Davies on cronyism, Enron and yellow cards at the BBC

BBC chairman Gavyn Davies has admitted donating around £10,000 to the Labour Party but said he had given up his party membership once he joined the board of governors.

Davies, whose appointment as Sir Christopher Bland’s successor gave rise to charges of cronyism – his wife is Gordon Brown’s political secretary – said that his decision to leave the party was a "signal" that he "took the matter seriously".

Interviewed at the London School of Economics, Davies, who was deputy chairman to Sir Christopher before taking the helm, said he believed that up to five BBC governors were members of the Conservative Party. "I think it’s acceptable that the governors are party members," he said.

The economist, who is still an advisory director at bankers Goldman Sachs, also discussed his involvement with collapsed US energy company Enron.

He said it was his "good fortune" that he had turned down an offer of payment.

"I had thought it was odd that they offered to pay me when I was working for Goldman Sachs, but not so peculiar to make me wonder what they were really up to. I didn’t smell a rat," said Davies.

"If it was intuition then it did me a favour, I certainly think it was lucky because I would have had a much harder job explaining why I had."

Davies said he supported Greg Dyke’s campaign to change the culture at the BBC, but thought that the director general would "get some flak" for bringing out his yellow cards.

"It’s a light-hearted thing, but I think he has put his finger on something that needs to change at the BBC," he said.

Davies also defended the former director general, John Birt, whom he said "gets vilified far too much".

"John Birt saw the importance of the internet and without him and the insight he had the BBC wouldn’t be on the internet on the scale we are now," said Davies.

He also defended the BBC’s plan to give £97m to its BBC3 digital channel if plans get the go-ahead from Media Secretary Tessa Jowell, while spending a third of that on "highbrow" channel BBC4.

"It’s a financial decision because BBC4 is a minority channel and we can’t afford to push up the programme costs per hour," said Davies. But he rejected claims that the Media Secretary would ask for more funding for BBC4 as a condition for agreeing to BBC Choice being relaunched as BBC3.

"I don’t expect that they will instruct us to spend more on BBC4 and less on BBC3," he said. "And I don’t think detailed control of budgets is best done by the Secretary of State."

By Julie Tomlin

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