A senior MP who will vet the nominee to be the BBC’s next chair has compared picking the front runner Charles Moore to hiring “a convicted fraudster” to run a bank.
The pointed remarks from Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport select committee, referred to reports that prime minister Boris Johnson wanted to appoint Lord Moore, a former Daily Telegraph editor who was once fined for refusing to pay the licence fee.
“To have a chairman, whoever that may be, convicted of non-payment of a licence fee seems to be completely beyond the pale,” said Mr Knight, during a hearing of the committee on Tuesday. “It’s almost like [someone] convicted of fraud being in a bank.”
Mr Knight’s comments are some of the strongest yet from within the Conservative party over an appointment with potentially far-reaching implications for the future of the UK’s national broadcaster. An advert for the next BBC chair, a government appointment, is expected to be published imminently.
As well as tapping his former editor Lord Moore, allies of Mr Johnson say he also wants to appoint Paul Dacre, a former editor of the Daily Mail and fellow critic of the BBC, to chair Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator.
Mr Knight, whose committee will hold a hearing with the nominee for chairman before their position is formally approved, avoided referring to Lord Moore by name. But he said the select committee had decided to write to Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, to express concern over leaks undermining the recruitment process.
The criticisms about the process were echoed by David Clementi, the BBC’s serving chair, who said the corporation’s charter was “absolutely clear” about the need for a “fair and open competition”.
“Due process is important,” Sir David told the committee. “In line with this, I hope the government will encourage well-qualified candidates to apply so that there is a strong and diverse field, rather than putting them off by giving the impression that there is already a preferred candidate.”
Stressing the need for an independent chair, Sir David referred to the push by BBC’s new director-general Tim Davie to bolster the BBC’s impartiality by cracking down on staff who want to be an “opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner”.
“The point I want to make is that impartiality starts at the top of the organisation, it doesn’t start halfway down,” he said, without referring by name to Lord Moore, who has written opinion columns encouraging non-payment of the licence fee. “It starts with the chair and the board.
“If the candidate comes from that sort of background, he or she will have to demonstrate [to the committee] that they have left their strong political views at the door.”
Asked whether it was appropriate to appoint a chair who had been convicted of non-payment of the licence fee, Mr Davie said: “I don’t run the appointment process for my boss. And I think that’s appropriate. I put my trust in the process.”
Mr Moore could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
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