Matt Frei: Why I left the BBC

A succession of big names have left the BBC for ITN in recent months – but Washington correspondent Matt Frei, who joins Channel 4 News this month, is probably the biggest.

Shortly after his exit from the BBC was announced, ITN international news editor Bill Neely said the corporation “should be asking themselves some very searching questions about why one of the biggest stars they have in the last 25 years is leaving the corporation”.

If his exit was prompted by any particular slight on the part of the BBC then Frei hid it well during an interview for this month’s edition of Press Gazette magazine.

‘I’ve been with the BBC for well over two decades,’he said. ‘The BBC is mother and it’s been a very good mother to me but now and again it’s a good idea to leave mother and elope with a mistress,” he said.

‘I’ve always admired Channel 4 because it’s a cross between current affairs and news. Newsnight with a bit more of a newsy edge at a decent hour. I’ve had my eye on it for some time, and I guess they may have had their eye on me for some time.”

Frei joined the BBC in 1986 and was made Washington correspondent in 2003.

Frei, who cites his coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall as the biggest story of his career, said: ‘The BBC is great, it’s taught me everything I know and sent me to some really interesting parts of the world.

‘We parted on very good terms so there are no hard feelings. I think if an opportunity comes along – and they don’t come along too often – you need to size it up and if it’s the real thing, seize it.”

Although Frei will be doing more anchoring in his new job, he doesn’t plan to become deskbound. ‘What I like about my new job is the combination of reporting and presenting. This is the way to go.

‘The ability to broadcast live from anywhere in the world using a laptop computer and a satellite phone has made the job a lot cheaper but also a lot more mobile.

‘If I can go out somewhere and do a cracking piece for Channel 4 News and at the same time present part of the news bulletin from the location, that is a really attractive way of going about my business”

Frei said in the US network TV news still operates like a ‘Hollywood movie shoot’and that he is looking forward to Channel 4’s more fleet of foot approach.

‘I remember meeting Jon Snow covering Hurricane Katrina. We were all schlepping around in clothes that should have been burned four days earlier. The whole thing was both exciting and filthy at the same time.

‘There he was, one of the most recognised presenters in British television, carrying a tripod. He had with him two blokes and that was it – someone carrying a camera and someone carrying a clipboard organising things.

‘That’s all you need and it gives you an enormous freedom and ability to tell the story.”

This is an excerpt from an interview with Matt Frei in the September edition of Press Gazette magazine.

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