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Statement on the BBC Chair appointment process

A statement from the British Broadcasting Challenge, published ahead of Richard Sharp’s appearance at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today (Tuesday, February 7):

The BBC, through no fault of its own, has been caught up in a row over the connection between a loan to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the BBC chair Richard Sharp after Mr Sharp had submitted his application to be BBC chair.

The BBC is a beacon of decent and scrupulous journalistic practice and is more necessary than ever before. It provides accurate, trustworthy information nationally and internationally at a time when our institutions are under sustained attack and democracy is threatened by the absence of a shared, reliable understanding of the world around us.

But the BBC has been severely damaged at home and abroad by this affair, to the delight of our enemies abroad and the comfort of the BBC’s opponents at home.

The BBC has become collateral damage in the ongoing debate about overreaching government influence in the proper conduct of public appointments across the broadcasting sector, and beyond. Boris Johnson’s extraordinary attempts to extricate himself from private financial difficulty while Prime Minister has mired the BBC in a mess that was not of its making. More importantly, it has damaged the standing of the BBC Chair at a most delicate moment, as the Corporation seeks to make the case for funding that meets its public service obligations.

In light of these revelations, and following the government’s attempts to manipulate the appointments process in order to install a political ally as Chair of Ofcom, we believe an urgent review of that process is now essential to secure the longer term health of our unique public service broadcasting ecology. Such a review would have the following purposes:

  • To investigate the appointment of Mr Sharp, to what extent the process may have been affected by his relationship with the then Prime Minister, and what lessons may be learned.
  • To examine whether leaks about preferred candidates for the posts of BBC Chair and Chair of Ofcom may have dissuaded other, qualified candidates from applying, and what lessons may be learned.
  • To examine how the processes for these vital appointments should be reformed in a manner that ensures candidates are selected transparently on merit, capacity and probity; and that protects the BBC from political control or influence, while retaining accountability both to the paying public and to Parliament.
  • To examine whether the current unitary structure of governance of the BBC is adequate to withstand strong political pressure, and whether alternative models of governance might be preferable.

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