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BBC Shields from Further Storms

Further revelations of BBC failings may weaken the pubcaster

U.K. pubcaster the BBC has tapped a new chief flak as it struggles to regain its poise following a bruising year, and just as it enters what is likely to be a turbulent period

John Shield, who takes over as director of communications in November, has a wealth of experience as a publicist for government departments. This may help the broadcaster as negotiations get underway with the government to reup its charter, which will define its objectives, strategy and the scope of its activities.

The current charter ends in early 2017, and rival media operators, especially Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, are likely to use the opportunity to lobby for further reductions to the BBC’s budget and curb its impact on the commercial activities of rivals.

Another source of concern is that Chris Patten, the embattled head of its governing body, the BBC Trust, is about to end his term, and will not seek to extend his contract. Patten, a former government minister, will step down in April 2015, but there are moves to hasten his departure after a disastrous year for the broadcaster.

The most recent public relations distaster, a hostile investigation by lawmakers into excessive severance payments to departing BBC executives, led to a decision by the BBC’s new director general Tony Hall to review the relationship between the BBC Trust and the BBC executive. The review will be led by Julian Payne, the BBC said Friday.

The successive scandals in the past year have also led some to question the wisdom of Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the New York Times Company’s chairman and publisher, to appoint Mark Thompson, a former director general at the BBC, as president and CEO at the Times. According to recent reports, New York Times journalists have grown increasingly concerned about the direction Thompson is taking them, and so any further revelations about misdoings at the BBC on his watch may hand ammunition to the doubters.

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