BBC to get new boss as Britain's PM May reverses decision by predecessor

BBC Trust Chairman Rona Fairhead has announced that she will not be applying as chair of the BBC Board.
BBC Trust Chairman Rona Fairhead has announced that she will not be applying as chair of the BBC Board. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - The BBC is to get a new boss after British Prime Minister Theresa May chose not to make her predecessor David Cameron's nominee an automatic pick for the role, the latest of several breaks with his legacy.

The public broadcaster is about to undergo an overhaul of its governance structure that will involve scrapping the BBC Trust, which currently regulates the broadcaster and which critics including senior ruling Conservative Party figures say is ineffective.

Mr Cameron had told Ms Rona Fairhead, who chairs the Trust, that when it was abolished she would be able to move seamlessly to a newly created role as chair of the BBC Board that will take over running the corporation next year.

But the Trust said on Wednesday (Sept 14) that Mrs May's government had decided to run a competitive process to appoint the Board's first chair, and published a statement from Ms Fairhead saying she would not be applying.

"It is my belief that it will be better to have a clean break and for the government to appoint someone new, and for me to continue my career in the private sector as I had always planned to do," Ms Fairhead said.

Announced in May, the government's BBC reforms stopped short of the heavy-handed intervention that some stars and programme-makers had feared, but gave regulatory powers to an external watchdog, Ofcom, for the first time in the BBC's 94-year history.

The overhaul will subject to tighter scrutiny an institution that, while treasured at home and admired abroad for its news and drama, is viewed by critics as bloated and inefficient.

With regulatory oversight moving to Ofcom, the new Board will focus on the management of the corporation. The government will appoint six of its members and the BBC eight.

Mr Cameron, who resigned in June after failing to persuade Britain to vote to remain in the European Union, had told Ms Fairhead at a private meeting in May that she could move from the old Trust to the new Board when the reforms were enacted.

The change of plan by Mrs May, who took over in July after six years in fellow Conservative Cameron's Cabinet, is the latest of several steps that reverse decisions he took.

Others include a review of a huge nuclear power plant project that had previously appeared irreversible, and the reintroduction of academic selection in state schools, a policy Mr Cameron had opposed.

"People would have always said, 'well, Rona Fairhead, she was offered the (Board) job ... behind closed doors'," Conservative lawmaker Damian Collins told BBC radio on Wednesday.

"People can't say that anymore. Whoever is the new chair of the BBC will have been appointed by a proper process," said Mr Collins, acting chair of a parliamentary committee on media.