BBC seeks chairman

Blurb sez position requires leader for challenging times

LONDON — Ads appeared Monday offering the job of BBC chairman, following the resignation of Gavyn Davies in the wake of the Hutton report into the pubcaster’s coverage of the buildup to the Iraq war.

The successful candidate will be expected to earn every penny of the meager £81,320 ($138,244) annual salary he or she will be paid for a four-day week.

But there will be no shortage of candidates lining up for the job, which will include, the ad acknowledges, leading “the BBC governors at a difficult and challenging time.”

Whoever is chosen will “need to respond to the conclusions of the Hutton report.” The annointed one also must rise to the challenge of “regulatory change,” meaning the arrival of new communications regulator Ofcom, whose brief includes policing key parts of the BBC. He/she also must be involved in the review of the BBC’s Royal Charter, the document that determines the pubcaster’s existence.

Applicants must have proven senior experience; strong leadership, vision and strategic skills; highly developed communications skills; the credibility to act as an effective link between the BBC, the government and Parliament; and an appreciation of the public interest in broadcasting issues. And that’s just for starters.

What the ad fails to mention is that whoever is selected will choose the pubcaster’s next director-general, effectively the broadcaster’s CEO.

The previous director general, Greg Dyke, was ousted in the wake of Hutton after the BBC governors failed to give him a vote of confidence.

BBC chairmen, effectively government appointees, are extremely powerful figures. In the past at least two British prime ministers have hired hand-picked chairs in order to sack troublesome directors general.

Davies was a keen supporter of the Blair administration and particularly close to Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer and Blair’s right-hand man.

But in the tussle with the government over the BBC’s report of the “sexed-up” dossier that allegedly exaggerated the case for war with Iraq, Davies’ friendship counted for nothing.

Because of the fallout from Hutton and criticism that the government is trying to compromise the BBC’s independence, it is possible the new chair may support the opposition Conservative Party.

Those who could apply for the job include Patricia Hodgson, former CEO of the Independent Television Commission; Terry Burns, a well-connected former academic already heading the government’s BBC charter review; ex-Conservative MPs Chris Patten and Michael Portillo; and John Birt, a former BBC director general who now works part-time for Blair.

An appointment is expected by April.

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