Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 17:01 UK

BBC casting 'not up to ministers'

Alan Yentob
Alan Yentob is one of the corporation's longest-standing executives

Ministers should not interfere in the BBC's casting decisions, its creative director Alan Yentob has suggested.

His comments came after two ministers expressed concern over Arlene Phillips' exit from Strictly Come Dancing.

"Everybody around the building would like to be the person who decides who goes on that show or that show," Mr Yentob told London's Evening Standard.

"Maybe Ben Bradshaw and Harriet Harman are no different." Neither minister was immediately available for comment.

In an interview with the Sunday Mirror last weekend, Culture Secretary Mr Bradshaw - a former BBC reporter - said it would "not be acceptable" if Phillips, 66, had been been axed on account of her age, a charge the BBC has denied.

Equality minister Ms Harman, meanwhile, said it was "absolutely shocking" that Strictly Come Dancing judge Phillips was being replaced by former winner Alesha Dixon, 30, in the popular show's next series.

"As equality minister, I am suspicious that there is age discrimination there," she told the House of Commons last month.

'No complacency'

Harriet Harman and Ben Bradshaw
Ms Harman and Mr Bradshaw have publicly commented on the Strictly row

Mr Yentob also responded to criticism of his expenses claims, which included a £1,600 charge for an "executive Christmas dinner".

When the expenses of Mr Yentob and other senior staff were revealed last month, the BBC said the meal had been "at a modestly-priced pizza restaurant".

It was "part of any senior leader's role to engage with people of all levels" and this would inevitably "sometimes involve drinks, meals or hospitality", a BBC spokesman added.

The publication of the expenses led some to accuse the corporation of profligacy.

"I find it difficult to say that the BBC expenses are intemperate," he said.

He added: "I don't think there's any reason for a collective mea culpa, which isn't to say we should be complacent about the times we're living in.

"In an environment in which ordinary people are struggling, it's difficult [for them] to understand something of the convention that goes on in certain areas of business."

A former controller of BBC One and BBC Two, Mr Yentob is one of the corporation's longest-serving executives.

He currently presents BBC One's Imagine arts programme and chairs the board of BBC Films.

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