BBC sacks head of broadcasting research team

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The Independent Online
THE BBC has sacked its head of broadcasting research, responsible for providing impartial data about the way television and radio services are performing. This summer he had to give advice on the demand for a rolling news service - for which he said there was only a limited demand.

Peter Menneer, 55, who has worked for the BBC for 14 years, was dismissed by Patricia Hodgson, head of the BBC's policy and planning unit, earlier this month. He is now taking early retirement. The BBC has retained head hunters to find a replacement.

Mr Menneer produced research this summer, shortly after the much criticised Lucknam Park luxury hotel conference held by the governors, which showed that there was only limited demand among BBC listeners for a rolling radio news service, the controversial expansion which has created an outcry among Radio 4 long-wave listeners.

It said that in spite of the sizeable audience created by the Gulf war, when Radio 4 gave over the FM frequency to news, it was doubtful that there would any material expansion to the current Radio 4 audience with the addition of a news channel.

Mr Menneer's supporters said that this created disappointment among its news and current affairs backers and was a factor in his ousting. Another was that he complained at the use of outside researchers to advise on the services the public wants. Senior BBC Radio managers, who are themselves sceptical of the appeal of rolling news, confirmed yesterday that their confidence in Mr Menneer was undiminished: they hoped to continue using him as an independent research consultant.

They also feared that dispassionate research, which might not give support to the kind of radical changes probably being planned by John Birt, who takes over as Director-General next year, was in jeopardy. The department will in future offer a reduced service more directly overseen by the policy and planning unit.

Ms Hodgson said that to link Mr Menneer's departure to the rolling news research was ridiculous.

She said the department was being halved in number to about 60 because a new radio audience measurement system embracing both the BBC and commercial radio - Rajar - has been set up, using outside contractors. Mr Menneer played a crucial part in setting up the Rajar system.

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