BBC's director of news Fran Unsworth quits corporation from next year

BBC’s director of news quits: Fran Unsworth announces she is leaving corporation next year amid ‘bias’ row over appointment of left-winger Jess Brammar as executive news editor

  • Fran Unsworth will leave in January following clash over Jess Brammar this year
  • Unsworth, who was on £342,000, leaves BBC news team during a period of crisis
  • 250 jobs are set to be cut and staff are to be shunted out of London in a reshuffle
  • Unsworth was culpable for the disastrous raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home in 2014

The BBC’s director of news and current affairs will leave the corporation next year amid a toxic row with Downing Street over hiring an outspoken left-wing journalist.

Fran Unsworth will leave in January following the clash over making former Huffington Post editor Jess Brammar executive news editor at the corporation.

Brammar had often hit out at the government on social media and the BBC move called into question the partiality of the broadcaster.

Unsworth, who was on £342,000 a year, leaves the BBC news team during a period of crisis, with 250 jobs set to be slashed as it is revamped.

She was appointed to her current role in January 2018 and has worked at the BBC for more than four decades, having started her career in 1980 with Radio 1’s Newsbeat.

But the 63-year-old was in charge in some of the BBC’s most humiliating moments, having been responsible for airing the police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home.

The decision in 2014 cost the broadcaster £2million after the singer won his privacy case against the corporation.

Fran Unsworth (pictured) will leave in January following the clash over making former Huffington Post editor Jess Brammar executive news editor at the corporation

Brammar (pictured) had often hit out at the government on social media and the BBC move called into question the partiality of the broadcaster

On her exit, Unsworth said: ‘After more than 40 years with the BBC, I have decided that the time is right for me to hand on the job of leading the world’s best news organisation.

‘I have had a ringside seat at some momentous events, including the Falklands War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, wars in the Middle East, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11 and countless general elections. It has been a great privilege.

‘The jobs I’ve done have not always been easy. Undoubtedly, some were more fun than others.

‘But I am proud to have done all of them – and to work for an organisation which has such a vital and precious role in the UK and around the world.

‘The BBC is free of commercial and proprietorial pressure. Our bosses are the audiences we serve. I am honoured to have been be part of it.

‘I leave BBC News in the hands of an incredibly strong team which is committed to remaining at the forefront of the world’s journalism.

‘Through them, the BBC will be as relevant as it has been for the last 100 years. I am proud to have served BBC News and our audiences.’

On her exit, Unsworth (pictured) said: ‘After more than 40 years with the BBC, I have decided that the time is right for me to hand on the job of leading the world’s best news organisation’

There are few in the media industry who are not aware of Jess Brammar.

One of the most prolific users of Twitter and Instagram over the last decade, she would regularly share her opinions on anything from politics to restaurants with her thousands of followers.

She would also regularly share pictures of her partner Jim Waterson, the Guardian’s media editor, on their holidays and nights out.

That was until the news of Ms Brammar’s new executive role at the BBC broke a month ago. Then her tweets were swiftly deleted and her Instagram set to private.

The couple, who live in Peckham, South-East London, have been an item since 2017 and were named as one of Westminster’s ‘power couples’ by politics website Politico – much to the amusement of colleagues at the time.

Ms Brammar, 38, burnished her Left-wing credentials last year with her vocal support of Marxist campaign group Black Lives Matter which wants to defund the police.

Her younger partner Waterson, 31, broke the story that Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, then his girlfriend, had a blazing row at her South London flat in 2019, after his newspaper was passed a recording of the argument by Carrie’s Left-wing neighbour Tom Penn.

Ms Brammar has enjoyed a 15-year career in television and online media after graduating with a first-class degree in international history with Russian before researching for BBC Question Time.

From there, she went to ITN, where she worked as a producer for ITV News before returning to the BBC as a senior broadcast journalist on Newsnight, going on to become deputy editor.

She later left that role in 2018 to become the editor-in-chief of Left-wing news website, the Huffington Post, before she was made redundant in April this year.

Ms Brammar gave birth to son Jude last year. Earlier this year, she told Grazia magazine that she and Waterson had undergone rounds of gruelling fertility treatment.

Unsworth’s previous roles have included BBC home news editor, head of political programmes and head of newsgathering.

She was the BBC’s acting director of news and current affairs for periods between 2012 and 2013.

And she became the first female director of the BBC World Service Group in 2014, overseeing the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s.

But she has also seen huge controversy in her career, most recently regarding the Brammar fall out.

Relations between No 10 plunged into turmoil after the BBC ignored opposition to the appointment of the left-wing journalist as head of its news channels.

Brammar, who posted a series of now-deleted tweets critical of Boris Johnson, Brexit and Britain’s Empire, is expected to be confirmed as executive news editor.

This comes despite vehement objections from Sir Robbie Gibb, a member of the BBC board.

Sir Robbie, the former director of communications for Theresa May, warned Unsworth she ‘cannot make this appointment’ because the Government’s ‘fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered’.

Ms Brammar, 38, promoted controversial opinions while she was working for the Huffington Post.

These included an article suggesting black people would leave the UK if Boris Johnson was re-elected in 2019.

She also described Brexit as being like a popular TV comedy drama but ‘less funny’.

She has since deleted 16,000 posts, including calling ‘woke’ a ‘dogwhistle’ phrase and promoting a job ad from one of her own staff for only ‘non-binary’ applicants.

Unsworth has been defiant over the row, with her saying BBC management were in charge of hiring people.

She claimed it was ‘an independent process which is free from any corporate interest’.

She added BBC News must ‘withstand any kind of pressure that comes from anywhere’, in a thinly-veiled stab at the government.

Unsworth was also in hot water over the Sir Cliff affair, which saw the BBC fork out £2million during his privacy case against the corporation.

Unsworth said after the High Court judgment in 2018: ‘In retrospect, there are things we would have done differently.’

Another row involving the corporation boss saw her face off with Victoria Derbyshire over cancelling the star presenter’s eponymous show.

Derbyshire confronted the chief of BBC News, asking if bosses had lied to her about the axing of her BBC Two current affairs programme.

The 52-year-old presenter asked Unsworth if they had lied to her and her team about the show’s goals.

Unsworth was forced to apologise about the programme being cut, but added: ‘I’m paid to make really difficult decisions about this.’

She leaves the corporation at a time when hundreds of staff are losing their jobs in a reshuffle.

BBC Director-General Tim Davie (pictured) said Unsworth had, throughout her career, ’embodied the values of BBC News’

About 250 are facing the sack as the BBC plans to ‘modernise’ and respond to changing audiences. Local news has borne the brunt.

Unsworth is expected to speak to colleagues today about the cuts and moving many jobs outside London.

BBC Director-General Tim Davie said Unsworth had, throughout her career, ’embodied the values of BBC News’.

‘She is a world-class journalist and is respected and admired by colleagues across the BBC,’ he said.

‘Fran has taken BBC News through one of the most testing periods in its history, providing a vital service during the Covid-19 pandemic, when record audiences turned to BBC News.

‘She has led BBC coverage during a period of momentous events at home and abroad, alongside leading a huge modernisation programme to reshape BBC News.

‘Before this, as its director, she oversaw the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s, which has proved a major boost to international coverage at a time of great international need.

‘Fran has been a hugely valued member of the BBC’s executive committee and the BBC board. She will be greatly missed by everyone at the BBC.’

Unsworth was born in Stoke and went to the prestigious £10,000-a-year independent school St Dominic’s in Stafford.

On finishing, she went to Manchester University where she studied drama, but did not get into a drama school so moved into publishing.

She started journalism in local radio at BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Radio Bristol before becoming a producer for Newsbeat.

She moved to Radio 4 in 1990 – based in Washington DC for the Gulf War – before turning to newsgathering in 1993.

She was a producer and editor for BBC One O’Clock News and BBC Six O’Clock News before being made head of newsgathering in 2005.

Unsworth moved to acting director of news in 2012 but was made deputy director of news and current affairs a year later.

She will leave her current role as director of news and current affairs at the end of January.

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