Andrew Neil said Dr Samir Shah, the production company chief executive put forward as BBC chairman, is sympathetic to the corporation’s aims but “won’t stand nonsense from anybody”.
Veteran TV executive Dr Shah was named as the Government’s preferred candidate for the role on Wednesday after the resignation of former Goldman Sachs banker Richard Sharp.
Former BBC presenter Neil told Radio 4’s PM programme that it is “excellent” to have someone who understands broadcasting.
He said: “(Dr Shah’s) also fiercely independent-minded. He’s not part of the BBC establishment but he is sympathetic to the aims and goals of the BBC.
“He won’t stand nonsense from anybody. You won’t be able to pull the wool over his eyes. He knows too much. He’s been around the block too often.
“But he’s a conciliatory figure. He’s a friendly figure. He likes consensus. He likes to listen to other opinions and I think all of that together make him a superb choice.”
Neil, who has worked with Dr Shah, also described him as “not at all hostile to the BBC” but someone who wants it to change amid viewers turning to streaming and more expensive productions being made.
He also said he has to be a support to the director general Tim Davie due to its news coverage creating a “rocky time for the BBC”, particularly surrounding reports on the conflict in Israel and Gaza, which have been criticised by campaign groups and politicians.
Neil was also asked about Dr Shah being one of those who were part of the controversial 2021 report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which faced criticism for being out of step on public opinion.
He said: “I think the fact that he was part of that racial commission shows his own independence of mind, but that’s not so much a Tory issue as the fact that he does not necessarily want to follow what is the accepted consensus in such matters. He’s his own man.
“I think he comes at all issues not from an ideological or party political point of view but as an interested independent who wants to weigh the evidence on both sides. He is not a Tory, he is not a party political appointment. Indeed, I would suggest that this government is very lucky to get him.”
Dr Shah is a former chairman of the independent race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust of 10 years and a member of the Holocaust Commission.
He is currently chief executive of award-winning production company Juniper TV, which makes a number of political and current affairs programmes, and was also previously the BBC’s head of television current affairs.