoint a new boss in a “completely independent fashion”, during a government select committee meeting on Thursday.
Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS), asked if there could be a “pre-appointment hearing” with Lord Tony Hall’s successor.
Lord Hall announced in January that he would be stepping down in the summer after seven years at the helm of the BBC.
In front of the DCMS, Sir David said any political influence on the new appointment “would be incorrect” and questioned the motive for such a hearing, asking if the request was to “influence the decision, or veto the decision, or ratify the decision?”
Applications have just closed for the £450,000 post, which will be decided by the BBC Board ahead of Lord Hall’s departure.
Much speculation has been made over who will take over the top job since his shock resignation, as the BBC faces ongoing turmoil amid a consultation over decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, 450 job cuts, and ongoing rows over equal pay.
There has been a lack of leading TV executives willing to publicly put themselves in the running for the role, described by some as a “poisoned chalice”.
At the DCMS hearing, MPs questioned Lord Hall over his decision to stand down at such an important time for the corporation.
“I take responsibility for the state of the BBC, of course I do, I’m the director general,” Lord Hall said.
He went on to stress that “creatively, the organisation is on fire” and said ultimately he felt “strategically” it was the right time to let someone else take over.
According to BBC figures, 121,000 people were convicted in 2018 for not paying their TV licence – a fee which generated almost three quarters of the corporation’s £4.8bn annual income in 2019.
The committee meeting focused on the issue of non-payment of the TV licence, asking Lord Hall if the BBC is “really going to take 80 and 90-year-olds to court” when blanket free licences for over-75s are scrapped later this year.
Lord Hall replied: “I don’t want to see people in court, it is conceivable it will happen but of course I don’t.
“We have a special team to make sure our communications with the over-75s is sensitive and do everything we can to make sure they know everything they need to do.”
Clare Sumner, director of policy at the BBC, said: “It’s highly unlikely the elderly would end up in front of judges.”
On the job cuts, Lord Hall admitted that although news is “at the heart of the BBC’s offering”, the department had to take its fair share as the corporation scales back.
On coronavirus, the BBC boss admitted there could be a “pairing back of services” due to the spread, although their priority remains “keeping everything open, all our networks going” to deliver information to the public.