Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: BBC Trust's Biggest Change Will Be in Name Only

Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: BBC Trust's Biggest Change Will Be in Name Only

Article excerpt

Those who picked up the clear sniff of a political deal over the future of the BBC last week were absolutely right, although the deal was actually done as long ago as 16 February.

At the time, BBC chairman Michael Grade is believed to have insisted that either he was revealed as the first chairman of the BBC Trust, which is replacing the board of governors, at the same time as the Green Paper announcing the change was published, or 'all bets were off'.

It never quite became a resigning issue for Grade, but it was made clear to culture secretary Tessa Jowell that if she wanted to introduce a new governing body for the corporation with the minimum of fuss, there were minimum terms.

As it is, everybody wins. Jowell can claim she has improved accountability at the BBC by abolishing the board of governors. Grade, meanwhile, can take credit for seeing off the threat of a separate Ofbeeb regulatory body, as advocated by the government's special adviser Lord Burns.

The reality is that very little will change. The BBC Trust represents little more than Grade's original proposals for wider separation of governors and BBC management, but with the addition of a fancy name. 'Purely cosmetic,' purred one of those involved in the discussions.

However, the deal was hardly effortless. All the signs are that Lord Birt, the former director-general of the BBC, piled into the debate late in the day on behalf of his walking companion Lord Burns. There was also support for the Ofbeeb notion from another influential quarter - Howard Davies, director of the London Business School.

Since his office is in Downing Street, Birt's intervention came via the prime minister. However, Jowell sent him packing again. Last time, she prevailed when he tried to block the appointment of Grade as BBC chairman.

This time, Jowell, it seems, had considerable cabinet support for the BBC Trust idea. Not too many ministers relish the freedom Birt has to meddle in the affairs of their departments by coming up with daft, futuristic ideas. A Green Paper is supposed to be advisory, so Lord Birt will undoubtedly try once again to create an Ofbeeb, but he is unlikely to be successful.

Jowell and her supporters accepted that there was a need for trustees/governors close to the BBC if they were to stand any chance of getting a grip on its affairs. …

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