Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seconds out

There may be a little shuttle diplomacy going on in the corridors of Portcullis House this afternoon, ahead of the Home Affairs Committee questioning of South Yorkshire Chief Constable David Crompton (Bury Grammar School and Salford University), and BBC DG Lord Hall (Birkenhead and Keble Oxford). It's all about the circumstances of the BBC scoop in covering the search of Sir Cliff Richard's flat in Sunningdale.

The ante has been raised by Director of News James Harding, writing to the police - and sharing the letter with the press: "Our general policy is that we do not reveal the content of off-the-record conversations that occur in the course of our journalism. We have so far upheld this position in relation to South Yorkshire Police. But I am prompted to write to you by the particular circumstances in which we now find ourselves. You have made a series of comments about the nature of your force’s engagement with the BBC in a letter to Keith Vaz. In order that the BBC can answer the questions put by the Home Affairs Select Committee and address the points made in your letter, may we presume that we are free to divulge the nature of the discussions and exchanges that took place between the BBC and South Yorkshire Police?"

It's the Editor-in-chief, Lord Hall who enters the ring, having publically stated that his journalists "acted appropriately". There's not much room for manouevre. 3.30pm, Thatcher Room.

Monday, September 1, 2014

More Rona

Did the subs on the announcements pages at the Times have some sort of inside track ? On August 28, Rona Fairhead was honoured with the lead birthday photo, notching up her 53rd. On Saturday, the DCMS chose to announce her as their preferred choice as BBC Chairman. Rona will spend a frantic 10 days boning up on the BBC past and present, before an appearance next Tuesday before Whittingdale's Wolfhounds on the Culture Select Committee. They will approve her appointment, but seek the exhilaration of some flesh wounds along the way.

Rona's been a rather private business leader up until now. I can find no photos of her time as Head Girl at Yarm School, nor of her performances with the Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society from 1980-83. There is evidence that she's retained some flat vowels from the North of England, in this video (fourth one down) from last year.

We've mentioned her start with consultant Bain's; she also served as an analyst with Morgan Stanley, alongside now-deceased Cambridge friend Gavin MacDonald. Then she moved to Short Brothers in Northern Ireland, as it morphed into Bombardier, before joining ICI in the North East as Executive Vice President Strategy and Group Financial Control. Helping the company move out of bulk chemicals into sexier smaller stuff, she took some pleasure from the use of RONAs inside the organisation as a measure of "Return on net assets".

In 2001, she moved south to Pearson, joining as Deputy Finance Director. Within five years she was running the Financial Times as CEO. She'd also picked up a non-exec role at HSBC, and the start of some US trips with the non-exec chair of HSBC America. There was more selling off at Pearson - French newspaper group Les Echos in 2007 for £190m, a  stake in Interactive Data in 2010 for £1.2bn, and a stake in FTSE International in 2011, for £540m. Perhaps unsurprisingly, rumours grew that the FT itself was available. It didn't happen, but last year, Rona lost out in the battle for the top job at Pearson and left - with a pay-off of over £1m and shares thought to be worth over £3m.

In 2010, she was announced as a non-executive board member of the Cabinet Office (fiefdom of Sir Jeremy Heywood, lead interviewer for this round of the BBC Trust recruitment). She's also a Government Business Adviser, as, spookily, is Lord Kakkar, also on the Trust recruitment panel. She rents a cottage on the Highclere Estate, as does George Osborne. She lives in a posh house in Holland Park - posh enough to stop Google Streetview poking about. She flies - and is a member of Bournemouth Flying Club, a serious top-end training operation. With her appointment to the PepsiCo board, one might wonder if she thought of flying herself to the States occasionally ?

New challenges

Perhaps the new BBC landscape was only big enough for one grand international fromage - and that probably has to be ex-foreign correspondent and linguist James Harding. Peter Horrocks, Director of the BBC World Service Group, leaves Auntie in the New Year, taking him past his 55th birthday, after 33 years with the corporation.

Described by Lord Hall as "a force of nature", he started as a news trainee in 1981 (King's College School Wimbledon and Christ's Cambridge), and ere long was producing at Newsnight and Panorama. He was a youthful editor of Public Eye, a Birt construct, on tv, and launched its successor, Here and Now. On the long journey of management, he's edited Newsnight, Panorama, and the whole of TV Current Affairs. He took over TV News from Roger Mosey, and integrated tv bulletins into the rolling news channel, to sharp intakes of breadths from old codgers. In 2009 he moved to World Service, and led the tricky move out of Bush House, which seemed to re-energise those who survived the transition.

In difficult times post-Savile, his ascetic approach to journalism was quite sharp-elbowed, producing a Panorama special on what had gone wrong at Newsnight, shown on October 22 2012.  Some three weeks later, DG George Entwistle resigned. When the second Newsnight kerfuffle, over "identifying" Lord MacAlpine, blew up, Adrian Van Klaveren was in loco parentis, because Horrocks was on long service leave.

In recent days, Peter has been proudly tweeting about the reach of bbc.com, coming very close to overtaking CNN.com; he's also announced a partial reprieve for access programme World Have Your Say. He's emerged as an advisor to Critical Eye, a "community of leaders". His post will be advertised - will his successor be rewarded with a package of £240,759 ? There will also be a vacancy in the BBC staff choir.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


I am surprised but delighted to welcome a fellow St Catharine's, Cambridge alumnus to the Chairman's job at the BBC. Mrs Rona Fairhead won the Jacobson Law Prize, the Addersley Law Prize, and was president of the University Law Society on the way to her double first law degree. I got the lowest third in the university in my year. We both eschewed further legal qualifications. Rona is now an Honorary Fellow.

Rona Haig was born in 1961 in Cumbria, I'm guessing when her physicist father was working for the old Atomic Energy Authority; her mother was a maths teacher, but the Haig family roots were in Edinburgh. She had operations on her spine in her teens, but that hasn't stifled an active life-style. Rona crossed the Lakes and Dales to fee-paying Yarm School, where she was Head Girl. At Cambridge, as well as law, she coxed an eight, took roles with a light entertainment group, and developed her love of squash. She still lists ski-ing and scuba-diving as hobbies, as well as flying from the Bournemouth Flying Club.

From Cambridge, she join consultants Bain, and was involved in the entertaining Guinness acquisition of Distillers, and found time to acquire an MBA from Harvard Business School. I shall return to her business career after a little more reseach.

Husband Thomas, a former merchant banker, has served as a Conservative councillor, Earl's Court ward, Kensington & Chelsea. Thomas Edwin comes from a long line of farming Fairheads in Essex; they married in St Catharine's College Chapel in 1992, with a grand reception to follow at Wimpole Hall, and have two boys and a girl. They rent a property on the Highclere Estate, and can probably be seen with binoculars on the regular Downton Abbey tours.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Funny ?

BBC1 schedulers like pairing two funny shows at 9pm on Fridays. But the two current "zingers" aren't (yet?) hitting the mark. Boomers, which launched with 4.5m viewers and a 21.9% share, fell to 3.01m (14.45% share) for episode 3 last night; leaving little inheritance for the start of the second series of David Walliams' Big School. It attracted just 2.85m viewers (14.2% share), compared with the first series ending with an overnight of 3.2m.

Friday, August 29, 2014

World dominance

It's often hard to be sure you're comparing like with like in online statistics. New research by Comscore gives advert-supported bbc.com 73.4m unique browsers around the world, up 30% from 2012, and very close to overtaking CNN.com, at 73.6m.

The release says that year-on-year growth in the United States is 16%, moving bbc.com up to 4th place. The whole chart is not shared - where lies the Daily Mail in all this ?

Alexa stats, which measure things differently, suggest the CNN/BBC battle may be in the classroom - the BBC site has twice the national average of users at "school/college", with CNN only 50% above average.

Standing room only

Sky News Tonight, launching on Monday, 7pm-9pm, brings the touchscreen from sport to news. One might think that Adam Boulton might be happier sitting down for two hours each night - but there's clearly not much space in their bijou Westminster studio...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's the content, silly.....

A new cadre of strategists seems under construction in James Purnell's immensely brainy wing of the BBC - trying to get their head round tricky stuff like "content" for Charter Renewal.

There's a new ad for "Head of Strategy News Group", presumably to sit above the existing local, national and global strategists (yet, spookily, only graded at Band 11). The successful candidate will report both to James Harding, Director of News, and a post which I hadn't clocked til now - Controller of Content Strategy.

He or she will "support them in devising a refreshed editorial strategy which transforms the offer to audiences for the next Charter." And there's me thinking they'd worked that out already...

Constructive feedback

Both listeners and staff, it appears, have earned the show a partial reprieve. There'll be two slots a week, Wednesday and Saturday, from next April, as opposed to the current weekday, UK tea-time outing. After cancelling it altogether in July, grand global fromage Peter Horrocks has thought on and emailed thus: "In the light of comments from listeners and suggestions from many of you in World Service Group, I have reconsidered... The purpose underlying World Have Your Say, and the innovation and editorial ambition it routinely displays, merits a continuing place on the output of World Service English......I have long been an admirer of World Have Your Say. It has been a pioneer in transforming the relationship with our audience and you can see this result across our output."

"Thank you to the team for their constructive feedback and their continued professionalism as they’ve undergone uncertainty."

An unusual result at the modern BBC. Now, let's see what happens to BBC3 and live shows overnight on Radio 2...

Deal or no deal

It's hardly a vote of confidence when 1,000 out of your 7,500 staff ask to see what you'd pay them to leave. Those are the stats revealed to the unions in the latest set of job cuts at BBC News. 472 have confirmed that they want to be considered for voluntary redundancy - that's against 415 post closures, some of which may be job shares etc - and 266 twinkly new jobs being created to deliver the shiny new digital future.

Other people who read this.......