With the BBC poised to announce former Financial Times boss Rona Fairhead as its first ever female chair next week, you may be wondering: Who is she? What does she do? And what does her appointment mean for viewers?
Fifty-three-year-old Fairhead’s appointment as BBC chairman will be rubber stamped next week after she is formally (and publicly) interviewed by the Department of Media and Sport Select Committee in Parliament on 9th September. She will take over the role occupied previously by Lord Patten of Barnes (and Diane Coyle, who has worked as acting chair after he quit in May).
A businesswoman and former chairwoman and chief executive of the Financial Times Group between 2006 and 2013, Fairhead is an ex-management consultant – and a fully qualified pilot whose hobbies also include scuba diving.
A trusted and hugely competent business executive, she left the FT last April and has been fulfilling commitments as a non-executive director of HSBC as well as her work on the board of drinks conglomerate PepsiCo.
Her new job – which comes with a £143,000 pay packet for three or four days full-time work per week – will be to lead the BBC Trust which is effectively the Corporation’s regulator.
The chair and her fellow Trustees are independent from the BBC’s Executive Board, which is led by the BBC’s executive head and editor in chief – the director-general Tony Hall. The principal job of the Trust is to monitor the performance of the executive but also at key moments to represent and act as cheerleader for the BBC.
It fulfils this role in many ways, including regular performance reviews for certain services or channels (here is one of the most recent, and it did not make happy reading for BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore) plus a report each year which assesses the executive’s overall performance on every service provided by the BBC.
The Trust also adjudicates when the BBC executive wants to make major changes to its output, such as closing services. The Trust had to decide whether the BBC should be allowed to close 6 Music and over-ruled the proposal in 2010. Fairhead’s Trust will also adjudicate on the BBC’s plans to close BBC3, probably towards the end of the year. Current indications from the Trust so far are that this is far from a done deal, although the BBC executive appears confident of waiving the proposals through.
As well as the BBC3 decision, another key item in Fairhead’s in-tray will be negotiations for the BBC’s royal charter, which sets out the Corporation’s public obligations and is updated every ten years. The current charter runs until the end of 2016.
Led by the chairman, the Trust is made up of 12 Trustees including four National Trustees who each represent England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, respectively, plus an International Trustee who has specific oversight of the BBC’s international public services, including the World Service.
The Trust is advised by four Audience Councils who also advise the Trust on the interests of audiences across the UK.
All Trustees are appointed by the Queen on advice from Government Ministers after an open selection process.
Oh, and one other thing: no word as yet on whether Fairhead will be called BBC chair, chairman, chairwoman or chairperson. The Trust says she will take her own view on this.