Concerns over the BBC’s impartiality have been raised after a close ally of the Tory party tried to block an editorial appointment on political grounds, according to reports.
Sir Robbie Gibb, who was Theresa May’s communications director in No10 and has ties to the Tories which go back decades, tried to prevent the BBC hiring Jess Brammar to oversee its news channels’ output.
The former journalist told BBC news and current affairs director Fran Unsworth in a text message that she “cannot make this appointment”, according to the FT.
“Fragile trust in the BBC”
Gibb, whose brother Nick is a Tory minister, reportedly said the government’s “fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered” if Brammar were to be hired.
She was the preferred candidate to oversee content on the corporation’s domestic and global news channels in a newly-created role.
While Gibb has been vocal about the need for impartiality from those working at the BBC, he tweeted about his support for Brexit while still in the corporation’s employ.
He worked as chief of staff to Tory life peer Francis Maude between 1997 and 2000, when Maude was shadow chancellor, and also supported Michael Portillo in his 2001 bid to become the leader of the Tory party.
BBC’s links with the Conservative Party
The BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan said Gibb’s “appointment clearly strengthens the BBC’s links not just with Westminster, but with the Conservative Party specifically”.
Another former BBC manager told the FT that Gibb’s text message was “amazingly ill judged”, saying the corporation now had no choice but to hire Brammar or seem to have bowed to political pressure.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC doesn’t comment on ongoing recruitment processes, which are the responsibility of the executive, but for the record, no recruitment process has been blocked.
“People should wait for the outcome which will be announced in due course. And as a general principle, Board members are able to discuss issues with other Board members or senior executives. These principles were adhered to.”
Reaction to the news has been fierce, with Matthew d’Ancona calling it “deeply worrying”.
Deeply worrying: @jessbrammar (who would be excellent in the role) was not acting in a remotely partisan way in defending her reporter. And what is Robbie Gibb doing getting involved in the first place? https://t.co/mtHmpBan69— Matthew d'Ancona (@MatthewdAncona) July 10, 2021
Others have also highlighted their concern in tweets rounded up below:
This is, in my opinion, very bad https://t.co/FiFXTwArVP— Nish Kumar (@MrNishKumar) July 10, 2021
What about ‘shattering the fragile trust’ too many now have in the BBC’s willingness to report impartially on this government? Btw, @AndrewMarr9, do you need contact details for @PeterStefanovi2? https://t.co/O2MwblQwvI— Tim Walker (@ThatTimWalker) July 10, 2021
A BBC board member with close ties to No 10 reportedly warned the broadcaster not to appoint Jess Brammar to a senior role. A source told FT that this is partly because Jess came to my defence when Kemi Badenoch attacked me for asking a simple question.https://t.co/RInf7SSC1H— Nadine White (@Nadine_Writes) July 10, 2021
The BBC must do two things in response to the Robbie Gibb scandal.— Ian Fraser (@Ian_Fraser) July 10, 2021
(1) Proceed with the appointment of preferred candidate @jessbrammar
(2) Sack Robbie Gibb as a non-executive director.
Otherwise any remaining trust in its impartiality will evaporatehttps://t.co/QBRMAbP3yV