Threat to neutral image of 'Aunty Beeb'?

The top candidate to head the supposedly impartial BBC is accused of

The most powerful job in British broadcasting, and one of the most influential media posts in the world, is becoming mired in political controversy.

Days before governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation, known affectionately as "Aunty Beeb," are due to choose a new director-general, opposition Conservative Party leader William Hague has tried to block the appointment of a front-runner for the post. Mr. Hague accuses Greg Dyke, current chairman of a commercial television company, of sympathies with the ruling Labour Party, to which Mr. Dyke has given substantial financial donations.

With 50 bureaus and 250 correspondents, the BBC is the largest news-gathering operation in the world. Its director-general is editor in chief of the corporation's global news operation. Under its charter, the BBC is pledged to be politically neutral, and programs are carefully monitored for political balance.

In a letter to BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland, Hague said: "It would be totally unacceptable for anyone who has so substantially and recently financially supported a political party, and even helped fund the leadership campaign of a party leader, to be appointed director-general of the BBC.

"The director-general is the ultimate guarantor of the political impartiality of the BBC."

A senior Conservative Party official said Mr. Dyke's appointment would be "a case of political cronyism."

A group of members of Parliament from the main political parties has introduced a House of Commons motion saying Dyke would be an "inappropriate" choice as director-general.

Despite the controversy, Dyke said yesterday he would not be withdrawing from the contest. He does not deny having contributed at least 50,000 ($80,000) to Labour Party coffers over the past few years, including money used to support Prime Minister Tony Blair's successful 1994 party leadership campaign.

THE BBC's independence dates back to the austere views of John Reith, its first director-general, who saw the corporation's mission as the "improvement and enlightenment" of the British public. He also invented the concept of "public service broadcasting" that has been adopted in various forms by broadcasters worldwide.

The BBC is Britain's dominant broadcaster. It runs three domestic television channels and five radio stations. In addition, the BBC World Service broadcasts to a claimed global audience of 140 million.

BBC television and radio carry no commercial or political advertising. All but a small proportion of its funds come from annual license fees paid by anyone who operates a TV set in Britain.

In a statement after Hague's intervention, the BBC's chairman said the appointment of a new director-general would not be discussed with any of the parties. Other candidates include the chief executive of ITV, Britain's independent television network, and two senior BBC executives.

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