BBC chairman denies controversy over Jess Brammar appointment has ‘tainted’ role

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The chairman of the BBC has denied controversy surrounding the hiring of Jess Brammar as head of news channels has “tainted” her appointment.

Richard Sharp defended the hiring process and told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee such appointments were “a matter for the director-general and the executive team”.

Ms 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 channels editor
Jess Brammar has been appointed the BBC’s executive news editor of news channels (BBC/PA)

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.

Appearing alongside BBC director-general Tim Davie and chief operating officer Leigh Tavaziva, Mr Sharp said: “Staff appointments are a matter for the director-general and the executive team.

“At the same time, you should be aware in light of some of the things that have been discussed in relation to the Martin Bashir issue, recruiting to senior positions is very important in media organisations such as the BBC, where many issues are involved of reputational importance and issues such as impartiality and balance.”

Mr Sharp said executive directors and non-executive directors should feel free to communicate any “information they think is relevant to a critical decision”.

He added: “There are some people who didn’t fully understand the changing nature of the structure of the BBC as a result of the corporate board, who thought it was inappropriate for a non-executive director to communicate to an executive director about any information that may be relevant, in fact the truth is quite the reverse.”

He added: “What shouldn’t happen is the non-executive director should make the decision.”

Kevin Brennan MP told Mr Sharp he thought it was “unsurprising that some people fear there is something else going on and it’s more serious than a corporate process”.

Mr Sharp said: “People are entitled to their fears and concerns, it doesn’t mean they are right.”

He added: “If people had matters they thought relevant, they should feel free to communicate them.”

Asked if the episode has “tainted” Ms Brammar’s appointment, because “there is a member of the board so vehemently thinking she is unsuitable for the job”, Mr Sharp said Mr Brennan was “making a supposition”, adding: “The board supports the director-general and the process that has been undertaken.”

Asked if that includes Sir Robbie, Mr Sharp replied: “Yes.”

Mr Davie denied the departure of BBC news chief Fran Unsworth was prompted by the appointment of Ms Brammar.

He said: “Not in the slightest. Nothing to do with the latest incident. This was a planned move. Fran is an exceptional executive, if you look through her record. This is a plan that has got absolutely nothing to do with the Jess Brammar appointment.”

Mr Davie added: “We need to hire the best at the BBC and we need to hire across the political spectrum. That is an incredibly important precedent and this affair is dangerous territory for us.

“Not because of the process but because if people begin doubting our ability to hire people with views into the BBC, and when they get here they leave them at the door – political views.”

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