|Now you see him. Now you don't.|
Following on from Sue's post...
The BBC's decision to appoint former Labour cabinet minister James Purnell to the newly-created senior management position of Director of Strategy and Digital has, unsurprisingly, been extensively reported. It's been headline news everywhere from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, though the BBC itself rather slipped the news into an article headlined Helen Boaden becomes director of BBC Radio.
The appointment has proved highly controversial in some quarters, prompting accusations of left-wing bias at the BBC from Conservative MPs, right-of-centre columnists, a former BBC news anchor and at least one anonymous current senior BBC boss. Many of these criticisms of the BBC's decision can be read in right-leaning newspapers. The left-leaning newspapers, in contrast, seem intensely relaxed about the appointment. Wonder why?
Damian Thompson in the Telegraph crisply articulates the concerns, and neatly disposes of a familiar riposte from defenders of the BBC along the way:
The BBC has appointed the former Labour Cabinet minister James Purnell to become its “strategy chief ”. That’s nice for him: nearly £300,000 a year of our money to direct the corporation’s “public affairs”. As far as I can work out the job was created for him; there was no recruitment process. The BBC’s centre-Left bias is one of the wonders of the modern world. Nothing on earth can shift it. Any Tories in its management are always of the bogus Chris Patten variety, while editorial power rests firmly with liberal programme makers. I pay my licence fee to the Beeb by direct debit. Would it be simpler if I just paid it to the Labour Party instead?
Also in the Telegraph, however, comes a gossipy piece by Tim Walker that raises a couple of other potential counter-examples (over than that desperate riposte of last resort: "Jeremy Clarkson!"):
Thea Rogers, who was Purnell’s lover, left her job as the BBC’s lead political producer last November to become George Osborne’s special adviser. She had impressed Craig Oliver, the corporation’s former news executive, who is now David Cameron’s director of communications.
Of course, the difference between Thea Rogers and Craig Oliver exiting the BBC to work for the Conservative Party and the BBC inviting a well-known Labour Party figure into the higher reaches of BBC management is obvious. The former doesn't provide any evidence of bias, only proving that there were senior Conservative-supporting BBC managers after all. The latter, however, could indeed provide evidence of bias in that it is the BBC's choice to create a strategic role for the until-recently-high-up-in-the-Labour-government Mr Purnell.
As for James Purnell himself, well, as Norman Lebrecht puts it:
As a former Labour MP, a part of his BBC strategic role will be dealing with a Government of the opposite stripe who will regard him as the enemy. Tricky.Indeed.