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BBC in crisis: Ofcom's Ed Richards tipped as new DG

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With the BBC currently in meltdown after the resignations of various senior executives, including director general George Entwistle, Ofcom's chief executive Ed Richards is the odds-on favourite to lead the corporation out of troubled waters.

Entwistle resigned as the BBC's 15th director general on Saturday (November 10) after controversy over a Newsnight report that led to former Tory Treasurer Lord McAlpine being wrongly linked to the North Wales child abuse scandal.

Chief executive of Ofcom, Ed Richards

© PA Images / Tim Ireland/PA Archive

The new look BBC Broadcast house

© BBC



He lasted just 54 days in the job, the shortest ever tenure by a leader of the BBC.

Director of BBC News Helen Boaden and her deputy Steven Mitchell have also "stepped aside" from their roles while the corporation runs a pre-existing review of the controversial decision to drop a separate Newsnight report into allegations Jimmy Savile was a paedophile.

Tim Davie, the former director of BBC audio & music earmarked to lead commercial arm BBC Worldwide next month, has been appointed acting director general following Entwistle's departure. But BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has said that the BBC will look to act swiftly and appoint a new person to lead the corporation "within weeks".

Davie is understood to be in contention to take on the role permanently, but he did not make the final shortlist for director general in the recruitment round before Entwistle was appointed this summer.

The BBC's former chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, also interviewed and quit her job after Entwistle was appointed. It is thought that she will be considered again for the post, but both Davie and Thomson may be ruled out for the same reason - they are both BBC insiders.

After the slew of criticism of the way the BBC has acted over the Savile allegations, it may be that BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten will look to an external face; someone not connected with any part of the scandal. And in this regard he could turn to Richards.

The chief executive of media regulator Ofcom was one of the final candidates to be eliminated last time around before Entwistle got the job. Whilst he lacks a programme-making background, Richards has extensive high level experience in politics, policy and regulation, and could be viewed by the public as a 'safe pair of hands' to lead the BBC out of crisis.

Other external candidates understood to be in the running include ITV director of television Peter Fincham, who is a former controller of BBC One and has the programme experience that Richards lacked.

Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham is also thought to be an option, but if the BBC decides to focus on addressing perceived issues within the BBC News operation, then it could be Sky News boss John Ryley who gets the nod.

But according to odds from BetVictor, Richards is the 10/11 favourite to become the next BBC director general, followed by Tim Davie (6/4) and Caroline Thomson (10/3).

Mark Scott, the boss of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, is 12/1 for the role, although he turned down the opportunity to apply earlier in the year. Fincham is also at 12/1, while current BBC One controller Danny Cohen is the outsider at 16/1.

Whoever takes on the challenge will face what Winston Churchill once described as the "biggest job in the country", made even bigger by the most recent controversies.

Nick Thomas, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said that Entwistle gave the impression of a man "caught in the headlights" during his time as BBC boss.

"Internally it seems that communication broke down between Entwistle and the colleagues who were apparently so pleased by his appointment," he said.

"Externally, Entwistle's poor performances in front of the Parliamentary Select Committee and on the BBC's own news programmes sealed his fate and confirmed the impression of a man - and an organisation - caught in the headlights."

Thomas said that the BBC must now work quickly to find a new management structure that deals with the problems and restores public trust.

"The BBC will survive, but must change. The culture secretary must help it find a new structure with a new board (with a new chair, please, given Lord Patten's clear lack of authority), a new CEO to handle the long-term strategy and dealings with the government (Ed Richards from Ofcom would surely do a good job here), supported by an editor-in-chief with the authority to bang heads internally and externally," he said.

"And let's get it done quickly, please, before even more difficult questions about the BBC's very raison d'etre start to gain momentum."

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