Britain’s state-owned commercial broadcaster Channel 4 has decided to enter into “exclusive negotiations” with the BBC’s Mark Thompson, to all intents the Beeb's executive second-in-command, to fill the vacant post of C4 chief executive.

The decision was taken at a two-hour board meeting Monday evening at which, it is rumoured, there was opposition to the appointment. The position has been vacant since the summer when former ceo Michael Jackson quit to become chief executive of Barry Diller’s USA Networks.[WAMN: 24-Jul-01].

The news of Thompson’s choice as preferred candidate was not greeted with universal enthusiasm at Channel 4, where concern is expressed that his ambition runs to succeeding BBC director general Greg Dyke - to which he regards the C4 post as a convenient stepping stone.

Neither C4 nor the BBC would comment on the report, although Thompson is expected to meet with C4 chairman Vanni Treves and perhaps deputy chairman Barry Cox Tuesday or Wednesday.

Thompson (44) – credited with evolving the BBC's digital television strategy and driving through the upcoming cultural channel BBC4 – came to prominence via the well trodden media fast-track of Oxford University and is generally regarded as a safe pair of hands.

His one high profile failure was an inability to convince the government’s culture secretary Tessa Jowell in September that his plans for the mooted BBC youth channel were anything other than “tacky”.

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