One of the most senior figures in BBC News says Director-General Mark Thompson was wrong to oppose publicly News Corp’s attempt to take control of BSkyB.
Stephen Mitchell, Deputy Director of News and Head of News Programmes at the BBC, said that by signing a letter to Vince Cable last month opposing the move by News Corp, Mark Thompson had compromised the perception of his impartiality as editor-in-chief. He is believed to be the first senior BBC figure to criticize Thompson’s actions on the record.
The letter, which was also signed by the chief executives of various UK media groups, urged Cable to block the bid by News Corp to buy the 61% of BSkyB it doesn’t own. Today it was announced that Cable has ordered Ofcom to investigate the move.
Mr Mitchell said: “Above all the BBC has to be impartial, and, almost as important, be seen to be impartial on every issue of controversy in the UK.”
As News Corp’s bid and its position in the UK media are stories covered by the BBC, he said, Mark Thompson’s public opposition to the move conflicts with his role.
“It is inevitable that we will cover the growth and role of News Corps going forward as part of our journalism. Mark Thompson is the editor-in-chief, and I feel that that letter compromises the perception of his impartiality.”
Furthermore, Mr Mitchell said, as Director-General, Thompson presides over the BBC’s complaints system: “We’re doing journalism about Sky, Sky quite rightly complain, where does the complaint go at the moment? It goes up through the chain to the Director-General. That means that, for me, he slightly compromises his role in life by signing a letter in the way that he did.” He made the comments at a masterclass for students at the University of Kent’s Centre for Journalism yesterday.
Mr Mitchell went on to say that he did share Thompson’s concern about the dominance of News Corp in the UK’s media.
“It’s a vast organisation. It’s hugely wealthy and they have priorities other than mine. Its prime purpose is not good journalism, its prime purpose is business. And I worry about the predominance of that.”
Thompson first made his views public in an interview on US channel PBS on the 7th October. The letter to Cable was sent on the 11th October.