John Humphrys has taken a swipe at the BBC just days after leaving Radio 4’s Today programme, accusing the corporation of having an “institutional liberal bias”.
The 76-year-old spent 32 years presenting the flagship Radio 4 show and signed off on Thursday by interviewing ex-prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair before tributes were paid by current and former colleagues.
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BBC director general Lord Tony Hall praised Humphrys on air, saying that despite his “rottweiller” reputation he “handles interviews with people who have been through traumas or disasters… with amazing sensitivity”.
But just two days later, Saturday’s Daily Mail published the first extract from his upcoming memoir A Day Like Today in which the stalwart broadcaster accused his long-time employer of a “groupthink mentality, an implicit BBC attitude to what makes news”.
He wrote: “Decisions are influenced, if only subconsciously, by what the organisation has done in the past. So it can too often be willing to settle for the status quo, settling into the same lines of thought.
“This may explain why the BBC sometimes fails so badly to spot a change in the nation’s mood – in hugely important areas. Immigration was one of them.
“Euroscepticism – once belittled as a small-minded, blinkered view of extremists – was another; yet today it’s a powerful and influential force.”
Humphrys claimed the BBC “could simply not grasp” how anyone could vote for Brexit and that the crisis “exposed a fundamental flaw in the culture of the BBC”.
He said there is a “form of institutional liberal bias” within its walls, blaming the fact it had a “disproportionately large” proportion of former private school pupils and a recruitment process which could “choose between the cream of the arts graduates from the top universities”.
According to a study by social mobility charity The Sutton Trust published in June, 29 per cent of BBC executives attended independent schools compared to 7 per cent of the general population – although the BBC was still far surpassed by newspaper columnists, of whom 44 per cent were privately schooled.
Humphrys also took aim at the BBC’s “belief in the magical powers of the latest barmy management theory” and its “fear of its political masters”.
He also targeted Ben Hunte, who was appointed as BBC News’ first ever LGBT correspondent at the end of 2018.
Humphrys said the appointment “raised his eyebrows” and criticised Hunte for saying he was looking forward to being a “mouthpiece” for marginalised groups.
“Obviously, the BBC must give a voice to minorities, but it must not act as anyone’s mouthpiece,” Humphrys wrote.
“That’s what lobbyists and public relations people do. To confuse the two is to undermine the job of a journalist.”
However Humphrys added: “Flawed though the BBC may be, I have not the slightest doubt after half a century in its service that it is a force for good and this country is the stronger for its existence.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “John’s entitled to his opinions and has never been reluctant to let us know what he thinks, and while we don’t necessarily agree with all his views it’s good to see him declare the BBC a ‘tremendous and irreplaceable force for good’ that the country needs as much as ever.”
Humphrys also faced up to the row which followed BBC China editor Carrie Gracie’s resignation after she discovered she was not being paid equally to her male peers as an international editor.
Humphrys and North American editor Jon Sopel were caught discussing the resignation and possible pay cuts in what the BBC later described as an “ill-advised off-air conversation which the presenter regrets”.
In his new book, Humphrys described the BBC’s public comment as “typically pompous”, saying he was disappointed by its reaction.
“They might have made the point that my 50 years’ service at the BBC showed that to accuse me of misogyny on the basis of one bit of private banter was risible,” he said.
He also claimed the fact that Gracie presented the Today programme with him the morning after her resignation letter was published, meaning bosses would not allow him to interview her on the subject due to impartiality rules, made the BBC a “national laughing stock”.
Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire