Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Tories complain over BBC’s decision to stick with Sugar

Sir Alan Sugar

The Conservative party has formally complained to the BBC's governing body over the decision that Sir Alan Sugar will continue on The Apprentice.

The corporation said that Sir Alan's new role as a Government adviser would “not compromise the BBC's impartiality”.

Questions had been raised about whether the entrepreneur's new Enterprise Tsar role could breach impartiality rules during the General Election campaign.

The 62-year-old, who will take a seat in the House of Lords following a Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, said he was “glad” about the decision.

Shadow culture secretary |Jeremy Hunt has made a formal complaint about impartiality to the BBC Trust.

In a letter to the Trust's chairman Sir Michael Lyons, Mr Hunt said: “Rather than set my mind at ease, the justifications given by the director-general makes things worse. Having therefore now exhausted the complaints procedure with the BBC, I would now like to make a number of official complaints to the BBC Trust about a breach of editorial guidelines.”

In a letter to Mr Hunt, BBC director-general Mark Thompson said Sir Alan would not be expected to be on the Government's payroll, or claim expenses associated with the post.

He would also not be allowed to be put up for interview on behalf of a Government department or in the place of a Government |minister, Mr Thompson wrote.

“Sir Alan could not... play any direct role in formulating Government policy, or occupy a position which obliged him to promote or endorse Government policy,” he wrote.

“If Sir Alan is offered a peerage and sits on the Labour benches (in the House of Lords), he will be |expected to ensure that any |interventions he makes are |entirely compatible with his role at the BBC and do not compromise our editorial integrity and impartiality.

“Sir Alan cannot speak on behalf of the Government in the House of Lords and will have to take care in choosing what topics to address during periods when his BBC programmes are transmitted or about to be transmitted.”

But Mr Hunt said in his letter to the Trust: “The director-general states in his letter to me... that Sir Alan ‘will not attend any Cabinet or other official Government meetings except as a guest or invited attendee to give presentations or to inform debate'.

“This suggests he will be |attending Cabinet from time to time.

“The director-general goes on to say that he ‘could not however play any direct role in formulating government policy'.

“These two statements are simply not compatible.

“There is no more direct way to formulate Government policy than by attending Cabinet, presenting to Cabinet, or helping inform Cabinet debates. This is simply unacceptable.”

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