Fury as Dyke is made BBC director-general

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The Independent Online
A FURIOUS political row blew up last night over the appointment of Greg Dyke as the new director-general of the BBC.

William Hague said that the appointment of Mr Dyke was another example of one of "Tony's cronies" landing an important job in the New Labour establishment. The Pearson television boss has donated pounds 50,000 to Labour in the past five years.

The Tory leader said last night: "In the current climate of Labour cronyism, we are concerned that the appointment of Mr Dyke, who has given recent and financial support to the Labour Party, may be prejudicial to the BBC's reputation and to its obligations in this regard under its charter."

Mr Hague said he was seeking "an urgent meeting with Mr Dyke to explain our concerns and to seek an absolute assurance of fair dealing by the BBC". Mr Dyke has agreed to the meeting.

Mr Dyke becomes the BBC's editor-in-chief, with a duty to maintain political impartiality. Confirming the appointment, the BBC said last night: "A key part of the appointment process enabled governors to satisfy themselves... that on appointment, he would sever all links with the Labour Party... and that he would be determined and able to protect the BBC's independence, reputation for impartiality and resist pressure from whatever source."

Mr Dyke's supporters are now bracing themselves to field a barrage of criticism for his support for Labour. Friends of his said yesterday that he was likely to work closely with his rival for the director-generalship, BBC Television boss Alan Yentob. It is suggested that he might make Mr Yentob his deputy.

The decision of the 12-strong board of governors was not reached easily - the discussions lasted late into Wednesday night, and until lunchtime yesterday. In the end, although the decision was split, it was decided to ride the storm of political controversy and appoint Mr Dyke - an option which insiders say had always been supported by the BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland.

The BBC head of news, Tony Hall, was Mr Dyke's closest rival in the final stages - but he was seen as a compromise candidate who has not had Mr Dyke's breadth of experience. The former London Weekend Television chief executive also defeated ITV boss, Richard Eyre, and Mark Byford, head of the World Service.

Mr Dyke's friends said he had told the governors that he was committed to the public-service remit of the BBC, and would continue to implement the policy of his predecessor, Sir John Birt, of supporting both serious minority programming and offering the complete range of programmes.

Mr Dyke was under considerable pressure to emphasise his seriousness. Although he has extensive experience at LWT and Pearson Television, in the public mind he is best remembered as the inventor of Roland Rat, a character who would not have a natural home on the BBC.

The big task facing Mr Dyke when he takes up his new job in April, will be to manage the BBC in the digital age. A fierce debate is growing over whether Sir John's policy of expanding the BBC into large numbers of digital channels is the right one, or whether the expansionism is producing low- quality television and is not economic.

Whatever he does, Mr Dyke will be scrutinised closely. His appointment comes after the bitterest battle in broadcasting in recent years - with his candidacy drawing virulent attacks from broadcasting luminaries including John Tusa, the former head of the BBC World Service, Martin Bell, the MP and former war reporter Sir Paul Fox, the former managing director of BBC Television - with the Murdoch-owned Times newspaper waging a sustained anti-Dyke campaign.