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Public Service Broadcasters “vital” to democracy: Lord Hall’s final speech

Posted on: August 24, 2020 by Mariella Brown

The BBC provides a “priceless commodity” in the truth it offers societies against the challenge of fake news, the corporation’s outgoing director-general said today.

The forces of disinformation and social media tend to “feed on fracture and drive polarisation” and the BBC “can do more for the UK than ever before” to serve viewers following the pandemic.

Lord Hall told the Edinburgh International Television Festival that alongside championing integrity in news, public service broadcasters (PSBs) must act to protect democratic integrity.

Valued public service broadcasters

In a speech that focused on the unique role of PSBs in society, Lord Hall said that the coronavirus pandemic has further emphasised the role of the BBC and broadcasters as part of the “glue” that binds nations and communities together.

“Audiences came to us in their millions for information they could rely on and respite from worries everyone was experiencing,” Lord Hall told his audience via Zoom.

In March, 94% of British people used the BBC.

He added, “PSBs can do more for the UK in the year ahead. We have to keep banging the drum for what only we can deliver.”

Lord Hall reflected on his seven years as head of the corporation, before he is replaced by BBC executive Tim Davie next week.

“Today, we are an organisation transformed inside and out,” he said.

The director general’s aim when he arrived at the BBC in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal in 2013 was to double the corporation’s global audience reach by 2022. The BBC now reaches 468 million people a week.

Global, diverse audience

The corporation planned to reach 500 million by its centenary year, he said, with an aim to have a global audience of one billion by 2030.

“This could hardly be more important as Britain sets out to forge a new relationship with the world, based on an ambitious vision of ‘Global Britain’”, he said.

“Success will mean drawing on all our considerable international assets. And that means unleashing the full global potential of the BBC.”

In order to achieve this, there would be a greater investment in diverse British talent which would aid the BBC’s other goal of basing 70% of its workforce outside of London by the end of this charter.

The BBC currently stands at half of its workforce outside of the M25.

Digital future

A key part of the roadmap for the future is the BBC’s drive to digital platforms. Although the pandemic saw a great increase in traditional TV viewers – in some weeks of lockdown, TV viewing was up nearly 50% year-on-year – the move to the digital platforms is seen as crucial.

Lord Hall told listeners there had been 4.8 billion requests for BBC iPlayer last year and 3.6 million weekly users for the corporation’s audio platform BBC Sounds.

He added that the BBC produced the biggest educational offer in its history with five million visitors a week to its learning platform Bitesize.

Despite the recent job cuts to BBC England and threats to programmes such as Inside Out, Lord Hall said it was a crucial time for the BBC to continue to thrive in the future.

“This is a really important moment: history is littered – not just in media, but across many sectors – with companies and organisations that failed to adapt to the digital world. Many great names have fallen.

“The BBC isn’t one of them.”