Checkland 'likely to step down early from BBC post'

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The Independent Online
THE DIRECTOR General of the BBC, Sir Michael Checkland, is likely to step down two months early and retire at Christmas, sources at the Television Festival in Edinburgh said yesterday.

This would bring to an end the uneasy period of dual leadership with John Birt, his present deputy, who was named to replace him so far in advance.

Howell James, the BBC's director of corporate affairs, dismissed the reports about Sir Michael as 'pure speculation'.

However, Mr Birt has asked all BBC Television department heads to meet him individually for an hour-long briefing on their five-year programme plans in October.

Well-placed industry sources in Edinburgh said last night that Mr Birt has briefed management 'headhunters' to seek recruits from outside the BBC to fill some of the corporation's top jobs, such as head of the World Service and BBC radio.

It is widely expected that Jonathan Powell, controller of BBC 1, praised by Michael Grade in an otherwise fierce attack on the BBC at the festival on Friday night, will leave by the end of 1993, when his contract comes to an end.

However, the key issue is how Mr Birt interprets the much-debated and criticised policy of 'distinctive' programming, occupying the higher ground apparently set for it.

Lord Nicholas Gordon Lennox, one of the corporation's 12 governors and the first to address an Edinburgh television festival conference, said yesterday that this meant a wide range of programmes from Eldorado to Newsnight, but the new guard may adopt a far more critical approach.

A shake-up of the board of management is widely expected since John Tusa, managing director of the World Service, also retires at Christmas. His place may be taken by Ron Neil, the managing director of BBC Regional Broadcasting. Other new board members are expected to include Patricia Hodgson, who devises BBC policy and strategy.

There is also expected to be a replacement for David Hatch, the managing director of BBC Radio, which is one of Mr Birt's priorities for a shake-up.

Lord Gordon Lennox faced a stream of hostile questions at the conference, particularly over the manner in which Mr Birt was selected as the next director general - over dinner - with no other applicants. Lord Gordon Lennox said: 'This was exceptional', but the governors had unanimously decided that Mr Birt was their man.

Few of the BBC's top managers are at Edinburgh this year and most that are there are extremely defensive. However, Alan Yentob, controller of BBC 2, said that the BBC consultation exercise, enshrined in 26 separate 'task forces' setting out options for change, had turned into fiasco and that it had been difficult working for two masters in the long hand- over between Sir Michael and Mr Birt.

The Broadcasting Standards Council has spent pounds 80,000 on a survey of young people to discover whether the word cunt is offensive. The survey was to help it reach decisions if complaints were made over its use on TV and radio. Colin Shaw, the director of the BSC, said: 'It seems to be a word we should only use with caution.'

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