UK

John Humphrys Highlights BBC 'Liberal Bias' And Defends Mishal Husain 'Good Looks' Comments

11/03/2014 01:46 GMT | Updated 11/03/2014 10:59 GMT

The BBC has been "broadly liberal", not balanced on issues such as Europe and immigration and "grotesquely over-managed", its own presenter John Humphrys has said. The Today programme co-host, 70, also defended a previous comment he made about Today co-host Mishal Husain's good looks, and said that the pair get on well.

"I was making the point that it helps in the newsreading business - and this isn't controversial, you only have to switch on the telly - to be young and beautiful and highly trained. She's a proper journalist," he said.

john humphrys

John Humphrys acknowledged the BBC's liberal bias

But the Mastermind presenter said that the programme needed more female presenters, telling the magazine, "the idea that you say, 'Well, we've now got two [female presenters], that's enough', is daft." Humphrys, whose then boss George Entwistle resigned as BBC director-general hours after his appearance on Today, defended his own rottweiler reputation, saying: "You don't set out to have a row but when the row develops, you don't necessarily want to recoil from it. It's sometimes good radio.

"Sometimes it gets in the way and sometimes it can be illuminating. If the politician gets cross, it tells you something about the politician. So heated exchanges are not always a bad thing. The idea all the public ever wants to hear are reasoned discussions is nonsense." Humphrey's also criticised the large "irresponsible" pay-offs to some former BBC staff and said that money had, under previous regimes, been "chucked around".

Tory MPs have previously accused BBC presenters of having left-wing political views. Humphrys said that he had voted for "most political parties," but admitted to Radio Times magazine: "The BBC has tended over the years to be broadly liberal as opposed to broadly conservative for all sorts of perfectly understandable reasons.

"The sort of people we've recruited - the best and the brightest - tended to come from universities and backgrounds where they're more likely to hold broadly liberal views than conservative." He said that the corporation had made mistakes in the way it covered Europe and immigration but that the BBC was now more balanced.

"We weren't sufficiently sceptical - that's the most accurate phrase - of the pro-European case. We bought into the European ideal," he said. "We weren't sufficiently sceptical about the pro-immigration argument. We didn't look at the potential negatives with sufficient rigour.

"I think we're out of that now. I think we have changed." Humphrys said that more needed to be done to cut down on excessive BBC management. "There are too many of them. I think they think that. I think (director-general) Tony Hall thinks that - I don't know, I haven't asked him, but I think he thinks that," he said.

"Over the years we've been grotesquely over-managed, there's no question. They're now getting a grip on it. A lot have gone. I think more need to go." He said that further resources should be devoted to Radio 4 flagship show Today, the "most important BBC programme" because "we're as pared down as it's possible to get" and that the programme needed to recruit more women presenters.

"The problem was that when the previous regime was faced with having to cut its budget under huge pressure, and reasonably so because of the way we saw money was being chucked around - in some cases irresponsibly, big pay-offs to people who shouldn't have had them - you look at your own programme and you think, 'Bloody hell, we could have done with that'."

He suggested that he is not intending to retire, saying: "I love doing the programme. How could you not? My curiosity has not dimmed at all. If anything it's increased." Last year, the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee ruled that a BBC2 documentary on the welfare state presented by Humphrys breached guidelines on impartiality and accuracy.

Viewers of The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys would have been likely to form the impression ''that there was a healthy supply of jobs overall'' because the programme did not broadcast statistics on the ratio of jobs to applicants, it said. Eddie Mair, who presents Radio 4 show PM, gave a taste of his own experience of BBC management in a separate Radio Times interview.

"At PM, we tried to start a new project, and to get approval for it we had to spend three weeks in meetings with different bits of the BBC. We dutifully dealt with all their queries and eventually got the go-ahead. Hooray!", he wrote. "Two days after starting the project, another part of the corporation showed up and told us to stop. We were bewildered. Apparently we should never have started, as there was some kind of 'strategic review' of all such projects under way. Perhaps in nine months they would reconsider.

"In the style of Mastermind, we told them we'd started so we'd finish. We carried on with the project - and they weren't happy. Two months later, in yet another meeting, the PM project was being praised to the skies as a huge success - by the very strategic review man who'd tried to stop it. Trebles all round!"

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