NUJ members at the BBC call time on BBC Chair  

  • 23 Feb 2023

NUJ members working for the BBC say its chairman, Richard Sharp, must immediately resign for failing to disclose his role as a go-between for a loan to the then Prime Minister at a time when Sharp was applying for the corporation’s top job.

In the snapshot poll carried out over the past week,  with just over 1,000 replies,  NUJ members have expressed strong views over the conduct of Sharp and his ongoing position of BBC Chair. This has been mirrored in discussions in chapels and meetings of reps.

In answering the four questions posed, 95 per cent of respondents said Sharp should immediately resign from the BBC.

Just four per cent said he retains their faith to continue as Chair; 97 per cent said revelations over Sharp’s actions and behaviour at the time of his appointment and since have caused damage to the BBC’s reputation; and 91 per cent said the scandal served to undermine trust in BBC journalism.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“It’s clear that Richard Sharp has lost the dressing room. Journalists working at the BBC no longer have confidence in their chairman. Revelations of Sharp’s role as financial matchmaker for Boris Johnson and his decision to keep his actions under wraps have caused anger and frustration amongst NUJ members. They believe he has damaged the reputation of the BBC and undermined trust in its journalism. Sharp has done the unforgiveable – he’s become the story, for all the wrong reasons. This is damaging the BBC, its staff and its reputation. The NUJ believes the BBC and licence fee payers deserve better.

“This is a challenging period for the BBC. Its director general Tim Davie and the leadership team have publicly set great store by the values of impartiality and the need to buoy up public trust. Sharp himself has repeatedly cited the critical importance of editorial standards, trust and independence – yet this whole farrago shows a willingness to apply less stringency and rigour to his own behaviour and conduct.

“This mess also reaffirms the importance of the NUJ’s longstanding policy on the BBC – that its funding mechanism and governance appointments processes must be reformed in order that they are truly independent and free from political interference or the whims of any government of the day.”

Richard Sharp is the subject of two investigations into allegations he helped Boris Johnson secure a loan of up to £800,000 weeks before he was recommended for the job by the then Prime Minister. The poll follows a highly critical MPs’ report saying Sharp had made “significant errors of judgment” and had not revealed his part in the pre-appointment hearing with the MPs.

DCMS Select Committee acting chair, Tory MP Damian Green, has said that MPs considering Sharp’s suitability in January 2021 were “not in full possession of the facts”. The committee’s report called on him  to “reflect on the potential damage caused to trust in the corporation”.

Grahame Morris, co-chair of the NUJ’s cross-party Parliamentary Group, has written to the DCMS Select Committee saying the conclusions of its report were “disturbing in their implications for trust in the impartiality and independence of BBC governance”.  The letter goes on to say: “We believe there are further questions to answer on this matter for both senior civil servants and the government. You conclude that the Cabinet Office should clear up the confusion relating to the advice given to the Prime Minister, in respect of the memo from Permanent Secretary Sir Simon Case in which he asked Mr Sharp to desist from giving financial advice to the PM in the future. Are you aware of any such clarifications having been issued since the publication of your report?”  

Industry figures such as Jonathan Dimbleby and Baroness Patience Wheatcroft have called on Sharp to resign. The Labour Party and the SNP have described his position as “increasingly untenable”.

Full letter  

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