The BBC has responded to the story that’s the talk of the British TV industry: that the government is poised to appoint the right-wing Daily Telegraph columnist Charles Moore as the BBC’s next chairman.
The Sunday Times reported over the weekend that it was a “done deal” that Moore would get the top job, even though the government is yet to launch a formal recruitment process for the role.
The news shocked many industry watchers, given Moore has a history of being nakedly aggressive towards the BBC and was fined by a court in 2010 for failing to pay his licence fee.
A Very English Scandal actor Hugh Grant described the prospect of Moore at the BBC, and former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre becoming the new chair of Ofcom, as the nail in the coffin for Britain.
Giving evidence to British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee today, existing BBC chairman David Clementi had his say — and he had an unambiguous message for prime minister Boris Johnson. He said:
“I hope the government will encourage well-qualified candidates to apply so there is a strong and diverse field, rather than putting them off by giving the impression that there is already a preferred candidate.
“[BBC director general Tim Davie] did say in his first speech that the BBC is about being “free from political bias, guided by the pursuit of truth, not a particular agenda.” He particularly went on to say: “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media, that’s a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”
“The point I want to make is impartiality starts at the top of the organization, it doesn’t start halfway down. It starts with the chair and the board. If the candidate comes from that sort of background, he or she will need to be able to demonstrate to you that they have left their strong political views at the door.”
Britain’s culture secretary Oliver Dowden did distance the government from the Sunday Times report. Asked if Moore had been offered the job, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “No. We have a formal process for them to go through.” Asked if there had been “behind the scenes” talks about the roles, Dowden added: “I have conversations with people all the time… It is not my role to offer them the job.”