Yentob tipped to rule at BBC

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The Independent Online
NEWS AND Current Affairs executives at the BBC were voicing alarm yesterday as their old foe Alan Yentob emerged as the front-runner in the race to be director-general.

Mr Yentob has been a key player in a long-running battle between "network television" and "NCA" (news and current affairs) in which the former has periodically argued that the 9pm news should be moved, that Newsnight should be shifted to 11pm from 10.30pm, and that Panorama should have a later slot.

The present director-general, Sir John Birt, has made a point of keeping news and current affairs at the heart of the BBC's schedules, and assigned a separate budget to NCA programmes, ring-fencing them in the schedules.

At the same time, Alan Yentob was arguing that the inflexibility of the slots for NCA programmes reduced BBC2's ability to compete for ratings, by preventing long-running dramas from being aired in the later part of the evening.

"There has been a general expectation of a purge of news and current affairs when John leaves," said a producer. "And we are bracing ourselves for it."

Greg Dyke, the most controversial of the finalists, is a popular choice among NCA executives. "He is committed to news, and if he were to team up with Yentob it would calm a lot of fears," said one producer.

Mr Yentob gave some cause for comfort to NCA a few weeks ago when he made a speech reiterating the BBC's public service core, and saying he did not approve of it indulging in a simple drive for ratings.

Tony Hall, head of NCA, is also vying for the job. "Hall and Yentob have been fighting over these issues for so long, that its hard to see Yentob reporting to Hall in any future hierarchy," said a news man.

The shortlist also includes Richard Eyre, the boss of ITV, and one other candidate, possibly Mark Byford, head of the BBC World Service.