Dyke: `I don't regret gift to Labour'

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The Independent Online
GREG DYKE, the BBC's new director-general, said yesterday that he had no regrets about giving pounds 55,000 to the Labour Party and supporting Tony Blair's leadership campaign.

"Obviously it made things very difficult for me, but I have no regrets at all - you have to do what you believe in," he said.

Mr Dyke confirmed that he is anxious to meet William Hague as soon as possible to say that he recognises his concerns about the issue, and to give the Tory leader his assurance that, despite his past support for Labour, he will defend the independence of the BBC.

"I will explain how much I believe in the impartiality of the BBC and say `judge me on my record'," he said. The BBC "has a reputation for honesty, fairness and most of all independence I am determined to safeguard and protect that".

Mr Hague has described Mr Dyke, 52, as a "totally unacceptable" candidate to be director-general. The meeting between the two men is expected to take place early next week.

The BBC confirmed that Mr Dyke will start work at the end of October as director-general designate, working closely with the current director- general, Sir John Birt, until next April when Sir John retires.

During that period, strategic and appointments decisions will be made by the two men jointly. "This means that BBC bosses will be trying to impress Dyke, rather than Birt, straight away - it is Dyke who has the power now," a BBC executive said.

Mr Dyke, however, said he will spend the first months of his job learning about the BBC, with any big strategic changes coming later. The biggest issue facing him is over the size of the BBC - which under Sir John Birt has been expanding into numerous new digital channels.

Mr Dyke said: "This is probably the most exciting job in broadcasting anywhere in the world and it is an immense privilege to be able to do it."

He denied reports that he had been asked by the BBC to surrender the role of editor-in-chief of the BBC to the head of BBC News, Tony Hall.

The BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, answered criticisms yesterday that the selection process for choosing the new director-general has been chaotic, unwieldy and gone on too long. "We started looking in earnest at the end of March ... by any standards that is not a long time to find a chief executive of a pounds 2.8bn corporation," he said. "It wasn't too long, but it was extremely thorough, extremely careful and extremely painstaking."

Mr Dyke confirmed that earlier this week he faced a grilling by BBC governors specifically on the question of his donations to Labour. He said he cited occasions in the past, particularly during his time at London Weekend Television, when he had stood up to political pressure from all sides.

"It helped that Christopher knew me as a journalist, and had worked with me in the past," he said, referring to the fact that the BBC chairman was once chairman of LWT.

Mr Dyke, who also committed himself to the BBC licence fee, and said he would continue to defend it as the main source of BBC funding.

Friends of Mr Dyke have been incensed at a campaign to prevent him becoming DG, most prominently waged in Rupert Murdoch's Times newspaper. But Mr Dyke was being diplomatic yesterday. "It was a perfectly valid journalistic pursuit," he said.

The BBC's deputy chairman, Baroness Young, said Mr Dyke had the Board's "wholehearted support".

Sir John also gave Mr Dyke his support. "There is no doubt whatsoever of Greg's professional ability to spot bias, to spot unfairness to his professional ability to do something about it," he said.

The director-generalship was "a tough job", he added. "It's gruelling, it occupies your every waking moment."