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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 April, 2004, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Tough challenges face Grade

By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

Michael Grade at BBC press conference
Grade was welcomed with huge applause by BBC staff
Rarely in recent months has a government decision received such overwhelming approval.

The appointment of Michael Grade as the BBC's new chairman - to pick up the pieces after the Hutton affair - has been almost universally welcomed, by the industry, by politicians and the press.

Even the Daily Mail - the harshest of his critics and the paper that labelled him the pornographer in chief during his tenure at Channel 4 - has decided to bury the hatchet.

If anyone can save the BBC, it is Michael Grade
The Daily Mirror
In a leader headed "A huge challenge", it writes: "The deed is done. Mr Grade now takes the chair. And since this is a moment to look forwards rather than back, we unstintingly wish him the best of luck. He will need it."

Others have been much warmer. The Daily Mirror says: "If you had to draw an identikit picture of the BBC chairman, it would have Michael Grade's qualities. And we don't just say that because he hones his popular touch when he worked on the Daily Mirror. If anyone can save the BBC, it is Michael Grade."

The Tories' media spokeswoman, Julie Kirkbride, heaped praise on him, saying his wealth of experience made him an ideal candidate and the BBC would relish his "colourful and occasionally controversial" character.

Yet right till the last minute there were real doubts that he would get the job. On Thursday, when the Financial Times revealed the announcement was to come this week, a fortnight earlier than expected, it said ministers had gone for a safe pair of hands. That seemed to put Grade out of the reckoning.

Feud

There was a widespread feeling that Downing Street would never approve his appointment because of his longstanding feud with John Birt, the former director-general who now works in Number 10 as an adviser.

The fact that the Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell nonetheless recommended his appointment, and Downing Street approved it, shows ministers really do want to put the Hutton affair behind them.

Now comes the hard part
The long and acrimonious battle between the BBC and the government has been hugely damaging to both sides. The Hutton Report, universally recognised as one-sided, made matters worse.

Grade now faces tough challenges.

The mere fact of his appointment helps, sending the right signals to BBC staff and those outside that the BBC is in the hands of a man who believes in the licence fee, its independence from government and the right of future generations to gain - as their parents and grandparents have - from an institution that has brought huge benefits to the nation.

But now comes the hard part.

The in-tray

First he - with the board of governors - must appoint a director-general to take the BBC forward after the disruption and damage caused by the Kelly affair.

Second, he must address the dual role of the governors - as both champions and regulators of the BBC - which he says needs, at the very least, clarification but almost certainly repair and real change.

And thirdly he must lead the BBC's response to the government's Charter Review process, faced with attacks from commercial rivals and others who say the BBC has become too big and powerful and should be cut down to size.

For months, Ms Jowell has been saying that the one certain outcome of the Charter Review process would be a strong BBC, independent of government.

Grade's appointment shows she means it and makes that outcome more likely than once seemed possible.




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