BBC plagued by partisanship? Row over appointment of ‘left-wing’ editor continues to fuel debate about broadcaster’s impartiality
A controversial new hire at the BBC has reignited discussion about the outlet’s political neutrality, while also prompting allegations that the British government has too much influence over the public broadcaster.
Reports emerged last week revealing that Jess Brammar, former editor-in-chief of Huffpost UK, had been tapped by the BBC to serve as its executive news editor. Her appointment was scrutinized in a piece published by the Mail on Sunday, which pointed to the “left-winger’s” previous criticisms of Brexit and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The article claimed that Robbie Gibb, a member of the BBC board, warned that Brammar’s appointment would shatter the government’s “fragile trust in the BBC.”
The report led to accusations from both sides of the political divide: conservatives claimed that Brammar’s new job was further proof of the BBC’s left-wing bias, while critics of the Tory government alleged that Johnson was attempting to influence the public broadcaster’s hiring decisions.
Things quickly escalated after Lewis Goodall, policy editor of the BBC’s current affairs programme Newsnight, publicly defended Brammer against her critics. Brammer had previously worked as a deputy editor for Newsnight.
In a tweet, Goodall lashed out at the “unhinged” and “simply misogynistic” attacks on Brammer published in the Mail.
But the tweet was quickly scrubbed. According to Goodall, he had been asked by the BBC to delete the commentary, apparently because it concerned an “internal matter.”
This is what @lewis_goodall was asked by his BBC bosses to delete. His tweet seems perfectly reasonable to me. Public service broadcasters shouldn’t express political views. Lewis wasn’t. He was, quite properly, defending a colleague. pic.twitter.com/3xkXiuhP0O— JOHN NICOLSON M.P. (@MrJohnNicolson) August 22, 2021
The Daily Mail responded by provocatively claiming that Goodall had been “silenced” by the BBC for “sticking up” for his “new anti-Brexit boss.”
The scandal continues to divide pundits. Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, argued that the episode revealed how Downing Street uses “friends” on the BBC board to “de facto dictate” appointments to the BBC.
The rolling insanity of this story in the UK media is quite something. The story is *not* about bias, or impartial tweeting, it is about Downing Street de facto dictating appointments to the BBC news management through ‘friends’ on the BBC board https://t.co/60t17f2Ozh— emily bell (@emilybell) August 29, 2021
Others said the saga was a clear example of “media censorship in Britain.”
Media censorship in Britain!BBC journalists are being forced to delete tweets!Where is Hamid Mir now?!To show solidarity @stephensackur should also invite Lewis Goodall on his show @BBCHARDtalk to talk about these attacks on freedom of press in UK?!!https://t.co/tPRyRauDwd— Malik Khurram Khan Dehwar (@KhurramDehwar) August 30, 2021
But critics of Brammar’s appointment have continued to highlight the BBC’s alleged left-wing bias.
Super-partisan Jess Brammar is the right fit for the BBC, a political organization millions have to involuntarily fund or else become criminals.Goodall, her defender at Newsnight, lionises Sturgeon & indeed anyone who seeks to bury Britain.https://t.co/VSvTLhir5v— Tom Gallagher (@cultfree54) August 29, 2021
That horrible @lewis_goodall is a labour activist and was constantly anti government during his time at Sky. A perfect fit for the BBC.— Tim Fairley (@timfairley) August 29, 2021
Meanwhile, in recent tweets, Goodall has criticised the government for not being more forthcoming with the media regarding the fallout from the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. But his complaint has elicited shrugs from those who argue that the BBC has only itself to blame for “pandering” to Downing Street.
The BBC has long faced accusations of political bias. In June, Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis was found in violation of impartiality rules after she shared a tweet critical of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. In recent months, some of the outlet’s new hires have faced scrutiny for their alleged left-wing leanings.
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