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Sir Michael Lyons admits BBC 'cock-ups'

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Sir Michael Lyons

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Sir Michael Lyons, the outgoing chairman of the BBC Trust, last night reflected on some "memorable cock-ups" at the corporation, and outlined the challenges facing his successor Lord Patten.

In a speech at the London School of Economics, Lyons signed off on his "tempestuous" four-year reign at the BBC's governing body. He said that recent times had been "particularly turbulent for the BBC", not least because of the recession and last year's general election.

But he particularly pinpointed the events that led to the Hutton report in 2004, which resulted in the departure of BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and director general Greg Dyke, as being the "greatest existential threat" the BBC has faced in recent times.

Lyons, who steps down from the Trust next month, said that there has been plenty of "incoming fire" for the BBC over the years, but he also noted that the corporation occasionally adds to the mix "by shooting itself in the foot".

The chairman's list of "cock-ups" includes the 'Crowngate' affair, in which a trailer for a BBC documentary about the Queen was unfairly edited to portray that she had stormed out of a photo session.

Lyons also described the 'Manuelgate' scandal, in which Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand left rude messages on the answering machine of Andrew Sachs, as a "uniquely toxic combination of profanity, misogyny, bullying and black farce".

He further noted various voting scandals at the BBC, including a Blue Peter competition which gave a cat a different name to the one chosen by viewers.

However, Lyons added: "When you draw up the scoresheet there are many more ticks on the positive side than crosses on the negative."

He defended the creation of the Trust in 2007, arguing that the often-criticised body is able to guard the BBC's independence from government, but also "shape" the corporation on behalf of the licence fee payers.

Today, Lord Patten of Barnes will appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of cross-party MPs for a pre-appointment hearing, after being put forward by culture secretary Jeremy Hunt as the government's preferred candidate to replace Lyons.

Lyons said that Patten will face some "tough choices" as a result of the BBC's new licence fee settlement, which included a 16% cut to the BBC's income in real terms and new funding responsibilities.

The outgoing chairman particularly urged Patten to keep tight control of the ambitions of BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, and ensure that the BBC's online operation always acts as a "counterweight" to the "walled gardens" put in place by commercial rivals.

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