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Lberal Democrat broadcasting spokesman, Norman Baker
"There are two clear conflicts of interest"
 real 28k

Sir Christopher Bland
"This is a major opportunity"
 real 28k

Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
'Cronyism' warning over BBC top job
Sir Christopher Bland
Sir Christopher Bland is to take over at British Telecom
The search for a new chairman of the BBC governors has provoked suggestions that there is a risk of "cronyism" developing at the top of the corporation.

A Conservative MP has said that if an obvious Labour supporter were to succeed chairman Sir Christopher Bland it would put put into question the political independence of the UK's largest broadcaster.

Prof Gavyn Davies
Gavyn Davies is currently BBC deputy chairman
The appointment is in the gift of the government - Sir Christopher is a former Conservative councillor who was chosen by the then prime minister John Major in 1996.

There are also claims that Sir Christopher's decision to take up his new job as chairman of BT before relinquishing his BBC role will create a conflict of interest.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant said it would be a mistake to choose current BBC deputy chairman Gavin Davies, a Labour-supporting economist whose wife runs the private office of Chancellor Gordon Brown.

"Political balance is just like justice - not only must it be done but it must be seen to be done," he said.

No connection

Given that the director-general Greg Dyke is a former contributor to Labour, it was important the new chairman had no connection to the party, he added.

Other names suggested by newspapers for the post include Labour leader in the Lords Baroness Jay and e-commerce minister Patricia Hewitt.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport will be placing national newspaper advertisements and possibly using a firm of headhunters to find the next chairman.

Government sources say the job will be given on merit alone, almost certainly after the general election by which time Labour may not be in power.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on the media said the BBC needed strong leadership prior to the election.

That Sir Christopher should feel that he can simultaneously fulfill both roles shows that the BBC needs complete restructuring

Gerald Kaufman
"It seems to me unfortunate that at a time when the BBC board of governors should be at its strongest, at a time of a general election, that Sir Christopher should be off to BT and doing an apparently part-time job at the BBC," he said.

Labour MP Derek Wyatt went further saying Sir Christopher should leave the BBC as soon as he takes up his BT role on 30 April.

Out of date

Gerald Kaufman, Labour chairman of the Commons culture committee, described the role of BBC chairman as "completely out of date and anomalous".

"That Sir Christopher should feel that he can simultaneously fulfill both roles shows that the BBC needs complete restructuring."

He described the make up of the governing body as "the great and the good" and "tokenist" and said the corporation should be run by a full-time executive chairman.

Sir Christopher will replace Sir Iain Vallance who resigned as BT chairman following the collapse of its share price.

Share fall

But the stock market did not respond positively to the news - BT shares fell 30 points to 550p on Thursday and there have been further falls in trading on Friday.

Speaking on theToday programme on Thursday, Sir Christopher denied any conflict of interest and said maintaining the BBC's political independence was paramount.

He told BBC News Online later: "The government need time to recruit and put in place a successor.

"The BBC needs either a chairman or an acting chairman during that time."

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