The British government has insisted it will not influence the appointment of the next BBC chairman after a deep feud over the broadcaster's reporting on the build-up to the Iraq war.
The publicly-funded broadcaster's chairman, Gavyn Davies, and director-general Greg Dyke resigned last week after an inquiry by judge Lord Hutton lambasted the BBC for a radio report accusing the government of exaggerating the case for war.
The culture minister said on Monday the commissioner for public appointments, Dame Rennie Fritchie, would oversee the new chairman's selection with a small team of senior cross-party political figures.
"We all want a strong BBC that is independent of government," Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell told parliament, adding she "regretted" having to appoint a new chairman. "Whoever is chosen will be chosen fairly, freely and with the best interests of the BBC at heart."
Letters show Blair complained
about the BBC's war coverage
Dyke accused Prime Minister Tony Blair's government on Sunday of "systematic bullying" and revealed Blair had written to him personally to complain about coverage of the Iraq war.
But Jowell praised the former director general for his "inspirational leadership" and paid tribute to Davies.
"Whatever the strength of the disagreement between the government and the BBC...I want to place on record the House's appreciation of the outstanding contribution made by Gavyn Davies," she said.
Speculation is already rife about who will become chairman, whose job includes naming a director-general to replace Dyke.
Former Premier John Major has
been touted as a chairman
Names being touted in the media include former Conservative Prime Minister John Major and heavyweight TV personalities such as David Attenborough, known for his BBC nature programmes, and veteran political journalist David Dimbleby.
Job adverts will soon be placed in the national press, and applicants interviewed and short-listed.
A candidate will be selected by the panel and recommended to ministers who in turn make a recommendation to the queen, who makes the appointment.
Rumoured candidates for the post of director-general include Mark Byford, currently the acting director-general. Media reports have also mentioned Mark Thompson, who spent 20 years at the BBC before leaving in 2001 to become chief executive of another broadcaster, Channel 4.
In a separate development, the Times newspaper said on Monday Dyke was to hire lawyers this week to examine whether a legal challenge could be mounted against Lord Hutton's report.
Critics say the Hutton enquiry was
a pro-government whitewash
The Hutton enquiry was launched in July 2003 to investigate circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, an adviser to the government on Iraq's weapons programme.
The BBC had quoted Kelly anonymously in reports suggesting the government had exaggerated the case for invading Iraq to remove its weapons threat. Kelly apparently committed suicide after his name was made public by the government.
Hutton heavily criticised a BBC journalist for misquoting Kelly and making unfounded accusations against the government.
The British media, including newspapers traditionally critical of the BBC, largely offered support for the broadcaster. Many accused Hutton of treating the BBC too harshly while giving the government the benefit of the doubt.