Rona Fairhead, who became chair of BBC governing body the BBC Trust in August 2014, has opted not to stand for re-appointment. Until today, she wouldn’t have had to. And, it’s complicated. The former Financial Times Group chief executive was due to remain in her post for a full four years, sequeing from the BBC Trust, which is to be abolished in 2017, to the BBC Board that is replacing it. However, the new UK government has informed the BBC that it will run a new process to appoint the first Chair of the BBC Board for a four-year term.
The UK government issued a White Paper in May this year saying it would scrap the self-regulatory BBC Trust as part of a charter review. The new deal between the BBC and the government runs for 11 years beginning in 2017. At the time, the government said Fairhead had been asked to continue as Chair of the new BBC Board until the end of her existing four-year term in 2018.
Fairhead replaced Chris Patten, who resigned from a long tenure as BBC Trust chair in 2014 following heart surgery; he also had absorbed some of the criticism for the BBC’s handling of the Jimmy Savile sexual-abuse revelations and subsequent Newsnight scandal that rocked the UK broadcaster.
Fairhead said today: “I took on leadership of the Trust to help stabilize, strengthen and develop the BBC following a very difficult period in its history and through Charter Review. I was always clear that I was willing to serve for four years, after which I would continue my career in the private sector.
“I am proud of what I and my colleagues, both at the Trust and the BBC, have accomplished during the past two years. I believe the draft Charter will secure the strong, confident and independent BBC that the public want and deserve.
“The Prime Minister strongly encouraged me to take part in the new appointment process, for what would be a new four year term as BBC Chairman. However, after much thought I have come to the conclusion that I should not do so. It is my belief that it will be better to have a clean break and for the Government to appoint someone new, and for me to continue my career in the private sector as I had always planned to do after my existing term ended in 2018.”
BBC Director-General Tony Hall, who runs the broadcaster, said today: “Rona has made a real contribution to BBC and at a really important time for us. On behalf of all the staff, I’d like to thank her for that and wish her the very best for the future. We will continue to work together in the interests of licence fee payers until the new governance arrangements are in place.”
Prior to Fairhead taking the initial appointment, candidates were not clamoring to take on the BBC Trust chairmanship during a difficult appointment process. Ruling themselves out were former MP (and Olympic gold medalist) Sebastian Coe, who oversaw the 2012 London Olympics; Arts Council chief and TV mogul Peter Bazalgette; and former Pearson head Marjorie Scardino.