The BBC, already facing the threat of industrial action by thousands of staff, was yesterday hit by the resignation of the head of BBC 1 and the news that the chairman of the BBC Trust would be standing down in the spring.
The departures will weaken the corporation at a time when it is in delicate negotiations with the Government over threatened cuts to the licence fee and fighting a political battle with commercial media rivals over the scale of its operation.
Jay Hunt, controller of BBC 1, is standing down to take up the role of chief creative officer of Channel 4. Ms Hunt, who has led the BBC's flagship channel for two and a half years, will increase her salary from £260,000 to nearly £400,000. The news came less than two hours after Sir Michael Lyons declared that he would not be seeking reappointment as chairman of the BBC Trust when his four-year contract ends in May. Sir Michael, a former Labour council leader, was unlikely to have been given an extension to his role and may have jumped before he was pushed by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who has long been critical of the BBC's governing body.
Danny Cohen, controller of the youth-oriented channel BBC 3, is favourite to succeed Ms Hunt. Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of vision, will take charge of the channel until a new controller is appointed.
The departure from the BBC of two senior figures comes at a time when the organisation is facing the prospect of disruptions to its news coverage during planned industrial action over proposed changes to the BBC pension scheme. The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, is due to address staff tomorrow in an attempt to head off strikes planned to coincide with next month's Conservative Party conference and the announcement of the public sector spending review. The capture of Ms Hunt is a coup for David Abraham, the new chief executive of Channel 4, which is undergoing a creative overhaul using money saved by the decision to drop the expensive reality show Big Brother. "Channel 4 requires a fearless creative leader to help steer us through our next phase and Jay has demonstrated across a variety of public service genres as well as in commercial television, her appetite to challenge the status quo, create and lead change, and promote new talent," said Mr Abraham.
Ms Hunt's tenure as controller of BBC 1 has been characterised by a renewal of the channel's factual output, particularly the introduction of more science shows such as Bang Goes the Theory, and the commission of notable dramas including Sherlock and Small Island.
She has come in for criticism over the modernising of the rural affairs programme Countryfile and for the scheduling of the popular Strictly Come Dancing in direct opposition to the even more popular The X Factor on ITV. At the recent Edinburgh International Television Festival she indicated that BBC 1 no longer needed to compete with ITV 1, saying "I don't regard it as a competition between us and ITV".
Sir Michael announced his departure by releasing a letter he had written to Mr Hunt, saying he could no longer manage his workload in the three to four days a week that he is contracted to work and so preferred not to stand for reappointment. He said he was "proud of what we have achieved in safeguarding the BBC's independence". The BBC Trust has been criticised by all three political parties but Sir Michael defended the model as "robust, workable and effective".Reuse content