BBC director-general Tim Davie has said the corporation would be in “dangerous territory” if previous political positions made a journalist ineligible for a job, as he addressed the hiring of Jess Brammar as head of news channels.
Brammar, former editor-in-chief of HuffPost UK and acting editor of Newsnight, will take up the role of the BBC’s executive news editor of news channels, overseeing the BBC’s two 24-hour news channels – BBC World News and the BBC News Channel.
It comes after her impartiality was questioned after old tweets emerged in which she was critical of Brexit and the Prime Minister.
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) September 15, 2021
Labour previously called for Theresa May’s former communications director Sir Robbie Gibb to be sacked from the board of the BBC after claims he tried to block her hiring on political grounds.
Asked if Brammar’s appointment could appear to the Government to be “confirmation of group think” at the BBC, Davie told the RTS Cambridge Convention: “No. I think we’re in dangerous territory if previous political positions, tweets, goodness knows what else, rule you out from BBC jobs.
“We’re hiring people from all walks of life, a wide spectrum of media.
“My expectation as a leader of the organisation for anyone joining the BBC is that you leave your politics at the door.
Tim Davie: I think we're in dangerous territory if previous political positions, tweets, rule you out from @BBC jobs. My expectation as a leader for anyone joining the BBC is that you leave your political opinions at the door #RTSCambridge
— RTS Events (@RTS_Now) September 16, 2021
“But the idea that we not going to be hiring people with political views in their past, or who have been in jobs where they have a position, that is not where I want to get to, and I think that is quite dangerous because you end up in an unmanageable position for the BBC and not great for journalism.”
He said Brammar is “a great hire and she’ll do a great job”, adding: “I don’t want to be in a position where we are not able to hire the best people.
“We have been clear, when it comes to the BBC you leave that behind and you absolutely deliver impartial coverage and that is what we are here to do.”
Davie also said he has not yet spoken to new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
She replaced Oliver Dowden during a cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, just minutes before he was due to address the convention.
Media minister John Whittingdale appeared in his place to read the speech Mr Dowden had been intending to give.
Speaking to new ITN chief executive Deborah Turness at the convention, Davie said: “We are yet to make contact but I’m really looking forward to meeting and getting to know her.”
Asked if her appointment tells him anything about the Government’s intentions about the future of the licence fee, he said: “I think it’s too early to make too many conclusions.
“We need a really serious, grown-up dialogue with Government to talk about what we want to do with this industry and the BBC’s place in it.
“I care desperately about the creative industries, we have got an opportunity, this group, to create up to a million jobs in the creative industry before 2030, it’s an incredibly important topic.
“There will always be a bit of theatre around some of the dynamics around appointments but the truth is we will sit down and have a proper dialogue around the BBC, and I look forward to it.”
Asked about Ms Dorries’ previous comments about the corporation, describing it as “bloated” and “outdated”, he said: “I wouldn’t get too distracted by it, it’s all about sitting down with the ministers and the teams and really getting into it, I’m not distracted by it.
“I think we have got a strong case for investment in the BBC.”
Davie also dodged questions about a possible return to the BBC for Andrew Neil after he stepped down from his roles as the chairman and host of a prime-time show on GB News.
He said: “I haven’t spoken to Andrew since his adventures with other broadcasters.
“He’s an outstanding talent and I’m sure he will get a good gig. we will see where he ends up.”