Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Lord Patten must not be Chairman of the BBC Trust

Chris Patten, and man who has been the former all sorts of things, Governor  of Hong Kong, Tory Party Chairman, EU Commissioner and so on, has applied to become the Chairman of the BBC Trust. According to the Guardian report,
He is considered by sources to a leading candidate given his strong Tory credentials coupled with corporate experience. He is on the European advisory board for private equity group Bridgepoint and on the international advisory board of energy giant BP.
The Telegraph also sees him as a "preffered candidate".

But he cannot be allowed to take this job. It is a position which of paramount importance to the country, as it is the Chairman of the Trust who is responsible for overseeing the impartiality of the BBC and dealing with complaints. In matters relating to the European Union and the way in which the EU is reported it is vital (particularly goven recenmt pollingf) that this job is taken by somebody who is not only widely experienced, but could not be accused of favouring either side in the debate.

Part of the role is as follows,
The Trust will require the Executive Board to draw up and submit for approval Election Guidelines and Referendum Guidelines. Election Guidelines will include a code of practice for elections regarding the participation of candidates in items about the electoral area during the election period.14 Referendum Guidelines give editorial guidance in relation to coverage of referendum campaigns. The Trust will review and, when it is satisfied, approve the Guidelines, which may be subject to public consultation.
In general it will,
will monitor and hold the Executive Board to account for the BBC’s compliance with the BBC Editorial Guidelines and other relevant codes and guidelines.
So why not Lord Patten? Because he is a former EU Comissioner, and therefore is in receipt of the EU pension which requires that according to article 213 of the EU Treaty Commissioners,
When entering upon their duties they shall give a solemn undertaking that, both during and after their term of office, they will respect the obligations arising therefrom and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits. In the event of any breach of these obligations, the Court of Justice may, on application by the Council or the Commission, rule that the Member concerned be, according to the circumstances, either compulsorily retired in accordance with Article 216 or deprived of his right to a pension or other benefits in its stead.
If he wants to keep his pension he must behave in such a way that suits the EU. This is a memorable exchange between Lord Kinnock and Lord Pearson on the subject back in 2008,
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, before the noble Lord does so, perhaps I may ask him as a point of honour, since I have been listening to him from beyond the Bar, that when he expresses a desire to ensure that future students have an accurate understanding of what is going on, it is necessary to record, first, that I thought that he was a man of honour and would not give himself to sentiments such as those he has just expressed; and, secondly, that there is nothing that I have ever taken from anyone that would begin to influence the judgment that I exercise as a parliamentarian.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the noble Lord would say that, wouldn’t he?

Noble Lords: Shame!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, he may well believe it.

Noble Lords: Withdraw!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: No, my Lords; I do not withdraw the fact that if one is in receipt of a pension that one can lose, it must influence the way in which one thinks and speaks.

I am sure that Lord patten would say that too. But the suspicion is that he is like the rest of us and would be affected by the threat of the loss of his pension.

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