The BBC’s appointment of Chair Richard Sharp “should not stand” and the process was “fatally flawed,” according to former Director General John Birt, who threw his weight behind the corporation over the Gary Lineker scandal.
The embattled Sharp, who is awaiting the result of two inquiries into his appointment, was described by Birt as “a person of obvious weight and consequence but an unsuitable candidate in one vital respect,” as he became one of the highest profile UK media figures to state Sharp should be forced to step down.
“I don’t think the appointment should stand,” Birt told the UK’s influential DCMS Committee (DCMSC). “This isn’t about political connections because governments of all kinds have appointed BBC Chairs who enjoy their confidence but, having known every BBC Chair for decades, governments have tended to have a good record for appointing people with an independent cast of mind, who will protect the BBC’s independence.”
Sharp has been under the microscope for weeks after the Times revealed he had helped facilitate a loan for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson via the UK’s Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Johnson’s distant cousin Sam Blyth. Johnson had the final say on Sharp’s appointment.
The DCMSC recently accused Sharp, a Tory donor and former boss of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, of making “significant errors of judgment” and undermining the selection process for the BBC chairmanship when he failed to disclose his links with Johnson.
Speaking today, Birt also criticized Case for being in a position where he “should have seen the danger.”
Sharp has kept quiet in recent weeks on the hugely damaging BBC Gary Lineker scandal and Birt, who was Director General between 1992 and 2000, said he “regrets not hearing from him over Lineker and would have hoped to have heard from him.”
Birt threw his weight behind the BBC over Lineker, saying that the Match of the Day host had “breached the rules” when tweeting a comparison between the language around the UK government’s asylum policy and 1930s Germany.
Birt also said he multiple presenters, pundits and commentators who stood down in solidarity with Lineker had “failed to stop and think, to try and understand the issues that are at stake and about what the BBC stands for.”
He backed the BBC to overcome the situation.
“The BBC has credit in the bank and is an esteemed institution over what it has done over a very long period of time,” he added. “History is littered with these kinds of reversals but almost everyone who works for the BBC is trying to do their best to do a good job. They lapse from time to time but everyone can see that they are trying.”
Birt was DG when the Martin Bashir Princess Diana scandal first happened and he was portrayed in the recent season of The Crown by Spider-Man: Far From Home actor Nicholas Gleaves.
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