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Laura Kuenssberg is in talks to step down as BBC political editor after six years and become a presenter on the Today programme as part of a major reshuffle of senior on-air staff, individuals with knowledge of the negotiations told the Guardian.
Although the deal has yet to be signed off and there is no confirmed timeframe, her departure would leave a vacancy in one of the most powerful positions in British journalism at a time when the government is still negotiating the future of the BBC licence fee and trying to shape its news agenda.
Kuenssberg’s tenure as BBC political editor, during which she has covered a febrile period of politics including the Brexit referendum and two general elections, has coincided with unprecedented scrutiny of how the BBC’s political journalism shapes the national news agenda.
She found a new audience by appearing on the Brexitcast podcast throughout the lengthy negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU but also faced accusations of bias from across the political spectrum. In 2017, after concerns about her safety, she was forced to attend the autumn party conference season with a bodyguard.
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BBC political editors are often moved to senior presenting jobs well ahead of general elections, enabling their successors to get used to the position before a vote is held. A move by Kuenssberg to the Today programme would leave the Radio 4 morning political show with six hosts, although some presenters have contracts to present more shows than others.
As part of the reshuffle of leading BBC journalists, Jon Sopel is stepping down as North America editor and returning to the UK. He is tipped to be replaced in Washington DC by Sarah Smith, the current BBC Scotland editor and occasional Today presenter.
Smith’s potential departure would in turn open up a vacancy leading national coverage of Scotland at a time when the corporation is perceived to need a prominent individual to show the BBC’s commitment to the country amid blunt criticism from the SNP government.
Sopel’s return to the UK also means he is now a candidate to be the new BBC political editor, having been connected to the job back in 2015. At that time the job instead went to Kuenssberg, who became the first woman to hold the position of BBC political editor.
One BBC individual who is not moving jobs is Andrew Marr, who has been given a fresh contract to continue presenting his eponymous Sunday morning political interview show. Sources suggested part of the reason for this is his work producing BBC programmes that will be broadcast when the Queen dies.
How to cover this inevitable and era-defining news story is increasingly playing a role in shaping the BBC’s planning for the next few years. Coverage of the end of the monarch’s life is due to be presented by the News at Ten host Huw Edwards, although he recently suggested he was considering his future as host of the corporation’s evening flagship show.
Working out how best to deploy on-air presenters as the BBC’s news operation becomes less focused on specific programmes will be part of the challenge for the BBC’s new head of news, with applications for that job due to close on Friday.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The North America editor role is currently being advertised internally and the role will go through the normal recruitment process; it’s a bit soon to start speculating about the outcome of this, let alone other jobs which aren’t actually vacant.”
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