BBC director general Mark Thompson has apologised to the BBC Trust after failing to inform the corporation’s regulatory body of his decision to put his name to a letter criticising the planned takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
At a meeting of the BBC Trust last month, its chairman Sir Michael Lyons expressed concerns about whether it had been appropriate for Thompson, who wrote on behalf of the BBC Executive board, to be a co-signatory on the letter which warned business secretary Vince Cable that the planned takeover was a threat to media plurality in the UK.
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The letter marked the formation of an unprecedented alliance of leading print and broadcast media businesses who wrote jointly to the Government asking it to intervene.
The Trust issued a statement this morning outlining the exchange at the meeting of Trustees on October 21. It said:
“At its most recent scheduled board meeting the BBC Trust raised with the DG his decision to co-sign a letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills calling for a referral to Ofcom of any proposed acquisition of full control of BSkyB by News Corporation.
“The Chairman expressed concern about whether the Director-General’s co-signed public letter with other signatories was appropriate.
“The Director-General outlined his position on the letter to Vince Cable.
“He had written on behalf of the BBC’s Executive Board, which had considered the issue. He did not see his co-signature of the letter as in any way inconsistent with the BBC’s duties of impartiality.
“The Director-General acknowledged that he had not discussed the co-signing of the letter directly with the Chairman or engaged with Trustees and he should have done and would do so in similar circumstances in the future. He stated his regret for this.
“The Trust noted the Director-General’s assurance. Trustees also noted the contents of the letter co-signed by the Director-General and made no further comment on it.”