UK

George Osborne Editorship Sees BBC Journalist Amol Rajan Criticised For Tweets About Appointment

Broadcaster says he was 'explaining to our audience the significance' of the story.

17/03/2017 16:26 GMT | Updated 17/03/2017 17:12 GMT

The BBC journalist, who broke the news that George Osborne will be the next Evening Standard editor, has been accused of doing “PR” for the MP and newspaper’s owner. 

The broadcaster’s media editor Amol Rajan called the shock appointment “a huge coup” for the newspaper, which will see the former Chancellor remain a Tory MP while editing the daily London publication.

However, several MPs have since called for Osborne to stand down from parliament and trigger a by-election in Tatton.

Osborne will replace Sarah Sands, who will edit the BBC’s Today Programme from May.

In a series of tweets, Rajan suggested being an editor and an MP was not a conflict of interest, citing precedents for having media and political jobs.

He also called Osborne a “high profile and calibre leader”.

Rajan’s tweets irked Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abell, who said the broadcaster was doing “PR” for his old boss, Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev.

Before joining the BBC, Rajan edited Lebedev’s title The Independent until it ceased print publication in 2016, going exclusively online.

Abell, who was previously managing editor of The Sun, tweeted: 

A BBC spokeswoman told HuffPost UK: “Amol broke this significant story and was doing his job as our Media Editor explaining to our audience the significance of this appointment.”

A BBC source said Rajan had “a unique perspective having worked for Lebedev” and that the corporation saw no evidence of bias in his coverage.

Rajan did acknowledge Lebedev was his old boss in his tweets.

However, Abell was not the only journalist annoyed by Rajan’s tweets.

In a piece for the BBC website, Rajan wrote: “Lebedev has long argued there’s life in print yet. After this - the most interesting, unexpected and bold appointment of an editor in living memory - who could doubt him?”

Lebedev said he was “proud to have an editor of such substance” and said Osborne’s “socially liberal and economically pragmatic” politics fitted the paper.

Osborne told TV station London Live - which Lebedev also owns - he could remain an MP because “this paper is edited primarily in the morning, parliament votes in the afternoon”.

“I will speak for London and Londoners through this paper,” he said.

“We will judge whatever the Government does, whatever the Mayor does against that simple test.

“Is it good it for London? If it isn’t good for London, then we will say so and we won’t be afraid to do that. If it’s good for London we will, of course, back it. We will be fearless and we will be independent in our approach.”

In his tweets, Rajan highlighted the examples of Bill Deedes and Boris Johnson as precedents for combining politics and journalism.

Johnson rose to prominence as a Daily Telegraph journalist and wrote columns for the paper as London mayor. He also continued to edit The Spectator after being elected to parliament.

Deedes was a journalist turned MP who edited the Daily Telegraph after he left parliament in 1974.

There is precedent for being an MP and editor at the same time.

Nye Bevan edited Leftwing paper Tribune during the Second World War, when he was also a Labour MP, before he became Health Secretary in the Atlee Government that founded the NHS.

CP Scott, who edited The Guardian between 1872 and 1929, was a Liberal MP for 11 years in that time.

A spokesperson for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for Osborne to leave parliament.

He said: “The appointment makes a mockery of the independence of the media. It takes multitasking to a new level and is an insult to the electors he is supposed to serve.

“We are looking forward to an early by-election so the people of Tatton are properly served in parliament.”