The BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and his fellow trustees will meet tomorrow to plot the hunt for a new Director-General as doubts mount about the future of the BBC’s beleaguered regulatory body.
Lord Patten has said he wants to appoint a successor to George Entwistle within a “few weeks” and the vacancy is top of the agenda for the talks at the BBC Trust’s Great Portland Street offices in central London.
But Whitehall insiders said Downing Street’s support for Lord Patten is waning, after the Newsnight fiasco and the dispute over the £450,000 pay-off for Mr Entwistle, who served for only 54 days.
The trust’s meeting comes after a string of senior media figures told The Independent that the BBC’s existing regulatory structure – with a management board headed by the Director-General and a separate chairman who headed the trust – must be reformed.
Former ITV chief executive Sir Charles Allen, now chairman of Capital Radio owner Global Radio, urged the BBC to “review the governance structure”.
Sir Charles said: “The BBC Trust is the regulator and its chair is not chair of the BBC. What the BBC needs is a strong chairman who could move quickly to support the Director-General until we knew what had gone wrong and then drive the changes required to put it right.”
The former ITV boss also urged the BBC to appoint a woman as Director-General. “He or, ideally, she needs to create a new vision for the BBC that is not only about chasing ratings and aping commercial competitors,” Sir Charles said.
There is speculation that the BBC could approach Dame Marjorie Scardino, departing chief executive of Financial Times owner Pearson, who will step down on 1 January.
City heavyweight Sir David Arculus, a non-executive director of Pearson and a former chairman of magazines group IPC, said: “The BBC is a great organisation let down by bad governance at board level. Let’s have a proper unitary board [rather than separate trust and management boards] with a new chairman.”
Sir David suggested Dame Fiona Reynolds, a BBC non-executive director and ex-National Trust boss, “would be ideal” as a replacement for Lord Patten.
Former Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson said: “The Director-General needs to restore morale of staff and focus on delivering outstanding TV and radio programmes. She or he must have serious domain knowledge and excellent track record of inspirational leadership.
“The BBC’s mistakes have been exaggerated and we are in danger of severely damaging one of the very greatest British institutions. Whoever takes charge has an almost impossible job: but if they succeed, they will be a national hero.”
Several media-industry figures also called for the Director-General’s roles to be split, with a chief executive and a separate editor-in-chief. Even Lord Patten has admitted the Beeb needs a “thorough, radical, structural overhaul”.
Today’s meeting of the BBC trustees comes after they held emergency talks on Sunday with the acting Director-General Tim Davie after Mr Entwistle’s dramatic resignation on Saturday.
Headhunters Egon Zehnder, which advised on Mr Entwistle’s appointment for a controversial fee of £187,000, are advising the BBC Trust on an unpaid, informal basis.