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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
New BBC chairman sets out stall
By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Sir Michael Lyons has been named the first chairman of the BBC Trust - but who is he and what will he do?

Sir Michael Lyons
Sir Michael Lyons has faced accusations of political cronyism
Until his appointment, Sir Michael Lyons was not one of the big beasts of broadcasting.

But now he is set to play a critical role in the future direction and regulation of the BBC at the head of its governing Trust - which he describes as the corporation's "parent body".

The BBC's new father figure has a CV that encompasses politics, the public sector, economics, boardrooms, the arts - and a bit of broadcasting.

He is not a programme-maker, but was a non-executive director of Central Television (now part of ITV) for three years, and chaired ITV's regional advisory council until recently.

But his new job does not require practical TV and radio skills. The BBC Trust is intended to be an arms-length regulator.

It will set the corporation's general strategy, approving major changes, keeping an eye on the budget and calling executives to account to make sure they deliver quality and value.

The chairman is also the main link to the government in any negotiations - but Sir Michael's connections with Chancellor Gordon Brown have raised concerns.

Life on Mars
Sir Michael said Life on Mars was one of his favourite shows
Sir Michael has carried out three reviews for the chancellor in the past - two about local government funding and one into relocating civil servants out of London.

Sir Michael insists he is no crony, but his critics say he is too close to the Labour Party and Mr Brown to be independent.

His other experience includes running three local councils over 11 years and he is currently chairman of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He lists his interests in Who's Who as "music, theatre, cinema and walking".

I think he has too close a link to politics, and not enough experience in television
Simon Davenport, Norwich

But it is his stint as a trader in Bell Street Market in north London in the early 1970s - to fund his Masters in economics - that is mentioned most often.

"Let me underline that I'm certainly not seeking a part in EastEnders on the basis of this experience," he said.

"Surprisingly, the fact that actually I'm a professional economist comes across less frequently than the fact that I was once a stallholder. But there we go."

Radio 4 fan

Although not responsible for programme-making, Sir Michael said he was an "inveterate supporter" of BBC Radio 4, citing the Today programme, the Moral Maze and new comedy as his personal preferences.

And he is a fan of TV drama, naming ITV's Jane Austen adaptation Persuasion, the BBC's Life on Mars and US import The Sopranos among his favourites.

The latter "demonstrates we have something to learn from American television as well as offer to them", he said.

So what can we expect from his four years at the helm of the BBC Trust?

We must ensure that the decisions we take represent the interests of those who matter most - the public
Sir Michael Lyons
Setting out his position to reporters, he repeated the government's intention that the Trust would be the voice of licence fee payers.

"We must ensure that the decisions we take represent the interests of those who matter most," he said. "The public, the people who own the BBC."

That would involve safeguarding the BBC's independence and impartiality, he said, as well as ensuring the licence fee was invested wisely and listening to concerns from the commercial sector.

"And most of all, we will set a bold and exciting public service challenge to the BBC," he said.

Sir Michael Lyons
A major survey is intended to help the Trust get in tune with the public
He would ask it to "draw on all its creative skills to provide the very best quality, most original programmes possible with the monies that are available".

The traditional BBC values of "inform, educate and entertain" were also central to his message.

And expanding on the idea that the Trust was the corporation's "parent body", Sir Michael pledged to be a firm but fair father figure.

A good parent "sets very clear expectations, is consistent in their behaviour, is supportive but is ready to question what they do", he said.

And he will have a lot of stern tests of his discipline and judgement when he takes the chair on 1 May.

His first priority, he said, was to learn what the public expects from the BBC - what they love and hate - which will include digesting the results of a major survey.

This insight will be used to rule on the executives' plans for spending the licence fee over the next six years - a decision that will be made in the next few months.

He also backed the proposal to move parts of the BBC to Manchester.

But he said it was too early to give a view on other specific decisions to be made in the coming months - such as approving the BBC's on-demand plans and approving adverts on the international parts of the BBC website.

Sir Michael Lyons on what he hopes to achieve

Council expert named BBC chairman
05 Apr 07 |  Entertainment


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