Fran Unsworth resigns: BBC is on the hunt of head of news

Hunt is on for new BBC head of news as Fran Unsworth resigns

Fran Unsworth has resigned from the BBC and will leave at the beginning of next year after three years as director of news and current affairs.

Her departure fires the starting gun on the race to succeed her in one of the most influential and important roles in UK media.

The £340,000 job oversees the biggest broadcast news operation in the world.

BBC News reaches three quarters of adults in the UK every week dominating broadcast and online news consumption.

Unsworth was the most senior journalist on duty at the BBC in 2014 when the corporation decided to cover a police raid on the home of singer Cliff Richard (then director of news James Harding was on holiday at the time).

She defended the decision as not intrusive, but the High Court disagreed and Richard secured a £2m payout from the BBC over breach of privacy in 2019.

Recruitment for the director of news and current affairs role will be keenly watched by those concerned about the politicisation of the BBC.  Former HuffPost editor Jess Brammar’s reported recruitment to the BBC as executive news editor has prompted a row with concerns raised over her perceived left-wing views.

Unsworth said: “After more than 40 years with the BBC, I have decided that the time is right for me to hand on the job of leading the world’s best news organisation.

“I have had a ringside seat at some momentous events, including the Falklands War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, wars in the Middle East, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11 and countless general elections. It has been a great privilege.

“The jobs I’ve done have not always been easy. Undoubtedly, some were more fun than others. But I am proud to have done all of them – and to work for an organisation which has such a vital and precious role in the UK and around the world. The BBC is free of commercial and proprietorial pressure. Our bosses are the audiences we serve. I am honoured to have been be part of it.

“I leave BBC News in the hands of an incredibly strong team which is committed to remaining at the forefront of the world’s journalism. Through them, the BBC will be as relevant as it has been for the last 100 years. I am proud to have served BBC News and our audiences.”

BBC Director-General Tim Davie said: “Throughout Fran’s long and distinguished career she has embodied the values of BBC News. She is a world-class journalist and is respected and admired by colleagues across the BBC.

“Fran has taken BBC News through one of the most testing periods in its history, providing a vital service during the Covid-19 pandemic, when record audiences turned to BBC News.

“She has led BBC coverage during a period of momentous events at home and abroad, alongside leading a huge modernisation programme to reshape BBC News. Before this, as its director, she oversaw the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s, which has proved a major boost to international coverage at a time of great international need.

“Fran has been a hugely valued member of the BBC’s executive committee and the BBC Board. She will be greatly missed by everyone at the BBC.”

Fran Unsworth resigns: Her 40-year BBC career

Unsworth will leave at the end of January began her journalistic career in 1980 in BBC Local Radio, joining Radio 1’s Newsbeat.

She worked as a network radio producer in Washington DC and later joined Radio 4’s The World At One and PM.

Unsworth was appointed the BBC’s Home News Editor and then, in 2001, Head of Political Programmes. In 2005 she became Head of Newsgathering.

Between November 2012 and August 2013 she was the BBC’s acting director of news and current affairs, and then deputy director of BBC News and Current Affairs. She became director of the BBC World Service in 2014.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette