Welsh arts stalwart appoints BBC chairman

Ministers will seek to avoid controversy next week by appointing a leading figure in the arts in Wales as the BBC’s executive chairman following the departure of Richard Sharp.

According to information on the matter, Dame Elan Closs Stephens is expected to take over from Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer as the BBC’s interim chairman and is likely to hold the role for many months at a crucial time for the public service. broadcaster.

Frazer’s colleagues say he is determined to find a permanent replacement for Sharp, who resigned as BBC chairman last month following a row over a loan to former prime minister Boris Johnson.

Sharp, a Conservative party donor and former Goldman Sachs mentor to Rishi Sunak, has become a controversial figure at the head of the BBC, but Stephens is unlikely to follow suit.

Closs Stephens, Non-Executive Director of the BBC Board, Member for Wales, Academic and Champion of the Arts in Wales. He helped Aberystwyth University focus on communications and the creative industries and was chairman of Welsh-language broadcaster S4C.

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People close to the appointment process for the BBC chairman said Closs Stephens was seen as a “safe pair of hands” – one said he was “very experienced, well-respected, but they don’t see him as wanting to take on the role full-time.” “.

A BBC insider said: “Elan is well-liked, well-respected and understands the BBC.”

The expected appointment of Closs Stephens as acting chairman of the BBC has the support of the corporation’s board, according to people close to the decision-making process.

The board can recommend a preferred candidate to ministers for consideration, but the final decision rests with the culture secretary, as the BBC chairman is appointed by the government.

Frazer is expected to back Closs Stephens’ nomination next week, a senior government insider said.

Closs Stephens will serve as BBC chairman for a period of time – as the company plans its next steps to compete in a global television market increasingly dominated by big US technology groups – as the process to appoint Sharp’s permanent successor has not yet officially begun. .

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Damon Buffini, the BBC’s deputy chairman, is seen as a leading candidate to replace Sharp permanently.

Sharp announced his resignation as BBC chairman last month after an investigation found he had breached public appointment rules by failing to declare help to Johnson which led to an £800,000 loan.

He will stay on until the end of June and people involved in the search for an acting BBC chairman have said a permanent replacement is unlikely to be in place until the end of the year.

Lord Ed Vaizey, the former culture secretary, said after Sharp’s exit that Sunak should ensure the BBC’s appointment process was “unimpeachable”. Gary Lineker, the BBC’s high-profile football presenter, says politics should be taken out of the process.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed that it will appoint an acting BBC chairman from among the existing non-executive members of the company’s board. “We will make an announcement in due course,” the spokesperson said.

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The BBC declined to comment.

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/8cb1cad5-7d89-45dc-9da8-57afd4bc33e4