Leading article: The BBC governors have chosen the best man for the job

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the most potent brands in the world came under new management when Greg Dyke was appointed director-general of the BBC. To become editor- in-chief of one of our few internationally recognised and respected institutions, the Coca-Cola of its field, is, of course, a signal honour, and one that Mr Dyke deserves warm congratulations on achieving. Mr Dyke's remarks on getting the job suggest that he well understands what he is taking on and what underpins the BBC's strength as a globally recognised icon of integrity: "It has a reputation for honesty, fairness and, most of all, independence. I am determined to safeguard and protect that."

This is an important and sincere pledge. These words, and Mr Dyke's immediate resignation as a member of the Labour Party, show that he will strive hard to answer those, including The Independent, who suggested that his candidature was flawed. Plainly it was. In an ideal world Greg Dyke would not have donated pounds 55,000 to the Labour Party before he became a contender for such an exceptionally sensitive role. It would have been better all round if the BBC had been able to appoint someone who possessed all of Mr Dyke's qualities but who had been untouched by politics. But such a mythical creature did not, of course, exist.

The BBC's governors made what was evidently a difficult and brave decision to opt for the best man for the job despite the controversy that would stimulate. How much easier it would have been to choose someone else. But they had to put the BBC's future first. Their judgement should be respected, and not only on the grounds that they have rightly defied William Hague's crass and immature attempt to impose a veto on Mr Dyke. "Stupid boy", as one of the BBC's famous comedy characters might have put it to Mr Hague, the Private Pike of British politics. The governors took too long about it, and it was badly handled by the chairman. But they got it right on the night.

Sir John Birt achieved much during his time running the corporation. It takes an effort in today's political climate to recall that when Sir John was appointed DG 10 years ago, it was during the high summer of Thatcherism when "10 more years" of Maggie seemed a realistic possibility. Privatising the BBC was no longer too fanciful to contemplate. Sir John successfully second-guessed Tory ministers and pushed through an impressive programme of efficiency savings, sweeping away some disgraceful Spanish practices as he went. It is not too much to claim that he saved the BBC as a public service broadcaster.

Sir John's legacy, though, was a veritable Ainsley Harriott lasagne of layered middle managers, accountants and cost-centre apparatchiks circulating memos written in execrable "Birtspeak", running a Gosplan-style internal market. Mr Dyke and Sir John Birt may be old friends, but they are not like each other. Mr Dyke's instincts are healthily entrepreneurial rather than corporate, and he is a plain speaker. His refreshing background as an "outsider" - he speaks with an unfashionable accent and has not been to university - may make it easier for him to sweep away the worst excesses of Birtism and liberate repressed creative talent along the way. Alan Yentob, whose achievements in programme-making few can rival, will be a vital ally in restoring the morale and status of producers and technical staff serving on the "front line". Who knows, they may even make BBC1's output on a Saturday evening actually worth watching.

Mr Dyke is also very well suited to the formidable challenges facing the BBC as a business - the digital revolution, the spiralling cost of sports rights and the BBC's newer services, World television, News24 and BBC On-line. Mr Dyke's record in running London Weekend Television and saving TV-am is impressive. If any further recommendation is required, then the virulence with which he has been attacked by elements of the Murdoch press should speak volumes. Rupert may be just a little discomfited that Greg Dyke is now pursuing the corporation's interests.

BBC News remains the core of the brand, and integrity its core value. During the Balkans war this Government has shown itself to be as bullying as any of its predecessors. Routine harassment of political reporters by spin doctors has been exposed by one of the BBC's correspondents, Nicholas Jones. No one should doubt Greg Dyke's determination, supported by of the head of news, Tony Hall, to resist these pressures. But he must not be tempted to overcompensate and appease the Tories. The BBC's governors say that Mr Dyke has the skills, flair and experience to take the BBC forward. He will need guts as well.

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