BBC governors admit need for role change

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The Independent Online
THE BBC's board of governors, accused by leading broadcasters inside and outside the corporation of taking it into terminal decline, yesterday bowed to criticism and admitted they had to modernise radically and quickly to survive the 1996 charter renewal.

Lord Nicholas Gordon Lennox, a former British ambassador to Spain and a governor since 1990, said the 12 governors had to be seen as clearly representing the public interest. They had to remove themselves from managing the BBC and be far less secretive. He wanted the discredited system of government appointment changed and said complaints would have to be dealt with more effectively, with on-screen apologies.

Lord Gordon Lennox was speaking for the board in an address to the Edinburgh Television Festival. The governors' proposals, outlined before a volatile audience of programme makers, will be part of the BBC's critical charter review to be published in October, shortly after David Mellor, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, has released his Green Paper on the BBC. Changes may well come in next year.

Lord Gordon Lennox's speech, the first by a governor to the festival, took the conference by surprise. He said the governors wanted a new openness; he wanted to listen and learn from what people were saying. He was clearly surprised by the degree of antagonism displayed by staff towards BBC policies.

His speech came amid intense speculation about the corporation's future - the subject of the biggest debate in a 70-year history. Rumours are rife that Radio 2 and Radio 5 might be axed, Radio 1 may change its format, and television production will face massive alterations.

His remarks are the first indication of the governors' thinking since the ill-fated BBC Cotswold conference at the Lucknam Park hotel, heavily criticised as wasting money.

Michael Grade, a former BBC director of programmes who is chief executive at Channel 4, launched the attack on the BBC at the festival last Friday. He said the governors, in their present form, had to be scrapped because their interference with the BBC's running had disqualified them from exercising their true role of defending the public interest.

But Lord Gordon Lennox said he did not recognise the picture painted by Mr Grade of governors appeasing the Government and interfering with management. 'In my two years as a governor I can recall no such instance, and that is a period which includes the last general election. Perhaps it was different in the past.'

Mr Grade was widely praised for forcing into the open deep concerns about the way BBC operates. He said he was 'very heartened by the developments of the last 48 hours. It will be very heartening if the governors and BBC top management start listening to what their own staff are saying.'

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