Smith warns BBC of serious shake-up

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The Independent Online
The BBC faces a serious shake- up in the way it is run after the Government hinted that it may strip the BBC governors of their powers and issued its strongest warning yet about the corporation's accountability.

Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said yesterday that in the long term the Board of Governors might be absorbed into a new regulatory body that will cover the television and telecommunications industries.

"In the longer term the BBC structure and regulation are matters which will form part of a review. There is a good case for looking at whether the regulatory framework at the moment is the best one," he said.

Shortly before the general election the Labour Party swiftly disowned a policy by the then shadow broadcasting spokesman, Lewis Moonie, that it would weaken the governors' powers by creating an Office of Communications. This would have absorbed the programme regulation and viewer complaint duties of the governors, the Independent Television Commission and Oftel.

Mr Smith also reminded the broadcaster never to lose sight of its public service duty.

He told a meeting of the Broadcasting Press Guild: "My first objective is trying to find ways of making the governors more accountable. Now the Secretary of State meets with the governors once a year in a country retreat. He gets a slot in which he appears deus ex machina, gives them a talk over dinner and then goes away again."

He now plans two formal meetings a year, the contents of which will be published, and changes to the way governors are appointed, to remove the old-boy network. The post of vice chairman and two other governors will be advertised - "and not through 19th-hole conversations that have perhaps tended to happen in the past".