Tories ask why left-wing blogger with 'little journalistic experience' made Newsnight economics correspondent - Press Gazette

Tories ask why left-wing blogger with 'little journalistic experience' made Newsnight economics correspondent

BBC head of news James Harding has been asked to explain why a left-wing blogger currently working for the TUC who has “little journalistic experience” has been made Newsnight economics correspondent.

Duncan Weldon is currently senior economist at the TUC and is one of a number of hires by Newsnight editor Ian Katz since his appointment last May. Katz was deputy editor of The Guardian before joining Newsnight so was not a popular appointment himself with some right-wingers.

In a letter to Harding, Andrew Bridgen MP said: “Mr Weldon follows in a long line of Economics Correspondents who have had clear links either to the Labour Party or left-wing policies.

“Indeed much of Mr Weldon’s career thus far has been spent campaigning against the Conservative Party.

“Before the last election he predicted that Conservative economic policy ‘would lead to an economic disaster’. He continues to attack this Government’s plan to reduce the deficit.

“He has played an active role in Labour politics. Weldon was an adviser to Harriet Harman when she was acting leader of the Labour Party. I have reason to believe that he even ran as a Labour candidate in the 2010 local elections.

“Apart from running a blog for the TUC and writing occasional opinion pieces, he has little journalistic experience. Something Mr Weldon acknowedlege himself in a tweet in December last yaer.

“Indeed, it seems is only qualification to report on economics for the BBC is that he is left-wing.

“The appointment seems to confirm what John Humphrys hinted at earlier his week, that left-wing bias is endemic at the BBC.

“It also raises real concerns about the recruitment policies at Newsnight. What are the selection criteria? Was this post advertised externally?

“What reassurances can you offer that Mr Weldon’s personal beliefs, and the cumulative output of his career so far, will not have an impact on the political neutrality of Newsnight’s broadcasts?”

In a statement following the news of his appointment last week, Weldon said: “I’m delighted to be joining Newsnight at such an exciting time for the show. I’ve spent time in policy-making, the City and the trade union movement and am relishing the prospect of moving on to journalism and explaining the economy to a wider audience in an objective, interesting and comprehensible way.”

Former Tory MP Louise Mensch raised questions about the recruitment process on Twitter and said that Weldon was approached by someone at the BBC to apply for the job. She said: "How many Conservative-leaning economists, or non-Labour party members, did #Newsnight interview before TUC activist appointed?"

Katz responded via Twitter: "Afraid your duck won't fly Louise. Job advertised externally. Dozens of applications. At least 10 interviewed. Night, night."

Announcing Weldon's appointment last week, Katz said: "Duncan is one of the most thoughtful and original economic thinkers in the country and I'm delighted that he's taking on one of the key roles on Newsnight."

The BBC said in a statement: "Duncan’s economic commentary is widely respected on all sides of the political spectrum as fair and intelligent. BBC journalists do not bring political views to work and Duncan will be no different.”

Writing in The Guardian, Owen Jones has hit back at claims of left-wing bias at the BBC:

"The truth is the BBC is stacked full of rightwingers. The chairman of the BBC Trust is Chris Patten, a former Conservative cabinet minister. The BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, was once chairman of the Young Conservatives. His former senior political producer, Thea Rogers, became George Osborne's special advisor in 2012. Andrew Neil, the presenter of the BBC's flagship political programmes Daily Politics and This Week, is chairman of the conservative Spectator magazine. His editor is Robbie Gibb, former chief of staff to the Tory Francis Maude. After the BBC's economics editor Stephanie Flanders left for a £400,000-a-year job at that notorious leftwing hotbed, JP Morgan, she was replaced by its business editor Robert Peston. His position was taken by Kamal Ahmed from the rightwing Sunday Telegraph, a journalist damned by the Guardian's Nick Davies for spinning government propaganda in the run-up to the Iraq war."

Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette