No-one is better placed than the BBC to “carry Britain’s voice and values to the world”, the corporation’s outgoing director-general Lord Tony Hall has said.
In his final speech in the role, Lord Hall championed the value of public service broadcasting (PSB) in post-Brexit Britain, saying that success will mean drawing on all “our considerable international assets. And that means unleashing the full global potential of the BBC”.
Addressing the online Edinburgh TV Festival, he said: “The debate about the role of public service broadcasters is important, vital and necessary.
“Public service values have never been more needed. The public service broadcasting ecology we have in this country is unique. And it works.”
He added: “People outside this country envy what we have. PSBs are under threat everywhere – of course we always need to adapt and reform, yet we are a vital part of any country’s culture.”
Lord Hall said the raft of disinformation online has made the BBC’s role as a new provider more crucial, adding: “It’s right at the heart of this duty to help bring the nation together.
“The forces of disinformation and social media tend to feed on fracture and drive polarisation.
“They’re often specifically designed to exploit division for commercial or political gain; to unsettle societies or undermine democracy.
“What we do, as a PSB, is a force in the opposite direction. Our goal is to help strengthen society and build bridges by making sure all voices and perspectives are heard.”
He continued by saying that that the international reach of the BBC is crucial to any vision of ‘Global Britain’, adding: “My goal, when I arrived at the BBC, was to double our global audience to reach 500 million people by 2022 – our centenary year. With two years to go, we are today reaching 468 million people each week.
“We have plans in place to double that ambition – to reach a global audience of one billion people by the end of the decade. But it needs extra investment from Government and that bid is with them right now.
“No-one can do more to carry Britain’s voice and values to the world.
“Independent research shows there’s an exceptionally high correlation between places where people are aware of the BBC and places where people think positively about the UK. We even help UK trade.
“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’.
“Success will mean drawing on all our considerable international assets. And that means unleashing the full global potential of the BBC.”
Lord Hall also reflected on his seven years at the helm of the corporation, saying: “I don’t need to remind you, seven years ago we were an organisation in crisis. It was in the wake of the Savile scandal, there were failings over executive pay-offs, there were fundamental questions hanging over our future.
“Today we’re an organisation transformed, inside and out.
“We’re leaner and more efficient than ever. Our overheads are at industry-leading levels – just 5% of our total costs, meaning 95% goes on programmes and services.
“Seven years ago we had an in-house production operation in decline. Today we have BBC Studios – the most-awarded British production company in the UK.”
He added: “There is no doubt in my mind that PSBs can do more than ever for the UK in the years ahead.
“We have to keep banging the drum for what only we can deliver. The role we can play in helping to find the answer to so many of the biggest issues now facing society.
“From division and polarisation, to the rise of fake news and disinformation, to our creative and cultural strength, even to helping society safely navigate a path through the Covid crisis.”
This year’s Edinburgh TV Festival will take place from August 24 to 27 in a digital format.