Boris Johnson’s Conservative government put its man Robbie Gibb on the board of the BBC as a non-executive director and he has tried to block the appointment of a news boss on political grounds.
The irony is that non-executive directors are responsible for “upholding and protecting” the BBC’s independence – not to make demands on the behalf of their political leaders.
Gibb used to be Theresa May’s communications director when she was prime minister. Before that, he was a BBC journalist and he started his career as a Tory aide – so it seems likely that his politics has coloured much of his work.
The BBC has often been criticised as the propaganda wing of the Tory Party and this intervention will only strengthen that impression among members of the public. It proves that attempts to rig decisions of organisations like the BBC by stuffing their ruling bodies with Tories can only backfire.
What did he do?
He sent a message to the Corporation’s director of news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth, warning her not to appoint Jess Brammar to a new post of BBC executive news editor, saying it would shatter the relationship between the BBC and the Tory government.
It is clearly a political intervention. Brammar’s career is now being trashed by other Tory propaganda mouthpieces:
In case you were wondering how long it would take the Government explicitly to attack independent media outlets… pic.twitter.com/zldv6Eg5Av
— Jo Maugham (@JolyonMaugham) July 10, 2021
What could this “borderline fake news lefty clickbait website” be? It seems an odd way to describe HuffPost UK, and This Writer looks forward to seeing that organisation’s reaction to the smear.
Previously, Brammar had been deputy editor of Newsnight.
According to the Financial Times, Gibb’s message to Unsworth said she “cannot make this appointment” and the government’s “fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered” if she went ahead. One of his cronies has apparently denied the claim.
The recruitment process has now stalled. Gibb’s message was allegedly sent on June 22 and the post has yet to be filled.
Apparently the Corporation is going through Brammar’s past statements, in public and on the social media. To see if it can find some dirt on her that would invalidate her application?
It’s alleged that Gibb would want her defence of HuffPost journalist Nadine White to count against her – but if so, natural justice would demand that he be disappointed.
White was attacked by Tory minister Kemi Badenoch, who claimed she was “creepy and bizarre” in asking questions about a Covid-19 vaccines video that Badenoch branded unnecessary.
In response, Brammar filed a former complaint to the Cabinet Office, stating that “this characterisation of a journalist asking questions as somehow undermining a public health message or fostering misinformation should alarm anyone working in journalism or anyone who believes its job is to hold power to account.”
Realistically, the vetting process is unlikely to provide any reason to reject Brammar because Gibb’s intervention has forced the BBC’s hand.
Turning her away would indicate that the Corporation is vulnerable to political pressure – the kiss of death for an organisation that has long had to defend itself against such accusations.
And there is another possible reason for Gibb to have intervened now.
The BBC is currently negotiating a five-year financial settlement with Boris Johnson’s Tory government.
Still-newly-appointed director general Tim Davie – himself a dyed-in-the-wool Tory – has spent a lot of time, and used up a considerable amount of his own credibility, steadying relations with the government in the midst of aggressive (some would say unreasonable) criticism.
Doesn’t it seem likely that Gibb’s claim about Brammar may be just the excuse Johnson needs to cut BBC funding further than previous Tory governments already have?
Whatever happens, the public response has been a PR disaster for the Tories:
The idea that @jessbrammar is some sort of anti-establishment radical would be utterly hilarious, if it did not show how grotesquely skewed to the right this government is. @JolyonMaugham @PiersRobinson1 @Tim_Hayward_ @Tracking_Power @McCormack_Tara @CraigMurrayOrg @ClarkeMicah https://t.co/i17XZ6rZOn
— leftworks #WeAreCorbyn #IStandWithJeremyCorbyn (@leftworks1) July 11, 2021
Appalling. Brammar is a studiously objective journalist who has stood up for her reporters against ministerial pressure. There could be few better recommendations for the job. Gibb is trying to turn the BBC into a government press office. https://t.co/a1ewnp0UhG
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) July 9, 2021
If this story as reported is true then Robbie Gibb should resign. It is a cardinal rule that when you join the BBC,whether as a junior reporter or a board member, you leave your politics at the door.// BBC director sought to block senior editorial https://t.co/Xc5WDhefy2
— Phil Harding (@philharding) July 9, 2021
— J.-P. Janson De Couët (@jpjanson) July 10, 2021
For the BBC to protect its 'alleged' political impartiality Gibb has to go. https://t.co/OTZui7AqDb
— bigrobbutnocape @bigrobnocape (@bigrobbutnocape) July 10, 2021
This is explosive. Very influential Tory and prominent Brexiteer Robbie Gibb trying to stop a senior BBC news appointment that Downing St doesn't like. Huge test of BBC ability to resist political interference. pic.twitter.com/lNfNfMZmMn
— Steven Barnett (@stevenjbarnett) July 9, 2021
Allegations of political interference in senior editorial appointment at the BBC https://t.co/f6JQzrO3Js
— Paul Lewis (@paullewismoney) July 10, 2021
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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