Fiona Bruce has said the BBC hired the “wrong person” if it was hoping to use her appointment to create a “softer” Question Time.
Bruce will take up her new role as the BBC One political panel debate show’s first female host on Thursday, replacing David Dimbleby who stood down in December after 26 years to return to his “first love”: reporting.
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When Bruce’s appointment was announced last month – from a shortlist which reportedly included Emily Maitlis, Kirsty Wark, Victoria Derbyshire, Samira Ahmed and Nick Robinson – a number of newspapers reported that the show’s producers were keen to give it “a softer feel”.
But Bruce told the Times this weekend: “They’d have the wrong person if they were.
“I would never have thought they were after that. The way I am on Antiques Roadshow, for example, is absolutely how I am – you can only be who you are. But different things require different aspects of your personality.
“The person I am in the newsroom, which you won’t particularly see on air because you’re so sublimated in a studio, is opinionated, feisty, argumentative.
“That’s what I’m known for there. I think you’ll see more of that.”
The BBC’s director of news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth, also rebuffed the reports.
She told the Times: “I would want to nail any perception that she is a bit of a lightweight.
“The papers reported that the BBC ‘wanted a softer feel’, which is rubbish. She is a proper journalist. It is just that she hasn’t been immersed in the Westminster scene.”
There were also widespread calls in the media for the BBC to appoint its first female Question Time chairman, but Bruce denied that she had got the job just because she was a woman.
She said it would be “hugely insulting” to suggest she would have got the job over a man if he was better than her.
“The best person to get that job should get that job. Without a doubt. I assumed that when I got interviewed about this that at least one person would say to me: ‘Do you think you got the job because you’re a woman?’
“And a) I don’t, b) I’m insulted by the suggestion, and c) men have been getting jobs because they’re men for centuries. And I don’t recall a) that question ever being asked of them, or b) hearing a peep out of them about it.”
Reflecting on the challenges Question Time poses, Bruce added: “You do your best as a political interviewer and on occasion you get breakthroughs, but there’s no substitute for a voter just saying it straight to a politician… my job will be, as much as anything, making sure everyone gets a say and also, stating the blindingly obvious, answers the question.”
Bruce will continue to regularly present the BBC’s evening news bulletins and Fake Or Fortune? and Antiques Roadshow alongside her new post at Question Time.
The BBC’s latest salary figures released in July last year revealed Bruce’s earnings were in the £180,000 to £189,999 band – but this did not include her non-journalism presenting work as those shows are made by the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Studios.
In 2017, the first BBC salary list released by Government edict still included Antiques Roadshow and showed Bruce earned between £350,000 and £399,999.
Bruce’s new Question Time salary will be part of the next public disclosure made in July, but she told the Times she has not yet worked out her new combined salary.
“…because I’ve got four different jobs, I haven’t yet worked out exactly where I’m going to end up,” she said.
But she supports the principle of the BBC’s high salary list, saying: “I think transparency is a great thing even if it is uncomfortable. It might be uncomfortable for me, I don’t know, in years to come.
“The reason I think transparency is important is because when you have transparency, it’s much harder to be in a situation where people are not being paid equally or fairly.”