Times Radio hires deputy BBC political editor John Pienaar

Longtime BBC presenter to front drivetime show on Radio 4 rival station

Times Radio has hired the BBC’s deputy political editor, John Pienaar, to front its new drivetime programme as Rupert Murdoch’s efforts to build a deep-pocketed rival to Radio 4 gather pace.

Pienaar, who has been with the public service broadcaster for almost three decades and hosts his own weekly 5 live politics show, will be moving to the new speech radio station in the coming months to cover “issues of the day in Westminster and beyond”.

Times Radio is offering “stunning” financial incentives to lure BBC staff, according to people who have been involved in negotiations. Sources told the Guardian that people such as the Any Questions presenter, Chris Mason, and the Today programme presenter Nick Robinson had also been approached.

Stig Abell, the editor of the Times Literary Supplement who is coordinating the launch of the station, said he hoped Pienaar’s hiring would help make it a “new destination for those people hungry for quality reporting and trusted, expert analysis”.

There has been disquiet in the BBC that the station’s launch is being coordinated by Abell, who is helping to poach many of the BBC’s leading presenters while still regularly presenting Radio 4’s flagship arts programme Front Row.

The new station will be available on national DAB digital radio but will also try to take advantage of the rapid growth of smart speakers which are making it easier to try new stations.

The BBC is under enormous pressure, both structurally and politically. Over the weekend the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times ran an anonymous Downing Street briefing which said the licence fee was under threat and that the government wanted to shut down or sell off every BBC radio station other than Radio 3 and Radio 4.

Pienaar said: “It’s been a huge pleasure and a great privilege to work at the Beeb. Now, I couldn’t be more thrilled about joining the greatest and oldest title in journalism – in such a new and ambitious project on the digital frontline. The guiding aim is to offer listeners high-quality discussion and analysis of the stories and issues of the day, and make it a compelling, enjoyable listen. I can’t wait to get started.”

Contributor

Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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