Friday, 27 June 2014

A Moral Framework

Peter Oborne writes:

A month has passed since government sources leaked to the political editor of ITN the interesting story that the Tory peer Lord Coe is being considered as next chairman of the BBC Trust.

Now comes news that Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary, has changed the rules of the job, cutting down the time commitment required from three or four days a week to just two.

This last minute change makes it much easier for Seb Coe, who seems to be the Government’s preferred candidate, to put his name forward.

Harriet Harman, the Labour Deputy Leader, has just been on Radio 5 Live, rightly pointing out that the BBC chairmanship cannot be carried out on the part-time basis now being envisaged by Javid.

There are, however, further reasons why Lord Coe is an inappropriate appointment.

First, he is believed to earn a very substantial amount from his senior executive positions at Chime Communications, where he is executive chairman of the sports division.

Chime Communications is an advertising and PR group that enjoyed contracts worth £30 million from the Olympic Games, which Coe ran.

Lord Coe could earn up to £12 million by 2017 from his own contract at Chime.

Add to this the fact that he is a special adviser to Nike and a consultant for Chelsea Football Club.

The BBC is a major purchaser of sporting rights, and there is no avoiding the fact that Lord Coe would confront an unacceptable conflict of interests were he to chair the BBC Trust.

He can run Chime's sports division, or he can chair the BBC. He surely can't do both.

There is also a second problem. This concerns Lord Coe’s record as head of Fifa’s Ethics Committee in 2007.

Allegations of Fifa corruption were swirling around even then. BBC Panorama sought to question Lord Coe as to what the ethics committee, which he chaired, was doing about it.

He refused to answer or even detail his responsibilities.

I urge anybody wishing to assess the suitability of Lord Coe as Chairman of the BBC Trust to watch him avoiding questions about Fifa’s corruption scandal when Panorama's Andrew Jennings door-stepped him.

Had Coe had adopted a more transparent and forceful approach as chair of the ethics committee, Fifa might not be in the mess it is in now.

He clearly failed to instill a culture of honesty at Fifa, as the sordid tale of bribery associated with the later Qatari World Cup bid shows.

As the chairman of the BBC Trust, one of Lord Coe’s central obligations would be to set a moral framework at the BBC.

His record at Fifa suggests that this would be beyond him.

Lord Coe's Conservative backers, who include George Osborne, would be extremely well-advised to withdraw their runner from the race before the starting gun is fired.

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