A quick note on the appointment of Tim Davie as DG
Today it was announced that the BBC’s new Director General will be Tim Davie; you might recognise the name because he’s currently the head of BBC Studios, and was one of the people whom I and others spoke to about the Berena debacle.
I reacted on Twitter by pointing out that the appointment of yet another straight white middle-aged man to oversee the national public service broadcaster was not terribly exciting, a comment met with the predictable replies from other straight white middle-aged men who wanted to criticise me for essentialising Davie – at the same time as assuring me that “white skin and balls” (their words) wouldn’t stop him from delivering a progressive regime.
Davie is of course making the right noises: “We will need to accelerate change so that we serve all our audiences in this fast-moving world. Much great work has been done, but we will continue to reform, make clear choices and stay relevant.”
I think it’s fair to take issue with this, or at least to be cynical about it, on the basis of general experience. But let’s be more specific on two counts.
First, when I spoke to the head of the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit, he acknowledged that the BBC’s editorial guidelines and their application make it next to impossible for the lived experiences of minority viewers to be taken into account (or to be “relevant”, to use Davie’s term). He acknowledged that people like him – straight, white, middle-aged men – will inevitably not pick up on things that are problematic for minorities. He acknowledged that his belief in a narrative that ‘things are better now than they were in the past’ was, effectively, an assumption, and one that was troubled by the experience of (at least) wlw viewers in recent years.
Yet, he said, a change in BBC culture would have to come from the top. So it is absolutely fair to wonder how exactly the BBC can effect such change when it continues to appoint from the same demographic. Especially as Tim Davie also points to the “great work” that has already been done.
Second, Tim Davie responded to the ‘Berena Deserved Better’ campaign by promising that the problem would be talked about at senior levels, and that producers on Holby City would respond to the open letter signed by c.280 people. He never followed up on that. When I emailed him to ask about it, and to try to arrange a meeting with a group of wlw to discuss how and where things had gone so badly wrong on a show that claimed to understand and care about its minority audience, he didn’t even respond.
His skin and scrotum do not prevent him from delivering the reform he promises. But his record, and the record of the BBC, warrants scepticism for now.