BBC under fire after Lyons takes chairman’s role

The House of Lords has slammed the way BBC chairmen are appointed, saying the process is too open to political interference. The criticism comes in the wake of the appointment of Sir Michael Lyons as chairman of BBC Trust, the body which oversees the corporation.

A report published this week says: “Ministers appointed the selection panel, ministers were allowed to change the shortlist of candidates and ultimately ministers were able to choose between four candidates who passed the interview process.”

The House of Lords select committee on communications report adds that chairmen should be subject to a six-month notice period following the defection of Lyons’ (pictured) predecessor Michael Grade to commercial rival ITV.

Other recommendations include chairmen being subject to a pre-appointment parliamentary hearing and not having a political or civil servant background. Lyons, a former Labour councillor and chief executive of Birmingham City Council, was confirmed as chairman in April.

Furthermore, the report says that the selection panel should recommend only one name to ministers, who should be able to accept or reject that recommendation. It adds that the provision in the BBC Charter for a non-executive chairman to head the executive board should be scrapped.

The committee argues that it is no longer clear who is ultimately responsible for the BBC or what role the chairman of the BBC Trust plays.

Committee chairman Lord Fowler says: “The independence of the BBC is of paramount importance to its viewers and listeners. Recent history shows that it is possible for the government of the day to come into conflict with the BBC.

“Yet government ministers have considerable powers over the selection of the chairman of the BBC. We think these powers should be limited. Parliament is the only undoubted representative of the licence fee payer and should have a greater role.”

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