The new man at Channel 4 has a go at the BBC for being too metropolitan . He should talk ...

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Too masculine. Too middle-aged. Too metropolitan. Michael Jackson's parting critique of the BBC was a real triple whammy, almost totally eclipsing what he had to say about the future of Channel 4 under his impending stewardship. Which just goes to show, yet again, that nothing perks up the press so much as an opportunity to engage in some good old fashioned Beeb-bashing.

Jackson's "critique" took up all of 30 seconds out of an hour-long introductory press conference at Channel 4's headquarters last Tuesday. But that was enough for the Daily Mail to grant a prominent platform to Gerald Kaufman to put the case for privatising the Beeb. "Whatever the rights and wrongs of Jackson's outburst, there is no doubt that his departure highlights an escalating crisis within the BBC," the Labour veteran wrote. "Tony Blair should instruct his National Heritage Secretary, Chris Smith, to launch an urgent inquiry without ruling out any solutions, however adventurous."

Mr Kaufman concluded: "I for one would be far from displeased if the outcome was a decision to turn the British Broadcasting Corporation into BBC plc. New Labour, new enterprise. New Labour, new Auntie. I can hardly wait."

Calm down, Mr Kaufman. You are going to have to wait some time before another great debate gets going about the future of BBC. The corporation's latest 10-year charter was renewed only last year. It runs until 2006.

By calling for the BBC to be privatised at this juncture, Mr Kaufman has merely confirmed his image as a bit of a maverick. Although he is a former government minister and took an intense interest in the future of broadcasting as chairman of the National Heritage select committee, his views on broadcasting can be somewhat off-beam. Far from being trapped in an escalating crisis, the BBC remains one of Britain's few great post- war success stories and a prime embodiment of the public service ethos which this New Labour government should be seeking to replicate in other sectors.

That is not to say that the BBC has not got some big problems. Michael Jackson's defection to Channel 4 is a blow. But it is all too easy to portray his departure as part of an alarming executive exodus. A few of the BBC's top brass have left in the past year or so. But, given the size of the corporation and the long-established tendency of commercial broadcasters (in Britain and abroad) to poach from its upper echelons, it would be surprising if there was no turnover at the top. It really is mischief- making of the first order to suggest that Mr Jackson's prime reason for defecting to Channel 4 is to escape from some terrible creative malaise at the BBC. If that were the case, surely Mr Jackson (as head of television and controller of BBC1) would be due some of the blame.

He is going to the job he was made for and he has negotiated a salary of pounds 400,000 - at least double what the BBC could ever have offered him. If the BBC had dipped into the licence-payers' money to match that crazy offer, there would have been a public outcry. And the Daily Mail would have been the first to whip it up.

It is certainly far too simplistic to say that Mr Jackson's leaving the BBC is part of the same syndrome which has rendered the corporation unable to appoint a new head of television drama though the post has been vacant for a year. The delay is especially worrying to those who think that the department needs one great dynamic individual to drive it.

The truth is no one can be such a force again. In the wake of last summer's restructuring of the BBC to meet the challenge of the digital age, whoever takes up that post in Television Centre in west London will determine only 40 per cent of the BBC's total drama output. Independent producers and the BBC's own drama chiefs in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast can now pitch their ideas directly to the channel controllers.

The decision to give the "national regions" of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a guaranteed collective quota of 33 per cent of drama output might offend those who believe that all power and patronage in this sceptr'd isle should be concentrated in a few square miles of London. But one reason the BBC retained its charter is because it solemnly undertook, in the much-hyped Hatch report, to make more network programmes outside the south- east of England.

If Michael Jackson is seriously concerned about the BBC's neglect of the "provinces", he must also be deeply alarmed by the fact that he is becoming the boss of what is indisputably Britain's most centralised network. Every so often C4 sends out corporate ambassadors to smooth-talk media pundits and independent producers in the regions. Stuart Cosgrove, the station's commissioning editor of arts and entertainment, is sent back northwards periodically to butter up the Scottish indies.

But even that Caledonian charmer cannot smooth over the fact that Channel 4 is run almost entirely from a single glass-and-grey-steel building near Victoria station in central London.

Michael Jackson will occupy the chief executive's suite from 1 June. It is to be hoped that he will be aware that he is sitting in a glasshouse when he throws stones at the much more broadly British BBCn

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