More BBC protests on Hutton scheduled

Bectu and the NUJ have called for staff throughout the BBC to join a post-Hutton protest this week.

The unions are asking staff to assemble outside BBC buildings from noon on Thursday February 5 until 2pm. While this “show of feeling” one week after the Hutton report led to top-level resignations at the corporation is not intended to disrupt television and radio output, a large turnout is expected at many main centres where staff are still coming to terms with the departure of Director General Greg Dyke, who revealed at the weekend that the decision to go had not been his alone.

Bectu joined thousands of staff in regretting Dyke's sudden departure, but the union is now beginning to focus on new fears for the BBC's funding and independence, as Hutton's criticism of its editorial processes begins to impact on the debate about renewal of its Royal Charter - the BBC's licence to exist - after 2006.

An immediate concern is the need for openness and transparency in the appointments of a new DG and new Chair of Governors. Unions are calling for the process to be conducted in a way that is immune to political pressure, and able to ensure that the post-Dyke BBC leadership will continue to support the Corporation's independence from government.

Beyond the Dyke/Davies succession, there is a fear that Hutton's findings against the BBC, which were effectively endorsed by government, could fuel critics of the corporation who are campaigning for "top-slicing" of the £2.6bn annual licence fee. Their aim is to divert a proportion of licence fee income away from the BBC towards other broadcasters.

The unions maintain that editorial independence at the BBC is also in the balance, as journalists and programme-makers wait to see if their incoming new management opt for a policy of caution rather than the incisive, inquisitive, and imaginative tradition that has built the Corporation's reputation in the UK and elsewhere.

Guaranteeing that he would not allow BBC independence to be compromised, Lord Ryder, Acting BBC Chairman, writing in the BBC staff newspaper Ariel on February 3, said: “Brave, independent and rigorous journalism will be maintained under acting DG Mark Byford's leadership. This includes investigative reporting set within a robust editorial framework.

“The Board will never interfere with this work. Nor shall I allow any external body to interfere with the BBC's crucial independence.”

He said that the Government had assured him that the vacant Chairmanship will be filled by the middle of April. He added: “I am not a candidate, and intend to keep the DCMS to this timetable. The advertisement for the job will appear in Sunday's newspapers.

“Meanwhile the Governors, solely responsible for the appointment of the Director-General, will invite applications. A short list will be drawn up, and a final choice made from this list soon after the new Chairman assumes office.”

He praised BBC staff, the “true professionalism” shown during “recent turbulence” and expressed his “deep appreciation for [BBC staff] devotion to a great institution which exists to serve the public.”

He concluded by saying: “I believe that the vast majority of the British people are proud of the values and traditions of the BBC. It is their BBC. And let no one forget, it belongs only to them.”


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