Fairhead will remain as chair of the broadcaster’s governing body, the BBC Trust, until it is abolished early next year and replaced by a new board, with further details to be announced by the government Thursday. The previous Prime Minister David Cameron had said earlier this year that Fairhead would be re-appointed; but May, who took over the top job in July, has just reversed that decision.
Fairhead told the Financial Times: “The Prime Minister strongly encouraged me to take part in the new appointment process, for what would be a new four-year term as BBC chairman. However, after much thought I have come to the conclusion that I should not do so. It is my belief that it will be better to have a clean break and for the government to appoint someone new.”
In May, the government published a white paper setting out proposals for changing the way the broadcaster was run. Media regulator Ofcom would be given the task of overseeing the running of the BBC, and a new “unitary board” would replace the two existing boards, the BBC Trust and the internal BBC Executive. The new board will “have responsibility for ensuring that the BBC’s strategy, activity and output are in the public interest,” according to a government statement. “No more than half of the board members will be government appointees,” with the chair having a crucial role in appointing the rest.
In August, the parliamentary committee on culture and the media, which comprises lawmakers from various political parties, said it had “serious concerns over the appointment of the new board, including the way the chair was reappointed without a recruitment process.”
It emphasized the difference between the BBC Trust, which was “charged with the governance of the BBC, but has little operational responsibility,” and the new board, which “is the head of a global broadcasting company.”
It added: “The two roles are very different, and have very different responsibilities. The process of appointing the chair should have been via an open and orderly public competition, as is standard in the public sector and as the government has proposed for other members of the board.”