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Apprentice may move to avoid poll clash

BBC bosses said yesterday that next year's series of "The Apprentice" may have to be rescheduled to ensure tycoon Alan Sugar would not be on screens during campaigning for a general election.

Sugar, famed for his hiring and firing of candidates on the popular show, was given a government role and appointed "enterprise tsar" by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June and given a seat in the House in Lords.

The Tories have argued it is "totally incompatible" for him to combine his political job with his TV role.

The BBC Trust, the body which oversees the corporation, said the issue must be considered by the broadcaster's management.

"License fee payers rightly look to the Trust to ensure that the impartiality of the BBC is not put at risk, and this is an issue that we consider of the utmost importance," Michael Lyons, the Trust's chairman said in a statement.

At its height

Brown must call an election by early June 2010 - meaning election campaigning is likely to be at its height at a time when "The Apprentice" is usually being aired.

The show, which puts candidates through 12 weeks of business-related tasks in order to win a job with Sugar, completed its fifth series last month. Next year will also see the first "Junior Apprentice" involving 10 teenagers battling to win Sugar's approval.

"The (editorial standards) committee notes that there is now less than a year before the next general election and that this increases the sensitivity caused by Lord Sugar's dual role," Lyons said.

"When scheduling next year's transmission of The Apprentice and Junior Apprentice the (BBC) executive must give due consideration to the implications of showing the programs in the months prior to a general election."

The Conservatives said the decision meant the Trust had acknowledged that Sugar's government role had risked the BBC's impartiality.

"Whatever restrictions the BBC seeks to put on his political activities, Lord Sugar is taking the Labour whip and has an official government role," said Jeremy Hunt, the Tory's culture spokesman.

"It's amazing that the Trust has therefore not explained why license fee payers should fund a program hosted by someone who will help formulate, promote, and endorse government policies."


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