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BBC journalists should not be judged on their political backgrounds, the corporation’s news chief has said, as she insisted that a new Left-wing hire will “leave personal opinions at the door”.
The BBC on Wednesday confirmed the appointment of Jess Brammar as executive head of news, choosing the day of the Government reshuffle to release the news.
Ms Brammar is a contentious hire because she previously edited the Left-wing Huffington Post UK website and posted tweets perceived as critical of Brexit and Boris Johnson.
Sir Robbie Gibb, the former No 10 communications director and now a BBC board member, attempted to block had warned that her appointment would damage relations with the Government.
But Fran Unsworth, head of news and current affairs, said no one should be judged on political tweets made as part of their previous employment.
In an email to staff, Ms Unsworth said: “In view of recent public speculation about BBC News appointments, there are a couple of points I want to make.
"BBC News has to be impartial and independent. BBC journalists are hired from a variety of different backgrounds, but while working at the BBC, they leave any personal opinions at the door.
"Any individual should be judged on how they do their job at the BBC, not on what they have done in different organisations with very different objectives.
"It is extremely disappointing that anyone should receive public or personal criticism – or online abuse – simply for applying for a job at the BBC."
After her appointment was confirmed, Brammar tweeted the news (see below).
Some personal news (a divisive phrase, I know!) - couldn’t be more thrilled to be joining such an incredibly talented team, on and off air. Very much looking forward to cracking on with the job. https://t.co/Vq4UyiMljq
— Jess Brammar (@jessbrammar) September 15, 2021
The BBC chairman, Richard Sharp, used the occasion of a Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge - amid reports of the reshuffle - to first announce the appointment.
Asked about the impartiality row, Mr Sharp said: “Individual recruiting should be on merit, and Jess got there on merit.”
That was followed by an official announcement from the BBC in which Fran Unsworth, the BBC news chief who approved the appointment, praised Ms Brammar’s “wealth of knowledge and experience”.
Ms Brammar will begin in the newly-created role of executive news editor for the BBC’s news channels this month.
She was previously a deputy editor of BBC Two’s Newsnight before moving to Huffington Post UK.
Critics said her tweets in that latter role displayed a Left-wing bias. She urged people to “fight for a properly funded NHS” and promoted a HuffPostUK article which said black Britons were “genuinely considering leaving the UK because of the level of racism, particularly if Boris Johnson wins”.
She also wrote that it was “not even controversial to say there is racism in the British press”.
Mr Sharp was asked about BBC impartiality with reference to Ms Brammar’s appointment. He said “Everybody has their own opinions – the question is do they have individual objectivity?”
However, he added it was crucial that the BBC avoids “groupthink” and said the media industry had “up until now been incredibly metropolitan”.
Asked if the BBC could fight groupthink by not hiring a candidate likely to irritate the Government, Mr Sharp said that was the wrong way of looking at the issue.
“The issue is: in an editorial meeting, does everybody think the same way? Because if you look at the social scientists around groupthink, they recognise better decisions are made when you have different opinions and then there’s a conversation. We have to be open to different views and make sure that they’re aired.”
Mr Sharp also threw his full support behind the licence fee, saying it offered “fantastic” value for money and warning that there would be “serious consequences” if the next settlement was below inflation.
He said: “Actually, one of the things I find most remarkable is the price. I mean, 43p a day for television, radio, website, World Service, children, iPlayer, Sounds and a morning argument with your radio – and that’s for a household – is actually fantastic value. Just look at the price of The Guardian… it’s very, very good, but it’s four times as expensive.”