“In an uncertain, fast-changing world, the principles and ideals that underpin public service have become increasingly important and valuable. And I believe that now is a moment we need to stand up for, and champion them, more than ever before,” said Hall
He set out five values that underpin public service broadcasting and the BBC: “The best for everyone defines everything we do – making sure everyone can access great art, great music, great drama” is the first principle, he said.
The second was to represent everyone: “Today it’s so tempting to choose news to suit our views. It’s so easy to follow or listen only to those who reinforce what we already believe.
“I believe it’s the role of the BBC to stand for just the opposite – for broadening perspectives. Of course, that means challenging people’s viewpoints. And the irony is that, the better we do it, the more open we are to accusations of bias from all sides.”
He said the BBC was “working harder than ever to dig deep into all our communities.” He highlighted its work in local radio, with local newspapers and in the nations, including launching a new channel for Scotland.
Lord Hall invoked Lord Reith in talking about the third principle – education: “It’s the BBC’s founding mission to inform, educate, and entertain. Lord Reith’s idea is as important and relevant today as it was almost 100 years ago, and arguably much more so.
“There’s occasionally a perception that the education part is somehow about sitting people down like a Victorian schoolmaster and telling them what’s good for them.
Blue Planet II turned the tide on plastics
“In fact, it’s about TV like Blue Planet II – incredible, world-leading shows that push the boundaries of knowledge as well as programme-making – that do such an incredible job to inspire young people and help change all of our perceptions of the world.
“Blue Planet II actually managed to move the needle in the debate on plastics – literally helping to bring about a sea change.”
His fourth principle was bringing partners together and making things happen that would otherwise not be possible – using the example of all the work the BBC did to cover Hull’s year as City of Culture.
Culture and progression
His final principle was to ensure that the BBC lives it values.
“Because of the way we are funded, we are always under intense scrutiny. We are always held – quite rightly – to a higher standard.
“Gender pay and equality is an obvious example. It’s an area where all of us have important issues to tackle.
“At the BBC, we know it’s not enough to say that our gender pay gap is narrower than most other organisations. We need to be an exemplar, right at the forefront of the change we want to see.
“That’s why I have committed to closing the gender pay gap by 2020 – something that no other large organisation has done. And I’ve committed to an equal split of men and women across our airwaves by the same year.
“We’ve been working really hard towards these goals. In particular we have been looking at what more we can do to change our culture and support the progression of women throughout the BBC – to make sure more women can progress more quickly.
“In fact, we have launched four new initiatives on culture and progression more widely. As well as gender, we are focusing on ethnic minorities, disabled staff and social mobility.
“If you were to ask me about the one thing I want to crack, as soon as possible, it’s getting more female and Black and Asian minority ethnic representation in our senior management – right at the top of the organisation,” he said.
The director general closed his speech by calling for “a public service renaissance, a renewal of public service values at the heart of British life”.
“We need to take pride in our shared ideals. And we need to stand up for them now like never before,” he concluded.
Question and answer session
Tony Hall took a number of questions from conference delegates. Riaz Miah from BECTU’s Black members’ committee asked the director general about representation of BAME people in editorial positions.
Tony Hall said: “Talent can be anywhere…It’s why our roots in local communities really matter.”
He used the example of the The Social in Scotland, which supports young people in making short content which can go around the world
He also emphasised the reviews going on into progression in the BBC.
Looking at progression for women, BAME, disabled people and others he said: “I think something is going wrong there”.
He also recognised the importance of increasing the representation of women and BME people in the most senior 100 managers at the BBC.
Mick Calder from BBC Glasgow highlighted the establishment of the BBC Studios and asked how successful it had been, particularly in the light of the loss of the Songs of Praise contract.
Hall defended the establishment of BBC Studios while recognising the transition had been very hard for many people in the BBC.
He argued that in the context of opening up commissioning as part of the licence fee settlement, it was the only route for the future of in-house production at the BBC.
Finally Lee Jones from the Science and Technology Facilities Council asked about the loss of sports rights by the BBC.
Hall emphasised that while the BBC only had around 3% of the broadcast hours of sport in the UK, it still had 36% of the UK’s sport viewers.
He highlighted that the BBC had retained rights to Wimbledon and the Olympics and that some cricket was coming back in 2020 with a special tournament.
The BBC needed to build links with sports that recognise the value of the free-to-air audience to build up the popularity of their sports, he concluded.