Impartiality fear to force Apprentice change

Author: By Damon Wake, Press Association

The Conservatives had complained to the BBC that Lord Sugar’s appointment
could breach corporation rules on impartiality in the lead-up to the vote,
which must be called by next May.

But the BBC Trust said the newly-ennobled Lord Sugar’s job as government
“enterprise champion” would not lead to a direct conflict of interest with
his role in The Apprentice providing that strict safeguards were observed.

Concerns over political independence meant next year’s series of The
Apprentice may have to be rescheduled, the Trust said.

The body’s editorial standards committee said that broadcasting the show when
the election was imminent would be likely to undermine public confidence in
the BBC, as Lord Sugar’s presence on screen could be seen as undue or unfair
publicity for the Labour Party.

Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the Trust, said: “The Committee notes that
there is now less than a year before the next general election and that this
increases the sensitivity caused by Lord Sugar’s dual role.

“Scheduling decisions are a matter for the Executive. But the Trust is clear
that when scheduling next year’s transmission of The Apprentice and Junior
Apprentice the Executive must give due consideration to the implications of
showing the programmes in the months immediately before a general election.”

Under guidelines set out by BBC management, the 62-year-old entrepreneur, who
officially became Baron Sugar of Clapton in the Borough of Hackney on
Monday, may not campaign on behalf of the government, and must take care
that his image is not used in campaigning material.

The Trust’s editorial standards committee said that for a period immediately
after the announcement of Lord Sugar’s peerage, there was a risk that public
confidence in BBC impartiality could have been undermined.

A lack of clarity about the precise nature of his new role may have allowed
the impression to form that the appointment would compromise the
corporation’s political independence, the committee ruled.

The committee also criticised BBC management over Lord Sugar’s appearance at
an event in Gateshead to promote the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS).

While apprenticeships enjoyed widespread support across parties, the committee
said, the event should have been regarded as political activity and referred
to the BBC executive for consent.

The Conservatives said they were still unhappy with Lord Sugar’s dual role.

The shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “The BBC Trust has admitted
what we have known all along, that Alan Sugar’s Government appointment risks
the impartiality, integrity and independence of the BBC.

“Whatever restrictions the BBC seeks to put on his political activities Lord
Sugar is taking the Labour whip and has an official Government role.

“It’s amazing that the Trust has therefore not explained why licence fee
payers should fund a programme hosted by someone who will help formulate,
promote, and endorse Government policies.

“The Trust has disappointingly missed an opportunity to show it has teeth when
it comes to enforcing impartiality obligations.”

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