Patten poised to beat rival to job as chairman of BBC Trust

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The Independent Online

Chris Patten, the former chairman of the Conservative Party and Governor of Hong Kong, is expected to be appointed as the next chairman of the BBC Trust, the organisation's governing body.

Mr Patten, 66, is believed to have been recommended by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to Prime Minister David Cameron. His closest rival in a field of five candidates was Richard Lambert, a former director-general of the CBI and former editor of the Financial Times.

During his time in Hong Kong, Mr Patten fell out badly with Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp media empire has been the fiercest opponent of the scale of the BBC's operations. In turn, Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, has publicly criticised BSkyB, which News Corp, the satellite broadcaster's largest shareholder, is seeking to buy in its entirety.

Mr Patten threatened to sue Mr Murdoch's publishing company HarperCollins in 1998 after the media mogul declined to publish the Governor's memoirs on the handover of Hong Kong, fearing they would damage his business interests in China. The matter was settled out of court.

But others will fear the worst from the appointment of a former Tory cabinet minister as BBC chairman, given the strained relations between the corporation and a Tory party which has sought to reduce its size and influence.

Speaking ahead of the final decision last night, the shadow Culture Secretary, Ivan Lewis, said: "The test of the new Trust Chairman, Chris Patten or otherwise, is whether he is willing to stand up for the BBC in the face of instinctive hostility from many Tories, including Hunt and Cameron. He will also have to be strong enough to ensure accountability and transparency from BBC executives as crucial decisions are made about the corporation's future."

During his time in government, Mr Patten was very much on the Europhile left of the Conservative Party. Mr Hunt would argue that the choice of such a heavyweight candidate is not a political decision. The appointment of the previous BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons was attacked by Tories because of Sir Michael's strong ties to the Labour Party.

Sir Michael, who decided not to seek a second term in post because he could not dedicate sufficient time to the task, was also criticised for being a cheerleader for the BBC as well as its regulator. The role of BBC Trust chairman has itself been under fire, with all three main parties having derided it as a dysfunctional model of governance. Other candidates for the £110,000-a-year, four-day-a-week post were Dame Patricia Hodgson, the head of Newnham College, Cambridge; Richard Hooper, former chairman of the Radio Authority; and the investment banker Anthony Fry.

Last night, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport denied a decision had been taken and said an announcement would be made at the end of this month, with the preferred candidate appearing at a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing with the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee on 10 March.