In many ways Reuters’ Ed Williams feels like a safe choice. Probably a good thing.
If Williams’ career were a stick of rock it would have the word integrity running through it. Like the director-general Mark Thompson, he has a solid background in current affairs journalism, with some nice blue-chip, in-house comms experience.
He has ethical credits through his pro-bono work at the International Crisis Group and in the political sphere he has even advised General Wesley Clark during the Milosevic trial. But, ironically, it may have been Williams’ six years as a Brunswick consultant that clinched his appointment by the BBC executive.
At the house of Alan Parker, he was at the heart of many crises, which gives him the experience – and the edge – that the Beeb needs at this point in its history.
Where once the executive rooms of the BBC had a staid, clubby, atmosphere, Williams completes a management team with a battle-hardened, combative feel.
This is understandable in the aftermath of various phoneline-rigging, documentary-fixing slurs on its reputation. Indeed his medium-term aim must be to reverse a growing perception that a cavalier attitude to ‘the truth’ has become endemic among BBC staff.
And yet Williams and his peers will ultimately be judged on a more intellectual and strategic level.
Not only has the BBC been forced – in contradiction with its public service remit – to compete in the ephemeral world of celebrity-fuelled popular culture, but it faces more steely competition in providing 24/7 multi-media content against commercially funded media brands, such as Sky and a resurgent Telegraph Group.
There is one overriding question that its communicators must answer: What is the BBC actually for in the modern setting?