BBC settles fight over news line-up

THE BBC completed its long-awaited rejig of news presenters yesterday after two years of turmoil which has seen most of the broadcaster's senior newsreaders pitted against each other and damage to at least one executive's chance of becoming the next director-general.

Welshman Huw Edwards, 37, is to present the Six O'clock News to demonstrate that the BBC is serious about the regions. Edwards has been presenting the News at One and Breakfast News occasionally.Before that he was a BBC political correspondent.

Anna Ford is to anchor the One O'clock News. As a compromise to different factions,Michael Buerk and Peter Sissons will share main billing on the nine o'clock bulletin.

Edwards beat off competition from Jill Dando, who withdrew last week after leaks that the head of news, Tony Hall, thought her too lightweight, Sian Williams from News 24 and Newsnight's Sarah Montague.

Losers in the changes include Martyn Lewis, who has been offered a job on the BBC's overseas channel BBC World. He is said to be "discussing his options". Also dropping off screen is Ed Stourton, who is to join the Today programme and Justin Webb, who takes over The World Tonight.

The delay in making the changes has angered almost all the BBC's news presenters who have been in limbo while senior managers fought their own battles to get favoured candidates on air.

The process began with astrategy review two years ago which aimed to update BBC news programmes for the next millennium. The first report, which recommended the BBC make its news easier to understand, was rejected by the director-general, Sir John Birt.

A second tranche of audience research was carried out while presenters were left not knowing which programmes they were to present. Some, like Buerk, Sissons and Stourton have had their contracts run out while they wait for BBC executives to make up their mind on who they want. "It has been an absolute shambles," said one senior presenter yesterday.

Ford is even believed to have threatened BBC executives with legal action after research was leaked which claimed viewers found her too "frosty" on air.

The main cause of the delay has been a battle between BBC Broadcast, the department which controls BBC1, and BBC News, which makes the news programmes. BBC1's controller, Peter Salmon, wanted a popular figure like Dando to front the Six and Buerk for the Nine while Tony Hall, chief executive of BBC News, was violently opposed.

The animosity is believed to have become so bad that it led to the decision not to interrupt BBC1 programmes on Wednesday night when the Iraq missile attack began. "The departments loathe each other," said a BBC source. "Broadcast thinks news programmes just lose viewers."

Adding to the BBC's woes was a rebellion in Scotland about whether BBC Scotland should have its own news at six.

BBC insiders believe Hall's hopes of succeeding Birt, when he retires in 2000, have been badly damaged.