Tony Hall, 69, recently stepped down as the BBC’s Director General after seven years. During a candid reflection of his career, he revealed some of the most difficult challenges he faced while at its helm. One disclosure revealed his criticism of the Conservative Party, who he claimed nearly nearly forced the institution out of existence.
Lord Hall described the difficulties faced by the BBC during his tenure – including the Jimmy Savile scandal, the renegotiation of the Royal Charter and public opinion that the institution was a “failure”.
This coupled with a majority Tory government, led by David Cameron and focused on “full on austerity”, who he claimed felt that the “BBC needed reform” to be similar to “public service broadcasters in the US”.
He told last week’s BBC Media Show podcast: “Those views were absolutely in the ascendency.
“We didn’t have too many friends out there, either in the media or in the press or broadly, so I think it was a really really perilous time.”
The BBC boss was told that they would be forced to waive licence fees for the over 75s, under instruction of the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
When John Whittingdale, the former Culture Secretary, warned Lord Hall of the Government’s intention he was met with an explosive response.
BBC news: Former Director General Tony Hall revealed his fear that the institution would collapse
BBC news: Baron Hall stepped down from head of the institution after seven years in August
He told him: “That is nuclear! That means closing BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, local radio, some radio networks and probably some other things – understand that’s the scale of what you are proposing.”
Lord Hall and Deputy Director General Anne Bulford entered into intense negotiations with Conservative heads about what their decision “meant for the BBC”.
He continued: “The mood is pretty tense, as you can imagine, because what we are laying out is the destruction that they would do by imposing this on our services.”
While Lord Hall admitted he had considered handing in his resignation, he decided to try to “ameliorate what they were trying to do” as there was “no possibility of stopping” the plan.
He dubbed the heated conversations: “One of the most difficult sets of negotiations or discussions I’ve ever had.”
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In recompense for no longer forcing people over the age of 75 to pay the licence fee, the BBC head felt he walked away with a good deal that could aid the institution.
They included the license fee being able to rise with inflation “for the first time in over a decade”, broadband restrictions being removed and the end of the “digital loophole”.
This, he claimed, was where some individuals tried to dodge paying the licence fee by only viewing the content output online through BBC iPlayer and not on TV.
In addition they received a “cash flat settlement” which he claimed was difficult to negotiate at the time – a feat only achieved by the NHS.
Furthermore, Lord Hall obtained an 11-year BBC Charter, which opposed predictions of the time that it would be set for a maximum of five years.
He added: “That was right against all the orthodoxy of the people who were coming at us at the time.
“We got that and I think that’s important because the BBC now has that amount of time – until 2027 – to ensure it’s in excellent shape.”