BBC slated as control freaks

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER BBC presenter Chris Dunkley turned on corporation executives yesterday, accusing them of behaving like control freaks by trying to silence dissenting voices.

Mr Dunkley, who fronted Radio 4's Feedback show for 13 years, walked out on the final two programmes in the current series after hearing he was to be replaced in the new year. He said his removal showed a "Soviet- style politburo" intolerance of dissent.

The weekly show was a focal point for listener dissatisfaction, particularly after introduction of a controversial Radio 4 schedule in April that led to the defection of 500,000 listeners. James Boyle, the network's controller, has come in for regular criticism.

Mr Dunkley said: "The BBC is much more centralised these days and Radio 4 is the prime example. Control freakery is the phrase at the back of my mind and Feedback does not fit into the control-freak mentality. In the past the BBC was much more willing to enter into debate. Now they perpetually attempt to sideline the criticism as the bleating of an unrepresentative minority ... Nobody has explained anything to me (about my sacking) and, in the absence of a clear explanation, I have to wonder.

"It's difficult to avoid feeling they are shooting the messenger. We are a complaining voice and in the end it's one they don't want to hear any more. (The new programme) will only devote half as much time to listeners' letters. The rest, I'm told, will be telling people what the BBC does - that ... sounds like a thinly disguised PR job for the BBC. One just wonders to what extent it will be effective as an outlet for continued criticism."

Producers denied the new Feedback will be soft. It will last half an hour instead of the present 15 minutes and go out on Friday afternoons after The World at One. The BBC is trying to persuade Roger Bolton, who presents Channel 4's Right to Reply, to take over.

A Radio 4 spokeswoman said: "If we really were control freaks we would move the show to late at night, not to one of our highest listening spots and double it in length."

It has been another testing week in a trying year for Radio 4. Mr Dunkley's departure coincided with the sacking of Russell Davies, presenter of Talking Pictures, and the resignation of Robin Lustig after he failed to persuade executives to move back his weekly phone-in The Exchange to its original morning slot.