Jan 20, 2020
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Tony Hall to Step Down as BBC Chief

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LONDON — After leading the British Broadcasting Corporation for seven years, Tony Hall said on Monday that he would resign this summer to become chairman of the National Gallery, an unexpected announcement that made no mention of the gender pay-gap scandal that has dogged the BBC in recent years.

“If I followed my heart I would genuinely never want to leave,” Mr. Hall, 68, said in an email to BBC employees on Monday. “However, I believe that an important part of leadership is putting the interests of the organization first.”

Explaining his decision to leave the post of director general, Mr. Hall pointed to a review of the BBC’s performance by lawmakers in 2022, and said that its charter would be up for renewal in 2027. He stressed the importance of having the same leader for both events.

Mr. Hall joined the National Gallery’s board in November. “The National Gallery isn’t just about serving those who already love art, but reaching a wider audience and future generations,” he said in a statement released by the museum.

Word of his resignation from the BBC comes less than a month after the broadcaster lost a high-profile court case over pay disparity: Samira Ahmed, a well-known female TV host, sued the broadcaster for 700,000 pounds, or about $915,000, in back pay after she learned a male colleague doing similar work was paid more than six times as much. In 2018, the BBC apologized to a former China editor, Carrie Gracie, and said it would provide backdated wages after she quit over unequal pay.

The broadcaster has also faced charges of bias from the new Conservative government. Some lawmakers have taken aim at the BBC’s main source of funding: the £154 annual license fee charged to all television viewers across the country.

“I think the BBC is in some turmoil over its election coverage,” Roy Greenslade, a professor of journalism at City University of London and a media commentator for The Guardian, said in a phone interview. “I don’t know whether that had any impact on Tony’s decision to go, but I’m sure he has picked up the unusual level of criticism.”

Critics have asked for years why the BBC is allowed to use taxpayer money as it competes with private broadcasting companies. Before the general election in December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson questioned whether the model “still makes sense in the long term given the way that other organizations manage to fund themselves.”

The broadcaster came under fire last year when it dropped a license-fee exemption for older viewers. Mr. Greenslade said the decision was a hasty one that he thinks Mr. Hall has always regretted.

On the pay-gap front, the company conceded this month that in the past “our pay framework was not transparent and fair enough,” and said that it had made “significant changes to address that.”

But over the weekend, it came under renewed criticism after The Financial Times reported that an employment consulting firm hired to help tackle its pay practices had a gender pay gap twice that of the broadcaster’s.

And on Sunday, Sarah Montague, a prominent BBC radio presenter who formerly co-hosted Radio 4’s “Today” program, became the latest employee to discuss a pay disparity with male colleagues.

“Last year after a long period of stressful negotiations, I accepted a settlement of £400,000 subject to tax and an apology from the BBC for paying me unequally for so many years,” she said on Twitter on Sunday, responding to reports that she had received £1 million.

Claire Enders, the founder of the telecommunications and media research firm Enders Analysis, said the mounting criticism would make it an especially challenging time to take charge of the BBC.

“The BBC produces extraordinary amounts of news and is bound to keep stepping on people’s toes,” said Ms. Enders in a phone interview. “That has to be done with a fresh voice.”

The BBC chairman, David Clementi, described Tony Hall as an “inspirational leader” within Britain and internationally.

The BBC’s board will choose the next director general. Mr. Clementi said it would advertise the role in the coming weeks.

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