BBC reporters fear new management will cave in to No 10

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The Independent Online

Senior BBC correspondents have expressed deep unease about the "nightmare ticket" of Lord Ryder of Wensum and Mark Byford, the two men who have taken charge of the corporation in the midst of its gravest crisis.

There is anger, in particular, at what is seen as the "opportunistically grovelling" apology to the Government offered by Lord Ryder. The former Conservative chief whip and political secretary to Margaret Thatcher is known to have led the faction of governors who accepted the resignation of Greg Dyke as director general.

Lord Ryder is currently acting chairman. Former senior Tories, including John Major, Michael Portillo and Chris Patten, have been mentioned as possible successors.

The growing mood of discontent within the BBC was highlighted at the weekend with some of the most distinguished of its staff signing a newspaper advertisement protesting at the departure of Mr Dyke. Among those who signed the advertisement were John Simpson, the world affairs editor, Gavin Esler, the News 24 presenter, Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster, Jeremy Vine, the Radio 2 presenter, and Ben Brown, the BBC's special correspondent.

John Birt, a former director general of the BBC and now a Downing Street adviser, wanted Mr Byford as his successor, and campaigned against Mr Dyke getting the post, according to BBC sources.

On becoming director general, Mr Dyke told staff he was determined to "cut the crap" ­ a thinly disguised reference to the bureaucracy imposed by Lord Birt.

One senior BBC journalist said: "The apology issued by Ryder was over the top. It was grovelling and, some people feel, opportunist. He badly wants the job. It will be pretty terrible if he gets it, but there is a real danger he will." Another senior journalist added: "From Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke to Ryder and Byford ­ that's a pretty steep descent. It's a bit of a nightmare ticket, isn't it? The danger is that under them the BBC will become supine and just give in to the incessant pressure we receive from Downing Street."

Mr Dyke has revealed that Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's former communications chief, had demanded the withdrawal from Baghdad of BBC reporters, including Rageh Omar, claiming that they were "compromised".

John Humphrys, presenter of Radio 4's Today programme, on which Andrew Gilligan made his unfounded allegation about sexing up the weapons dossier, said the public should compare his reputation with that of Mr Campbell. He said: "I'm happy for people to judge me on the basis of my record and I hope that they will do the same with Alastair Campbell."

Senior journalists at the corporation believe Mr Davies and Mr Dyke jumped too soon in resigning their posts. They say the scepticism of the public about the Hutton report ­ with opinion polls indicating that the majority see it as a "whitewash" shows most people prefer to believe the BBC version of the Kelly affair than the Government's.

Mr Davies is thought to have felt that by sacrificing himself, he could ensure that Mr Dyke would stay to stand up for the BBC against No 10. The successful coup led by Lord Ryder had come as a surprise.

Mr Byford said the BBC's independence was the "absolute critical cornerstone" of the corporation and he would not succumb to pressure from the Government or from business. He said the inquiry into the Kelly affair would be conducted professionally but quickly.

Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced yesterday that Dame Rennie Fritchie, the commissioner for public appointments, would oversee the selection of a new BBC chairman to ensure public confidence in its independence.

Under current rules the post is advertised and an independent panel draws up a shortlist before making recommendations to the Government. The Queen then appoints the new chairman. But Ms Jowell said because of the extra sensitivity after Hutton, she wanted further measures in place.

She told BBC 1's Breakfast With Frost: "So seriously do I and the Prime Minister take the importance of confidence in the process that we intend to enhance it by having the independent process."

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it hoped Mr Davies's replacement would be in post by Easter. Ms Jowell said the Hutton report would not adversely affect the renewal of the BBC's charter. But she said the process would take account of its findings. "I can absolutely guarantee that the outcome of charter renewal will be a strong BBC and a BBC that is independent of government," she said. In a later interview, she said the licence fee was likely to survive the current review of the BBC's charter. Ms Jowell said: "What I have said about the licence fee is that for it to be replaced, there has to be a better alternative.

"At a time when 50 per cent of us live in homes with digital TV this is an issue that we need to look at very carefully. But the default position is the licence fee."

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