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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 13:16 GMT
Dangerous times for the BBC
Torin Douglas
By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent

This isn't the first ferocious row between the BBC and the government of the day.

Over 75 years, from the General Strike and the Suez Crisis to the Falklands War and the American bombing of Libya, ministers have attacked the BBC's journalism and tried to curb it.

BBC errors have occasionally made matters worse and when several such incidents converged in the 1980s, the then director general was sacked by the governors.

Mark Byford
Mark Byford is well qualified to stand in for Greg Dyke

But never has the BBC simultaneously lost its chairman and director general.

The Hutton report has destablised the corporation, leaving it leaderless at a time when its whole future is being reviewed by the government.

Within minutes of Greg Dyke's resignation, its acting chairman had issued an unreserved apology, leaving many in the BBC and outside seeking reassurance its board was not weakening its hard-won commitment to independence from government.

These are dangerous times for the BBC.

Already under attack from commercial rivals, its editorial standards are now under fire, along with its managerial competence and whole system of governance.

Yet the corporation must now wait in limbo until a new BBC chairman is selected by the very government with which it has been feuding

It is not entirely paralysed, however.

Editorial reform

Taking Mr Dyke's place as acting director general is Mark Byford, the former head of the BBC World Service, who is well qualified to champion the cause of public service broadcasting.

In the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, he was promoted to deputy director general and put in charge of strengthening the BBC's complaints and compliance procedures.

One of his first tasks will be to complete the extensive editorial reforms the BBC was already putting in train.

He's seen as one of the favourites to take the job permanently.

Rivals may include the chief executive of Channel 4 Mark Thompson, his predecessor Michael Jackson, and the BBC's director of television Jana Bennett.

But that appointment can not be made until the BBC has a new chairman, and that could prove a lengthy process since the job must be advertised and filled under Nolan rules.

Names mentioned include the former Treasury mandarin Lord Burns, and Richard Lambert, former editor of the Financial Times.

But the BBC is a large and complex organisation,with a central national role and an international reputation.

And no-one would choose to fill both its top roles at once, still less with its future to be decided in less than two years.


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