Jonathan Dimbleby Calls On Richard Sharp To Step Down As BBC Chair

“The BBC needs this like it needs a hole in the head.”
Boris Johnson and Richard Sharp
Boris Johnson and Richard Sharp

Jonathan Dimbleby has called on BBC chairman Richard Sharp to step down following the scrutiny over his appointment to the top broadcasting job.

Dimbleby – a well-known broadcaster, former BBC journalist and political programme host – was commenting on the ongoing furore surrounding the corporation’s chair and ex-prime minister Boris Johnson.

Sharp has insisted he got the role, which aims to uphold and protect the BBC’s independence, on merit.

This has been called into question as he only got the job after helping then-PM Johnson find a guarantor (a Canadian millionaire and Johnson’s distant cousin, Sam Blyth) for an £800,000 loan.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on Sunday saying he should not have become involved in securing such a loan while applying for the BBC role.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight on Monday, Dimbleby said: “The BBC needs this like it needs a hole in the head.”

He continued: “The difference here was that he was at the same time acting as that go-between, that facilitator, was applying for the job of chairman of the BBC.

“And he failed to mention that either to the interview panel – so far as we know they weren’t aware of it or subsequently to the DCMS Select Committee.

“Now that, he has accepted was an error.”

Sharp has admitted that the incident has embarrassed the corporation, but said he “acted in good faith to ensure that the rules were followed” and has stopped short of apologising.

However, Dimbleby said even if you accept Sharp’s errors as an oversight, “public opinion is very scathing about those in power, around power – there’s a deep distrust about public institutions in one way or another”.

He claims Sharp’s inability to realise there might be an overlap of interest means there might be a great “deal of damage done to the BBC.”

“I have no doubt that he is an honourable man, incidentally, no reason to doubt that – what he should honourably is to fall on his sword and say in the interest of the BBC, which I care about, I don’t want this to go on and on and on, I should stand aside.”

Dimbleby continued: “The fact that he was a mate of the prime minister, that he had donated to the Conservative Party, that’s happened with chairmen in the past – labour-supporting chairmen as well.

“So I don’t think that’s the issue, I think this is simply about transparency and accountability.

“He has rightly gone on a lot about impartiality, and the BBC being seen to be impartial, and the BBC being accountable to its public.”

Dimbleby also claimed that the broadcaster’s mission of telling the facts is being blocked by this saga, so he urged Sharp’s friends to encourage his to step down.

The BBC chairmanship is always in the power of the government – but Dimbleby said that it should change, too.

He said the role should not be a political appointment, but organised by an independent, highly-respected body that has the trust of all the political parties.

He claimed this would be “much, much healthier”.

At the moment, the government has to hold a fair and open competition, according to the BBC Charter, to find a suitable candidate. Then ministers choose a preferred candidate from applicants, and the potential chair goes before a parliamentary select committee.

They can only be formally dismissed from the post after consultation with the rest of the BBC’s government board if they are “unable, unfit or unwilling” to perform their duty.

There is an independent inquiry looking into Sharp’s appointment ongoing.

The first inquiry, conducted by public appointments commissioner William Shawcross, was abandoned due to conflict of interest. Now, it is being investigated by lawyer Adam Heppinstall KC.

PM Rishi Sunak has declined to say if he has confidence in the chair, saying he cannot speculate while an inquiry is ongoing.

Conservative peer Baroness Wheatcroft has also said it was “impossible” not to side with Dimbleby on this. She told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “Even if Mr Sharp behaved absolutely correctly, it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t smell right and it doesn’t feel right.”


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