Letter: Why John Birt is not the Pol Pot of broadcasting

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The Independent Online
WAS William Leith being held hostage by John Birt's opponents while he dictated last week's article 'What makes John Birt run?' in The Sunday Review.

John Birt and I have been friends since 1972, and I found the portrait of him in Mr Leith's article unrecognisable.

Some examples. Mr Leith says of John Birt's arrival at the BBC in 1987 'What a frightening thought - this hugely ambitious outsider coming to a vast complicated organisation which he doesn't quite understand, in order to sack people.' Apart from the fact that his arrival was not frightening, that he is no more hugely ambitious than anyone else in the BBC, that he understands that organisation better than some of the people who have worked there for 30 years, and that his purpose was not simply to sack people - Mr Leith is quite correct. The BBC is indeed 'vast' and 'complicated'.

The Pol Pot analogy - 'Television Year Zero', - is absurd. So is the discussion of 'Birtism' - a concept that exists only in the imagination of his detractors.

And what's wrong with a journalist and future Director-General who has never advertised where he stood 'ideologically'. Imagine his problems if he had]

As for the suggestion that 'he's almost a Martian - so cold, so blank . . .' - balderdash. Even the most vestigial attempts to provide a balanced portrait would have put that one to rest.

John Birt is the right man in the right place at the right time, not because he is ruthless, ambitious and authoritarian, but because he is rigorous, principled and does not suffer intellectual fools gladly. Tough he certainly is, but confronted with vendettas like that espoused by Mr Leith, thank God for that]

David Frost

London NW1