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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK

UK Politics

Tories defied over Dyke appointment

Tory concerns over Greg Dyke winning the BBC top job

Conservatives have reacted angrily to the news that Greg Dyke is to be the new BBC director general.

Tory culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth: "I think it's a regrettable decision"
Tory leader William Hague immediately expressed "concerns" about the appointment, requesting a meeting with Mr Dyke as soon as he takes up the post.

BBC - a new era
Mr Hague said: "Whilst respecting the right of the governors to reach an independent decision, in the current climate of Labour cronyism, we are concerned that the appointment of Mr Dyke, who has given recent and substantial financial support to the Labour Party, may be prejudicial to the BBC's reputation and to its obligations in this regard under its Charter.

Martin Bell: "The difficulty lies with that £50,000"
"We are therefore seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Dyke to explain our concerns and to seek an absolute assurance of fair dealing by the BBC." Shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth described Mr Dyke's appointment as "regrettable".

Concern at Mr Dyke's appointment was not confined to the Conservatives, however. Independent MP Martin Bell, a former BBC correspondent, expressed disquiet at the financial link between the new director general and Labour.

Call for openness

The Liberal Democrats said that previous senior figures in the BBC had been active supporters of the Conservative Party, but called on Mr Dyke to prove his impartiality.

[ image: Greg Dyke: Accused of favouring Labour]
Greg Dyke: Accused of favouring Labour
Nick Harvey, the party's head of campaigns and communications, said: "Previous chairmen of the BBC have been known Tory activists. It is up to Greg Dyke to show in his conduct that he is not politically biased."

The Scottish National Party also voiced reservations, calling for greater openness in the appointments procedure. Michael Russell MSP said: "The BBC is funded by the public, but there was precious little openness, transparency, or accountability to the people in this decision.

"There must be a question mark on the part of opposition parties over this particular appointment, bearing in mind Mr Dyke's substantial financial support for the Labour Party."

Downing Street insisted: "We have not been informed of any appointment and played no part whatsoever in the process."

Professional approach

A Labour Party spokesman said: "This is entirely a matter for the BBC governors."

Gerald Kaufman, Labour chairman of the Commons Culture Committee, said accusations of likely future bias on Mr Dyke's part were nonsense. Mr Kaufman told the BBC: "This man will be an appropriate, impartial editor."

He forecast that if any political party had cause to reproach in the future it would be Labour, because Mr Dyke would "bend over backwards" to prove his impartiality as director general.

The news of Mr Dyke's appointment to the post on Thursday first emerged from Mr Hague's office. BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland had contacted Mr Hague earlier that day.

In a statement confirming Mr Dyke's appointment, the BBC insisted its board of governors had satisfied themselves he would bring no political bias to the position.

"The BBC is aware of concerns about Mr Dyke's previous political activities," it said.

"A key part of the appointment process enabled the governors to satisfy themselves through a rigorous dialogue with the candidate that on appointment, he would sever all links with the Labour Party and with commercial broadcasting interests.

"The governors judged that he would be determined and able to protect the BBC's independence and reputation for impartiality and to resist pressure from whatever source," said the statement.

Tory opposition

Before his appointment, Mr Dyke's donations totalling at least £50,000 to the Labour Party and Tony Blair's opposition office, along with his long friendship with the prime minister, had sparked fierce accusations of New Labour cronyism.

The Tory leader made public his opposition to Mr Dyke winning the BBC top job at the start of this month in a letter to Sir Christopher. In the letter, he argued that Mr Dyke's support for Labour should bar him from the position.

Mr Hague wrote: "It would be totally unacceptable for anyone who has so substantially and recently financially supported a political party, and even helped fund the leadership campaign of a party leader, to be appointed director general of the BBC.

"The director general is the ultimate guarantor of the political impartiality of the BBC."

Sir Christopher responded with an insistence that the BBC governors "will not be influenced by political pressure, whatever the source".

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