Tony Hall is to step down as director-general of the BBC, making way for a new leader to take the publicly funded broadcaster through a series of crucial negotiations on its future funding and role with Boris Johnson’s Tory government.
In an email to staff on Monday morning, Lord Hall unexpectedly said he would leave in the summer, allowing the BBC board to start a recruitment process to find his successor.
Lord Hall has served as director-general for seven years and some senior figures within the BBC expected him to stay on for the corporation’s centenary in 2022. But the strained relations with Mr Johnson’s administration and looming negotiations with the government over the licence fee, which provides the majority of the corporation’s funding, may have convinced the director-general to hand over the reins.
He said it had been “such a hard decision” to step down but that he thought it was in the best interests of the organisation.
“The BBC has an eleven-year charter — our mission is secure until 2027. But we also have a midterm review process for the spring of 2022,” he wrote to staff. “As I said last week, we have to develop our ideas for both. And it must be right that the BBC has one person to lead it through both stages.”
David Clementi, the BBC’s chairman, paid tribute to Lord Hall as an “inspirational creative leader”. He said the corporation’s board would now open the process to find a successor, with a job description to be published in a few weeks’ time and candidates sought both internally and externally. “We are committed to selecting the best-qualified person for the job,” he said.
Sir David’s tenure as chairman is set to end next year, when the government will appoint his replacement. Lord Hall’s early exit means that the current BBC board, led by Sir David, will appoint the new director-general.
Claire Enders, of media research group Enders Analysis, said: “He’s getting out for someone to have a fresh and constructive and forward-thinking dialogue about the next three years, which are going to be hell.”
Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, said Lord Hall had “made a huge contribution to public service broadcasting in his career”.
The new director-general will take over at a critical time for the BBC, which has been squeezed by the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime and the growing power of large production companies including Disney, AT&T — which owns HBO — and Sky, now part of Comcast.
Internal candidates for the role include Charlotte Moore, director of content, Tim Davie, head of BBC Studios, and James Purnell, head of radio, according to BBC insiders.
Lord Hall was appointed as director-general in 2012 after his predecessor George Entwistle quit the role after only 54 days — the shortest reign of any head of the broadcaster. The BBC was in crisis at the time amid three inquiries into its journalism and past culture, stemming from claims linking the late television presenter Jimmy Savile to child abuse.
He navigated the BBC through one charter renewal in 2015, when an additional £700m of cost was loaded on to the BBC budget as it took on the burden of funding free licence fees for people over 75.
The broadcaster has come under pressure, however, after Mr Johnson said in December he would consider scrapping the licence fee.
It was also criticised by figures on both the left and the right during the general election for not abiding by its guidelines on impartiality and has come under fire for its record on gender pay.