Labor is demanding that a BBC board member with close ties to Downing Street resign after he was accused of trying to block a deal for political reasons.
The Financial Times reported that Sir Robbie Gibb, who was Theresa May’s communications director during her time as prime minister, warned the company against appointing Jess Brammar after she became the leading candidate to oversee the television channel’s news channels. Brammar, who has been with the company for much of his career, is former deputy editor of BBC Newsnight and former editor of HuffPost UK.
Gibb, who helped start the right-wing news channel GB News, reportedly texted the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth, saying she “cannot make this appointment” and that the government’s fragile confidence in The BBC will be crushed “. According to the company’s website, one of Gibb’s responsibilities as non-managing director of the BBC’s board is to “maintain and protect the BBC’s independence”.
Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner led calls for Gibbs’ resignation, saying he should be fired if he refused to resign. Rayner wrote: “This is Tory camaraderie at the heart of the BBC with Robbie Gibb in the position of influencing the BBC and promoting the interests of the government and the Conservative Party. He should resign, and if he does not resign, he should be fired. ”
Jo Stevens, shadow state secretary for digital culture, media and sports, also characterized the scandal as raising questions about “Conservative chronicling in the heart of the BBC”. She tweeted: “If Robbie Gibb is in the post for further Tory interests, then he has the wrong job. [Culture secretary Oliver] Dowden must endorse the calls for him to resign, otherwise the BBC must dismiss him immediately. ”
Alastair Campbell, former head of communications for Tony Blair, reiterated calls for Gibbs’ resignation online, condemning the intervention as “Putinism with posh accents”.
Campbell responded to a Twitter post by the Guardian’s former editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, saying that if the Financial Times’ report was correct, Gibb should also resign from the public service advisory panel. The panel chaired by Dowden has been appointed to advise on the future of public service broadcasts. It is understood that Gibb had left the panel in April 2021 when he took up his new BBC role.
Despite leaving No. 10 in the summer of 2019, Gibb maintained close ties with Boris Johnson’s administration.
In April, the Guardian revealed that Gibb was called in to advise on press management for the commission’s controversial report on race and ethnic differences – a service he provided pro bono. The handling of the report’s release was criticized by some given the drop-feed of briefings during the day leading up to the publication – with a government source saying at the time that a “blame game” had been followed up as to why the report landed ” so bad” .
The allegations of political interference follow the resignation of Sir Charles Dunstone, the founder of Carphone Warehouse, who resigned as chairman of the Royal Museums Greenwich board earlier this year after Dowden vetoed the reappointment of curator Dr. Aminul Hoque, an academic at Goldsmiths, University of London, who backed the “decolonization” of the curriculum.
The Guardian contacted the BBC for comment from Gibb. A spokesman for the company said: “The BBC does not comment on ongoing recruitment processes, which are the responsibility of management, but for the record, no recruitment processes have been blocked. People have to wait for the result, which will be announced in time.
“And as a general principle, board members are able to discuss issues with other board members or senior executives. These principles were observed. ”
Gibb has not commented on the allegations.
According to the FT report, Gibb’s opposition to Brammar’s appointment was shaped by a series between HuffPost UK and Gender Equality Minister Kemi Badenoch, who in January publicly accused a journalist of “making demands” and creating disinformation after she contacted her for comment on a video. campaign to promote the coronavirus vaccine program.
Badenoch started a Twitter tirade about how the outlets had a vendetta against her. Brammar defended his reporter, trying to force the Cabinet Office to investigate Badenoch’s behavior, which it ultimately refused to do.