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Commercial executive takes over bbc chairman { April 2 2004 }

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Grade set to be named next BBC chairman
By Tim Burt in New York and Cathy Newman in London
Published: April 2 2004 0:02 | Last Updated: April 2 2004 0:36

The government is poised to name Michael Grade (pictured), the former chief executive of Channel Four, as the next chairman of the BBC in a move expected to prompt renewed criticism of a commercial shift at the world's largest publicly-funded broadcaster.

Mr Grade, who is already chairman of Camelot, the lottery operator, and Pinewood Shepperton studios, will succeed Gavyn Davies who resigned as BBC chairman following the Hutton report earlier this year.

The one-time head of BBC programming - dubbed Britain's "pornographer-in-chief" by the tabloid press during his tenure at Channel Four - is expected to reassert the BBC's public service remit as the new chairman of the board of governors.

But rival broadcasters such as ITV and Five are likely to seek assurances that his business background will not signal a further increase of the BBC's commercial operations.

Downing Street, which is expected to confirm his appointment on Friday, refused to comment. BBC executives said they had not yet been informed.

One former board member, however, questioned whether Mr Grade would be allowed to retain the chairmanship of Camelot once he assumes the 81,000 ($148,865) -a-year role at the BBC.

"He would be conflicted if the news and current affairs covered lottery issues," according to the former director, who declined to be named.

Mr Grade faces multiple challenges at the broadcaster, where internal morale was badly damaged by the Hutton report into the death of David Kelly. The government scientist committed suicide after being named as the source for BBC reports criticising Downing Street's treatment of intelligence on Iraq's weapons threat.

The report's damning verdict on BBC editorial controls and self-regulation prompted the resignation of Mr Davies and Greg Dyke, the director general.

One of Mr Grade's first decisions will be the appointment of a new director general. Mark Byford, the former head of the World Service, has been acting director general for the past two months.

The new chairman will also have to agree a vital BBC submission to the government's review about the future size and shape of the publicly-funded broadcaster. The submission could determine whether the BBC secures another 10-year charter, enshrining its funding formula and public service remit.

Mr Grade, who on Thursday announced a 140m flotation of Pinewood Shepperton, refused to discuss his candidacy for the BBC role.

It is understood that Tessa Jowell, culture secretary, recommended his appointment to Downing Street and the Privy Council following interviews of potential candidates last week.

Other contenders included Baroness Young, former vice chairman of the BBC, and David Dimbleby, the veteran broadcaster.

Chris Bryant, a member of the Commons select committee on culture, media and sport, said: "This is a good appointment for the BBC. Michael is well respected inside the organisation, and he will want to re-inforce the public service remit within the BBC and he has the financial acumen to strengthen the commercial side of the broadcaster."

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