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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Bland's potential conflicts of interest
Sir Christopher Bland
Sir Christopher has the backing of the BBC governors
By the BBC's Media Correspondent Torin Douglas

There are two potential conflicts of interest for Sir Christopher Bland in chairing both BT and the BBC - editorial and commercial.

The BBC's news programmes will be covering stories about BT while he is the company's chairman.

And the BBC will be dealing with BT - and its rivals such as the cable companies - as an important supplier of the technology that gets its programmes and online services to the public.

How serious are these conflicts and what can be done about them?

On the issue of editorial conflict, the question - though very important - is more one of perception than of genuine danger that the BBC will "go soft" on BT.

Bland in TV
BBC chairman from 1996
LWT chairman 1983-1994
Deputy chairman Independent Broadcasting Authority 1972-1979
Interviewed by John Humphreys on Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday morning, alongside the outgoing BT chairman Sir Iain Vallance, Sir Christopher said the BBC's editorial independence was paramount.

And he pointed out that, even though he - the BBC chairman - was in the studio, there was no sign of Humphreys giving Sir Iain an easy ride.

That was as it should be - and he expected to have no influence on the BBC's editorial coverage of BT, just as he had had none over its coverage of BBC matters in his five years as chairman.

The commercial conflict is also potentially serious.

The BBC has many commercial contracts with BT and its rivals in the telecommunications business, some running into many millions of pounds.

Heavily regulated

But Sir Christopher pointed out that both organisations were very large and heavily regulated and they had systems in place to deal with such conflicts.

If a conflict of interest arises, those mechanisms will come into play.

Neither of these conflicts can be allowed to continue for long, but Sir Christopher has made it clear that he is staying at the BBC only as long as it takes to ensure an orderly handover to a successor.

I understand he consulted the BBC director general, Greg Dyke, its new vice-chairman, Gavyn Davies, and the prime minister before deciding to take the BT job, and then only on the condition that he would stay at the BBC till a successor is found.

General election

He received the backing of the BBC board of governors.

The fact is that the BBC could not be left without a strong and experienced chairman during the general election - and that is as just as important a consideration as the conflicts of interest arising from Sir Christopher holding both jobs.

Whichever party wins the election will decide on his successor and the BBC says it expects the new person to be in place by September.

Many people would say it should be done sooner, if possible.

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26 Apr 01 | Business
Bland's road to BT
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