By Agence France-Presse
Embattled BBC boss Tony Hall announced on Monday he will step down in six months’ time, as the British broadcaster grapples with a damaging equal-pay ruling and questions over its funding model as new ways emerge to consume news and entertainment.
Hall, 68, who will depart after seven years at the helm, said the BBC needed new leadership in place ahead of negotiations with the government in the middle of the decade over its future funding and status.
“I will give my all to this organization for the next six months… but in the summer I’ll step down as your Director-General,” he told staff in a group email.
“If I followed my heart I would genuinely never want to leave. However, I believe that an important part of leadership is putting the interests of the organisation first.”
In the meantime, Hall is taking over as chair of the National Gallery in central London — one of Britain’s leading arts institutions and among the capital’s most visited museums, it announced on Monday.
He took up his post at the BBC in 2013, tasked with restoring the reputation of the world’s biggest broadcaster after presenter Jimmy Savile was exposed as one of Britain’s most prolific child-sex offenders following his death.
But the corporation now faces the fallout of an equal-pay ruling in which an employment tribunal ruled it discriminated against female presenter Samira Ahmed, paying her one sixth of the amount given to Jeremy Vine for hosting a similar show.
The ruling opens the door to many other claims and could end up costing the corporation many millions of pounds.
The BBC is also facing pressure from Britain’s new government headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which accuses it of bias in reporting during the recent general election.
Hall rebuffed the claims in his parting email, saying: “In an era of fake news, we remain the gold standard of impartiality and truth.”
The government has previously committed to maintain the license fee model until 2027. A standard license costs each British household just over £154 ($202, 182 euros) a year.
In the last financial year to April 30, the BBC received £3.7 billion in funding from the license fee — an enviable revenue stream in tough economic times for media companies.
But the prime minister has said that “you have to ask yourself whether that kind of approach to funding a TV media organization still makes sense”.
“How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of TV and radio channels,” he asked, highlighting the challenge for the incoming boss.
Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan has said she was “open-minded” over replacing the license fee with a Netflix-style subscription service.
Former BBC boss Mark Thompson, now the chief executive officer of the New York Times, warned Sunday that although such a change was possible, the broadcaster then “wouldn’t be the BBC”.
Chairman of the BBC David Clementi called Hall “an inspirational creative leader, within the UK and around the globe”.
“Tony has led the BBC with integrity and a passion for our values that is obvious to everyone who meets him,” he said.
Hall is a former head of BBC news but spent more than a decade as chief executive of the Royal Opera House before returning to the broadcaster as director general.
The BBC said it would begin searching for a successor “within the next few weeks.”
Hall, who will serve as National Gallery chair — a non-executive role — until at least 2024, said he was relishing the new role.
“The National Gallery isn’t just about serving those who already love art, but reaching a wider audience and future generations,” he added.