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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Smith: Portillo for BBC
Michael Portillo
Michael Portillo lost the race to become Tory leader
Former Culture Secretary Chris Smith has backed Michael Portillo for the position of vice-chairman of the BBC.

In an open letter to the new chairman Gavyn Davies, Mr Smith congratulates him on his new appointment before giving his advice on what should be the way forward for the BBC.

Mr Davies' new position has caused controversy because both he and director-general Greg Dyke have close ties with the Labour Party.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith urges Mr Davies to concentrate on flagship channels
Writing in the Observer, Mr Smith says he believes Mr Davies' right-hand man should be a Conservative to balance the political power.

He suggests Mr Portillo is the right man for the job because he has "the experience and clout the position needs".

Resources

Mr Smith also expresses his beliefs that the chairman should concentrate on the BBCs flagship channels, BBC One and Two, putting in extra resources and funding.

He writes: "BBC One... needs investment and rehabilitation. The money is there to do this, and it's important that a good slice of that extra revenue does go into improving BBC One."

He also warns of the danger of focusing on new digital channels.

Gavyn Davies
Gavyn Davies served as vice-chairman for eight months
"There will be a temptation to put all the artistic, intellectual, difficult and challenging programmes on the new channel and leave BBC One an 'entertainment-only' zone.

"One of the great glories of BBC One has always been its eclectic nature, its broad mixture of programmes of a wide variety, but always aiming for high quality. That broad-brush nature must be maintained."

Divide

Mr Davies, an economist, was appointed chairman after serving as vice-chairman to Sir Christopher Bland for eight months.

He was heavily tipped to succeed Sir Christopher, who has taken the helm at British Telecom.

The only stumbling block was thought to be his Labour ties, because traditionally the top two posts at the BBC were divided between the parties.

New Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has been asked to put forward a list of contenders for the vice-chair position.

Mr Portillo lost the race to become Conservative Party leader after the initial rounds of balloting.

It is not know whether he would want to join the BBC but he has expressed his interest in the media in the past.

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