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September 27, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:17am

BBC’s Tim Davie dismisses ‘brain drain’ and ‘nonsense’ claims of board bias

By PA Media and Press Gazette

The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie has slammed “nonsense” claims of political interference by members of the broadcaster’s board.

Davie also responded to claims of a BBC “brain drain”, saying he regrets losses from the production teams more than presenters, and addressed the “enormous decisions” made by the broadcaster following the death of the Queen.

Also appearing at the RTS London Convention on Tuesday, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon said she is in contact with the Government over “where they want to end up” after new Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan cast doubt over plans to privatise the broadcaster.

Davie addressed what was described by host and BBC journalist Amol Rajan as a “brain drain” at the broadcaster, in which major talent has departed for rival broadcasters.

In the past year, well-known presenters to have left the BBC include Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall who have all launched the daily news podcast The News Agents for Global, Andrew Marr who joined Global and The New Statesman, Dan Walker who left BBC Breakfast for 5 News, and most recently Fi Glover and Jane Garvey who are joining Times Radio.

Davie said: “It is about 3% of our presenters [that have] left. I agree, but part of what we do as the BBC is we grow talent.”

He added that the losses he most regrets “are often things in our production teams”.

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Davie also defended the role of the broadcaster’s board after criticism was levelled at Sir Robbie Gibb, formerly Theresa May’s communications director.

Labour previously called for Gibb to be sacked from the board of the BBC after claims he tried to block the appointment of Jess Brammar, former editor-in-chief of Huffpost UK, as the BBC’s executive news editor of news channels on political grounds. And in a speech last month, ex-BBC journalist Maitlis said the BBC board featured an “active agent of the Conservative party”, seemingly referring to Gibb without naming him.

Asked by Rajan whether Gibb’s inclusion on the board improved the BBC’s impartiality, Davie said: “Yes, he has because a number of people on that board… Genuinely, have we got diversity of view? Are we impartial? I think frankly there is a lot of nonsense talked about this.

“As editor-in-chief I have just hired Deborah Turness who is outstanding in this, we are absolutely strong enough to deliver our output and be very clear about what we expect.

“I have put myself out there. We are absolutely fighting for fair and balanced output with due impartiality.”

He added: “We do take board members with all kinds of background and whatever – some of them have baggage, whatever.

“But they have views and they are able to share those views, but they don’t shape the output, they don’t make the editorial calls. We do.”

Davie also addressed the difficult decisions the BBC had to make about its coverage following the death of the Queen this month.

Davie, who chaired a working group of senior broadcasting bosses in the days following the Queen’s death, said the BBC had had “enormous conversations” about their coverage.

He said: “We had enormous decisions to make. Do you put on Strictly? What do you do here?

“Do you do satire? Where do you start? We were constantly on the clutch control, as I called it.”

Asked if any wrong calls had been made, he referred to the cancellation of the Last Night of the Proms as “the most finely balanced one. In the day the Premier League had come off.

“We were a little bit worried about broadcast trucks because covering the events with of course Scotland and Northern Ireland we had an enormous amount of ceremonial cover.

“I think that was a 50/50 call. I think we could probably made the right decision but you can debate it either way.”

Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4 during a session at the Royal Television Society London Convention 2022. Picture date: Tuesday September 27, 2022. Picture: Richard Kendal/RTS/PA Wire

Earlier in the day, Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon revealed the latest status of conversations between the broadcaster and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about its potential privatisation.

She said: “Where we are now is they are obviously re-examining the business case. That means for us we are in discussion with the DCMS about where they want to end up and what the options are.”

Responding to Rajan, Mahon added: “This is a Government decision and it is Government policy so you are absolutely right to flag that people in the Government have changed and it’s a new Secretary of State.

“She’s got every right to do that. I imagine they will look at the things that I like – facts, data and evidence, which you have heard me bang on about before.

“I’ve made my position and point of view on that clear, and then we’ll see what the coming weeks and months hold as they think about that.

“Lots of things in the legislative agenda are kind of up in the air compared to where we were in July, partly because the country is now having some more problems. So lots of things will change in terms of the legislative agenda.”

Mahon has seen a high turnover of culture secretaries during her five years as Channel 4 boss and joked: “I have stopped counting.”

Addressing the impact of the turnover on the media sector, she added: “The truth is we have really good civil servants and they tend to be in their jobs for longer and they do know the sector in detail – that does make a difference.

“And we have Ofcom and we have other stakeholders.

“I don’t think it is perfect that we have such rotation in that department because it is hard for people to get to know all of the broadcasters and all the other players in the industry when they come in.

“But that said, they tend to do a really focused job.”

Picture: Richard Kendal/RTS/PA Wire

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