Unions likely to oppose Dimbleby as BBC chief

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The Independent Online

Union leaders are expected to bitterly oppose David Dimbleby's bid to become chairman of the BBC, which the broadcaster announced on Friday.

While his reputation as an Establishment figure and an even-handed presenter will make him a front-runner for the post, his management practices as proprietor of the west London-based Dimbleby Newspaper Group has led him into conflict with his employees.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in particular, which has a substantial presence at the corporation, found the host of BBC1's Question Time a persistent adversary.

Dimbleby, 62, sold the local newspaper company for a reputed £8m in April, but his stewardship of the group has left him with a lot of enemies in the labour movement.

In an interview with the Radio Times in 1999, he said of his management approach: "It's a tough business and I insist on district editions, which entails a reporting staff four times as big as rival free papers. It means we can only pay peanuts, so we employ graduates and give them in effect a two-year training. Two-thirds go away to very highly paid jobs. I'm not embarrassed at paying miserable wages. It's the only way we can survive...

"The NUJ doesn't like it, of course, and they kept me off the screen in 1984 by preventing the BBC current affairs people from working with me. Now they plant stories about me in The Guardian, but I'm used to that."

Some staff at the papers, however, complained that they received no training, that they worked in Dickensian conditions and that when their hours were taken into account, they were paid below the statutory national minimum wage. Three years ago the company was forced by an industrial tribunal to pay compensation to an employee who was dismissed while on maternity leave. Mr Dimbleby fought a prolonged battle against the print unions in the early 1980s and a decision to switch printing to a non-union company led to a six-week strike.

While the broadcaster insists on openness in the politicians he interviews, the NUJ points out that his company always declined to publish its profits or its circulation figures.

The newspaper group had been in the family for 105 years when he finally sold it to the American-owned Newsquest, the second largest regional newspaper group in Britain. Mr Dimbleby became sole proprietor of the business in 1993 when he followed in the footsteps of his father, the broadcaster Sir Richard Dimbleby, and Sir Richard's father and grandfather before him.

His application for what is arguably the most prestigious post in world broadcasting also sets the scene for a battle royal between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. While Tony Blair will be expected to back Mr Dimbleby, Gordon Brown will endorse Gavyn Davies, whose wife Sue Nye runs the Chancellor's office and who is currently the corporation's deputy chairman.

The Independent contacted Mr Dimbleby's office, but he was unavailable for comment.

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