BBC World Service: ‘jobs for the boys’

Editors of OpenDemocracy Russia
23 December 2008

Letter in Daily Telegraph 23 December 2008

This is the latest in a series of letters concerning the future of the BBC's Russian service (cf openDemocracy Russia 9 November, 14 November and 27 November)


We are grateful to Andrew Pierce for his informative article about how the Foreign Office minister misled parliament with regard to the advertising of the post of Director of the World Service (Ed: article printed below) .

The Foreign Office minister was, no doubt, himself misled by the BBC management.  He has, so far, shown great faith in them - nearly all that he said in the Westminster Hall debate of 16 December was taken straight from letters by Nigel Chapman.  Might it not now be time for the Foreign Office to adopt a more questioning attitude towards Chapman's bland reassurances?

It is clear from even the most cursory comparison of present and future broadcasting schedules that Chapman's (and the minister's) claim about ‘increased cultural output' is entirely empty; all longer features about literature, history, British culture, etc, are to be axed.  It is equally clear - contrary to another of the minister's claims during the same debate - that there is more than enough evidence of pro-Kremlin bias in the output of the Russian Service.  Their refusal to publish the Russian text of Anna Politkovskaya's last book on their website is one example of such bias. As for the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko - the Russian service gave far more air-time to the views of the Kremlin than it did to those of its critics. More shocking still, the producer of the only programme to give fair coverage to all points of view received an official reprimand from the World Service management - even though this programme was far milder in its criticisms of the Kremlin than a later Panorama documentary.

To maintain the BBC World Service's reputation and credibility, the new Managing Director must be chosen through a fully open selection process, with full consideration of the availability and qualification of external candidates. In addition, a new managing director must be authoritative in news and current affairs, have wide international perspectives, must be capable of resisting pressure both from the UK government and from other governments and should not believe that the World Service can be founded on the perceived importance of marketing.  To impose a closing date for applications of January 4, 2009 is to foreclose all these options.

Yours Sincerely,

Robert Chandler (translator of Russian Literature)
Teresa Cherfas (TV and radio documentary producer; features producer, BBC Russian Service 1985-88)
Sergei Cristo ( BBC radio journalist, 1994-2000)
Martin Dewhirst (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Glasgow)
Greg Hands (MP for Hammersmith & Fulham)
Diran Meghreblian (former current affairs editor of BBC Russian Service)
Donald Rayfield   (Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian, Queen Mary, University of London)
John Roberts ( Director of the Great Britain-USSR Assn/Britain-Russia Centre 1974-1993)
Elisabeth Robson (former Head of BBC Russian Service)
Irina Shumovich (Producer, BBC Russian Service 1989-2003)
Sir John Tusa (Former Director, BBC World Service)

From The Daily Telegraph 19 December 2008

BBC in £300,000 'jobs for the boys row' over director's post

The BBC is embroiled in a "jobs for the boys row" after refusing to consider external candidates for a £300,000 director's post.

By Andrew Pierce

The decision to exclude outsiders for the director of the World Service, which is funded by the Foreign Office, will put the corporation on a collision course with the government.

On Tuesday Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister, was challenged by the Tory MP Greg Hands, in a Commons debate about then world service, about the next director.

Mr Rammell insisted the job would be open to everyone. He said: "He asked me... whether the advertising process for the director of the World Service will be open, and open to external candidates. I can reassure [him] that, on both points, they will."
Yet the very same day the job description was published in Ariel, the BBC's in-house newspaper, which made clear that it was an internal appointment which would not be publicised externally.

The closing date for applications, January 4, has given only 11 days for candidates to apply creating the suspicion that the BBC has already decided who it wants to run the World Service which broadcasts in 32 languages to different parts of the world.
Mr Hands said: "This does sound like a jobs for the boy stitch-up. On the very day that the minister was misleading me and the House of commons the BBC was saying only internal applicants need apply.

"This is an important public appointment with a huge salary. I am afraid this does not look right. Only hours after the debate a key ministerial reassurance is not being upheld. I have written to the Foreign Office to demand an explanation."
A BBC spokesman said: "The position of Director, BBC World Service, will be advertised internally. This is standard BBC practice and if no suitable candidate is found through this process then the search will be widened."

When Nigel Chapman, the outgoing director, announced he was resigning from the World Service, a group of historians issued a statement urging the BBC to take care with the appointment. It said: "We hope that the BBC will now appoint to the post of World Service director someone with a genuine respect for the intelligence of listeners, a good knowledge of international affairs and a determination to defend the World Service against attempts by any government to interfere with its independence."


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