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Brexit representation was at times ‘unbalanced’, says new BBC chairman

Richard Sharp (DCMS/PA)
Richard Sharp (DCMS/PA)

The BBC’s incoming chairman Richard Sharp has said there were times the broadcaster’s representation of voices in the Brexit debate was “unbalanced”.

The former Goldman Sachs banker, who has been chosen by the Government as its preferred candidate for the post, said the “breadth of the coverage” was “incredibly balanced”.

However, he said he thought the Question Time programme had featured more Remainers than Brexiteers.

Sir David Clementi speech
Sir David Clementi (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

Appearing before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Mr Sharp addressed issues including impartiality and his donations to the Conservative Party.

Asked whether he was a supporter of Brexit, he replied: “I am considered to be a Brexiteer.”

He said it was not a “universally held view” that the BBC had been partial in its coverage of the Brexit referendum.

He said: “Those people in favour of Remain felt the BBC didn’t appropriately discuss the accuracy of the Brexit campaign.

“Brexiteers felt that, and there have been studies done, that the representation of Brexiteers on the news and certain programmes, for example Question Time, wasn’t balanced.

“I suffer like anybody, like each one of you, confirmation bias and the question is, ‘What is the empirical truth?’

“And there have been studies and there has been some acknowledgement that some aspects of the Brexit coverage, from time to time, was not balanced.

“But I think both sides have issues with how the BBC delivered its view.”

Asked whether he himself believed the BBC’s coverage of Brexit had been unbalanced, he said: “No, actually I don’t.

“I believe there were some occasions when the Brexit representation was unbalanced.

“So if you ask me if I think Question Time seemed to have more Remainers than Brexiteers, the answer is yes, but the breadth of the coverage I thought was incredibly balanced, in a highly toxic environment that was extremely polarised.”

Mr Sharp said he had donated approximately £400,000 to the Conservative Party in the past 20 years, plus £2,500 around the time of the last general election.

Mr Sharp, who was once Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s boss, will take over from Sir David Clementi as the BBC faces scrutiny over equal pay, diversity, free TV licences for the over-75s and competition from streaming services such as Netflix, as well as the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Mr Sharp will earn a salary of £160,000 for three to four days’ work per week.

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