Sony director is contender to lead BBC chief

HOWARD STRINGER, the boss of Sony in America, is emerging as a leading contender to be the next director general of the BBC, according to industry insiders yesterday. But he mayprove too expensive for a publicly funded corporation.

Mr Stringer is an Oxford- educated Welshman who has risen to the highest levels of American broadcasting. As president of CBS News in the early Nineties, he took the network from third position to the top of the prime-time ratings. Last year he secured the number three position in Sony Corporation, responsible for its $52bn US division.

"If the BBC is to attract Howard, it will have to lure him with the status and intellectual challenge of the director general's job rather than the financial rewards," a BBC manager said. Running the pounds 2bn BBC budget attracts a salary of about pounds 380,000 compared with the $2m (pounds 1.3m) Mr Stringer is said to earn in America.

A BBC spokeswoman would not comment on his prospects. She said: "The three core requirements are the ability to manage a large budget, the journalistic experience to be editor-in-chief and the strength to maintain the BBC's independence from government."

Mr Stringer has done much more than handle enormous budgets. At CBS he presided over the lay-off of about 200 people in 1987, a track record that would impress an endlessly slimming-down BBC. His journalistic credentials are arguably more impressive than those of the current director general, Sir John Birt. He started at CBS in 1965 and worked as a news writer and researcher to become an award- winning documentary maker. He was executive producer of CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, and founded the long-running news show 48 Hours.

Mr Stringer, 6ft 3in and withcurly blond hair, served in Vietnam and married an American. BBC executives are said to be pricking up their ears at reports that he talks of returning to the UK, flaunts his UK background at the annual Alistair Cooke lecture, and recently bought a house in the Home Counties.

BBC managers feel Mr Springer's biggest obstacle is his lack of experience in UK broadcasting. He is, they say, from a "different culture". That is how Sir John was seen when brought into the BBC as deputy director general from London Weekend Television in 1987.