BBC chief has ‘no idea’ if a single executive voted for Brexit

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Tim Davie
Tim Davie

The director general of the BBC has admitted he has no idea whether any of his executives voted for Brexit while insisting he wants to stamp out “institutional groupthink”.

The BBC was caught in a recent political storm when it hired Jess Brammar, a Left-leaning journalist, as executive news editor.

Tim Davie said he was determined to hire news staff from different backgrounds who would represent a variety of political views.

But when challenged by MPs on whether the BBC could offer a counterweight to Ms Brammar’s appointment by citing a senior staff member who supported Brexit, Mr Davie said: “I have no idea. I don’t know where my top team is on Brexit. We don’t talk like that.”

Mr Davie was appearing before a digital, culture, media and sport select committee where he was questioned about BBC impartiality.

Julian Knight, the Conservative chairman of the committee, told Mr Davie he appeared to be “in the dark” about the political leanings of his editorial team.

Mr Davie said: “We don’t have a list of questions when we’re interviewing people, saying: ‘Politically, what did you support and what didn’t you support?’ That’s not the criteria.”

‘I do worry about institutional groupthink’

However, he said: “I do worry about institutional groupthink. I do. And I think we need to make sure that the groups of people making decisions, the groups of people we attract at the BBC, come from a wide socio-economic background and have a diverse range of views.

“We are vulnerable, like every institution, to groupthink, of having a certain type of person. This is a really big topic in terms of the BBC’s culture. I want a deep sense of belonging for different views and different people.”

Mr Davie said the row over Ms Brammar, who previously edited the Left-leaning Huffington Post UK website and posted satirical tweets about Brexit, was “sub-optimal”.

The corporation is currently seeking a head of news and current affairs after Fran Unsworth announced that she would be stepping down in January. Mr Davie said he wanted to attract applicants from “across the political spectrum”.

However, he suggested impartiality was a concern for Westminster but not such an issue for licence fee payers, who were more concerned with the television and radio schedules.

He told the committee: “When I drive 100 miles from here the key concerns are: ‘What have you got for me at nine o’clock tonight?’”

Ms Brammar’s appointment was challenged by Sir Robbie Gibb, the former Number 10 communications chief who is now a BBC board member. He warned Ms Unsworth, via text message, that the hiring would damage relationships with the Government.

Mr Davie and the BBC's chairman, Richard Sharp, were asked whether they had mounted an investigation into how the text message was leaked, leading to an outpouring of support for Ms Brammar. “We haven’t determined where the leak took place and I don’t expect we will,” Mr Sharp said.

Mr Sharp defended Sir Robbie’s intervention and said he would also be allowed to have a say in the hiring of Ms Unsworth’s replacement, as that is likely to come with a place on the BBC's executive board.

During the session with MPs, Mr Davie said the BBC was prepared to lose top talent to rivals. He mentioned Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who signed a golden handcuffs deal with Amazon worth a reported $20million and said US streamers could offer “possibilities for transformational wealth”.

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