Entertainment

What challenges could Samir Shah face as BBC chairman?

BBC Broadcasting House in London (Ian West/PA)
BBC Broadcasting House in London (Ian West/PA) BBC Broadcasting House in London (Ian West/PA)

The next BBC chairman faces a full in-tray, as it was announced that Samir Shah is the Government’s preferred candidate.

He will need to grapple with whether the corporation continues to be cash-strapped if the licence fee does not rise in line with inflation, pressure on the BBC’s reporting of the conflict in Gaza and Israel, and the outcome of investigations into former and current staff.

The chairman’s role includes leading discussions with the Government and making sure the corporation fulfils its mission of providing audiences with “impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain”.

Here is a round-up of what veteran TV executive Dr Shah could face if Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee, privy council and the King approve his appointment:

– Impact of inflation and licence-fee freeze

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the corporation should be “realistic” amid the cost-of-living crisis as the licence fee will be unfrozen this year.

It is currently £159 per year and is due to increase by 9% or £15 to £173.30 in April, which Mr Sunak will reportedly block.

BBC chairman
BBC chairman Dr Samir Shah is the Government’s preferred candidate to become BBC chairman (Department for Culture, Media and Sport/PA)

It has also been reported by The Sunday Times that Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer will use a different calculation of the rate of inflation, so the rise could be £10.65 to £169.65 per year.

The freeze over the past two years and rising inflation has already seen the BBC seek to make £500 million of savings and begin to reassess its priorities.

Last month the corporation announced that Newsnight will be reduced to a 30-minute programme, axing more than half of the show’s 60 jobs, amid a raft of changes to save the news division £7.5 million.

An extended hour-long edition of BBC News At One will relocate to Salford, Manchester, while BBC Breakfast, also broadcast from the city, will be extended by an extra 15 minutes daily.

Earlier this year the BBC also announced it would broadcast 1,000 fewer hours of new TV programmes this year.

Other cost-cutting measures include moving a number of World Service TV and radio broadcast services online, and merging the domestic and global news channels.

Lucy Frazer phone-in on LBC
Lucy Frazer phone-in on LBC Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Lucy Frazer (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The soap Doctors will also come to an end next year amid “super inflation in drama production”, the corporation said in October.

However, one issue off the incoming chairman’s desk will be the proposed strike of BBC local staff after members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) accepted a deal on jobs and programming in November.

– Impartiality questions 

Concerns about the BBC’s reporting of the Hamas invasion of Israel in October and the Israeli government’s bombing of the Gaza strip have been raised by ministers and pressure groups.

Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt suggested during business questions in Parliament last month that the BBC should consider further training for staff.

The Commons Leader said the corporation should “ensure the British public can rely on the fact that they are getting impartial, good advice that is presented with the highest journalistic standards”, as Conservative MPs claimed there was “bias” against Israel.

A report on October 17 about the blast at the al Ahli hospital was said to have been “wrongly attributed” to the Israeli military, which has blamed a rocket misfire by Palestinian militants, by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA).

The BBC acknowledged that it was “wrong to speculate” and apologised.

Campaign groups, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and cabinet ministers have also been concerned about the broadcaster not using the term “terrorist” in relation to Hamas, without attributing the word to others using it.

The corporation had been describing the group as militants but has changed this to a terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK Government and others.

BBC staff members in news, current affairs, factual journalism and senior management who asked for permission to attend a march against antisemitism on Sunday November 26 in central London were also reportedly denied permission, due to BBC guidelines.

A BBC spokesman previously said: “Corporately, we have not issued any staff communication on any specific march, but this does not mean discussions which consider the guidance have not taken place between colleagues.”

Elsewhere, broadcaster Gary Lineker comparing the language used by the Conservative Government to promote its asylum plans with 1930s Germany has also led to strengthened social media guidelines for staff on issues of impartiality and civility.

This has already led to the exit of former Countdown star Carol Vorderman, who claimed BBC Wales management told her to leave her radio show when she continued to express “strong beliefs” about Conservative policies.

– Current and former employees 

Huw Edwards, who has been at the helm of significant political and royal events for the corporation, was named in July as the BBC presenter at the centre of allegations about payments to a young person for explicit images.

The BBC has announced reviews into protocols and procedures after concerns were raised by the young person’s family in The Sun newspaper.

The Metropolitan Police said in July that no criminal offence had taken place.

The corporation is also investigating comedian Russell Brand’s behaviour while he was working on its programmes, including his BBC Radio 2 show.

Brand has denied allegations of rape, assault and emotional abuse following a joint investigation by The Sunday Times, The Times and Channel 4 Dispatches, which was released in September.

Holocaust Memorial Day
Holocaust Memorial Day BBC newsreader Huw Edwards. (Chris Jackson/PA)

His conduct is also being investigated by Channel 4 and Banijay UK, which bought Endemol, the company commissioned by Channel 4 to produce the Big Brother spin-off shows the comedian and actor hosted.

An independent inquiry by barrister Gemma White KC was launched into veteran hip hop DJ and radio presenter Tim Westwood, after he was accused of sexual misconduct and predatory behaviour.

Westwood, who left BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra in 2013 after nearly 20 years, has denied all allegations.

Ms White was appointed by the BBC board last August after an internal review.

In June, BBC director-general Tim Davie said there are outstanding equal pay cases that have not yet concluded.

Mr Davie told the CMS committee: “When we get to a situation which we go to tribunal, no-one wants that. All we’re trying to do is make a right call in terms of what’s the right thing to do with licence fee-payer money.”