BBC director of news criticises furore over Jess Brammar appointment

Fran Unsworth speaks out after hiring process of former HuffPost UK editor was hindered by media attacks

The BBC’s director of news has defended its impartiality and criticised abuse directed at a journalist whose appointment to run the BBC’s rolling news channels was confirmed on Wednesday.

Jess Brammar, the former editor of HuffPost UK, was appointed executive editor of the BBC’s news channels, despite an attempt from a BBC board member to block the move. Brammar, who also worked as acting editor of BBC Newsnight, faced attacks in rightwing media outlets after she emerged as the leading candidate for the role.

In an email to BBC staff on Wednesday, Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s outgoing director of news and current affairs, said: “It is extremely disappointing that anyone should receive public and personal criticism – or online abuse – simply for applying for a job at the BBC.”

In June Sir Robbie Gibb, a former director of communications to Theresa May who was appointed to the BBC board by the government this year, texted Unsworth to say the corporation “cannot make this appointment” if they wanted to retain the support of the government, the Financial Times reported.

Brammar had defended two HuffPost journalists against criticism from ministers Kemi Badenoch and Jacob Rees-Mogg. She had also criticised the Society of Editors for saying there was no issue with racism in the British media.

Jess Brammar
Jess Brammar defended two of her HuffPost journalists after criticism from government ministers. Photograph: Damon Dahlen/PA

The intervention in Brammar’s appointment has raised concerns that ministers could attempt to influence the process to replace Unsworth.

On Wednesday Unsworth, who steps down from her role in January, told staff that the appointment had been made “through fair and open competition” and added that she wanted to address some points “in view of recent public speculation about BBC News appointments”.

“BBC News has to be impartial and independent,” she said. “BBC journalists are hired from a variety of different backgrounds, but while working at the BBC, they leave any personal opinions at the door.

“Any individual should be judged on how they do their job at the BBC, not on what they have done in different organisations with very different objectives.”

Richard Sharp, the BBC’s chairman, earlier confirmed in a speech to the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge that Brammar had been appointed to the job and had “got there on merit”.

The corporation also announced that Paul Danahar, who is currently the BBC Americas bureau chief in Washington DC, has been appointed executive news editor of the World story team.

Unsworth said in a BBC press release that Danahar and Brammar were “outstanding journalists with proven track records”, adding: “They’ll bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to their new roles and I look forward to welcoming them.”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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