John Birt criticised over arrogant World Service reorganisation

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The Independent Online
John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, was branded "arrogant" and "dictatorial" by MPs yesterday, as he sought to defend his plan to merge World Service news with the domestic news organisation.

MPs on the foreign affairs select committee attacked the plans and the lack of consultation before they were announced and enacted on 7 June. Under questioning, Mr Birt's deputy, Bob Phillis, admitted that he had only two days' notice of the reorganisation, but that it was the director general's right to make difficult decisions as he saw fit.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, and Foreign Office ministers had also been left in the dark about the changes until the last minute.

"You seem not to be acting so much like the Director-General of the BBC but as a Tsar," accused Robert Wareing (Labour, Liverpool West Derby).

Mr Birt told the committee the changes had been too radical to permit general consultation. "It is inherently ridiculous to say that I or any of the governors of the BBC would wish to do anything but good to the World Service."