BBC’s Birt confirms Phillis, Forgan posts

John Birt, the BBC’s controversial new director-general, unveiled the first major appointments of his regime yesterday, along with substantial changes in the way the pubcaster does business.

He named Bob Phillis, chairman of Independent Television News, as the new deputy director-general, and Liz Forgan, Channel 4’s director of programs, as managing director of BBC Network Radio.

Phillis will handle management of the BBC’s vast resources, along with its expanding international and commercial activities.

Birt signaled the BBC’s ambition to be the world’s leading broadcaster, announcing creation of a single directorate spanning World Service Radio and World Service Television. He named Phillis managing director of the new division.

“We mean to lead the world,” Birt declared. Phillis is charged with “ensuring the BBC maintains its commanding lead as a world radio broadcaster, and taking every advantage that new satellite technology offers to build another commanding position in TV.”

Phillis and Forgan are two of the most widely liked and respected exex in British broadcasting.

Forgan, in tandem with BBC2 controller Alan Yentob, was given the immediate task of doing a complete review of BBC’s TV and radio programming strategy at home.

Other key changes announced yesterday include:

o An altered role for BBC Enterprises, which handles the commercial exploitation of BBC programs. In the future, each production department will retain the rights to its own programs, and will enter contractual relationships for distribution with BBC-E (or possibly outside companies). Each department will be free to reinvest income in its own productions.

o The separation of program-making from commissioning and scheduling. The controllers of BBC1 and BBC2 will no longer be responsible for managing the very production departments that supply their programs, giving them greater independence to order the best available shows from producers inside and outside the BBC.

o The creation of a smaller central management team exclusively concerned with setting strategy and monitoring its implementation. The day-to-day running of the pubcaster’s varied activities will be devolved downwards to individual departments, responsible for managing their own budgets.

However, the reforms did not go quite as far as predicted. Birt was expected to merge TV and radio program-making under Forgan.

“In some years’ time, this may indeed be the right structure for the BBC,” Birt said, “but I judged it too far for one leap.”

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