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Richard Sharp Talks BBC Chair Resignation & Licence Fee

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“I wasn’t happy at the way my activities were characterized and think they were misrepresented wilfully by other forms of the media.”

That is the verdict of ex-BBC Chair Richard Sharp, who was forced to resign almost a year ago after failing to declare his role in the facilitation of an £800,000 ($1.07B) loan facility for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Speaking for the first time about his experience, the former Goldman Sachs banker told the BBC’s Today podcast a “false narrative” had developed around his actions, and “once it’s out there, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“If it compromised my position, which the noise and the affair did, then the most important interests were what was in the interests of the BBC, not Richard Sharp,” he added. “If you looked at social media it was pretty clear that the priorities should be not my interests but the BBC’s, and pragmatically I accepted that.”

He acknowledged there was “contributory negligence” on his part in his failure to declare a meeting with then Cabinet Secretary Simon Case but said his activities had been “misrepresented wilfully.” When the report into Sharp’s actions came out last April, which sparked his resignation, he had said his breach was “inadvertent and not material, which the facts [the report] lays out substantiate.”

“Thoroughly unpleasant experience”

In an emotional response from the ordinarily mild-mannered Sharp to the question of how the affair impacted him, he said the period prior to his resignation was a “thoroughly unpleasant experience.”

“It made me feel some sympathy for people in the public eye in a way that I hadn’t before,” said Sharp. “Our media community can at times be quite vicious, as can social media, but at the same time it was absolutely the right thing for me to go.”

Sharp raised concerns that his highly-publicizied exit will lead others from the private sector to be wary of taking on public sector roles due to the additional scrutiny. Sharp’s replacement, Samir Shah, is a former head of the BBC’s political news programs who used to run a production company.

Elsewhere in a wide-ranging interview coming two days after a set piece from Director General Tim Davie about the BBC’s future, Sharp questioned whether the corporation has the “nimbleness” to face long-term challenges.

Responding to a question on whether the BBC understands that it needs to change for the modern world, he said: “The short answer is yes and maybe the long answer is no.”

“The BBC is a very difficult organization to change,” he added. “There may be a requirement for nimbleness but then the question is whether the leadership of the BBC can encourage the organization to accept the hard decisions necessary to be competitive in a fast-changing world. At the same time the requirements of the leadership will increase in order for consumers to be satisfied.”

Backing Davie’s call for a “reformed” license fee after 2027, he floated the potential for a means-tested funding model that would benefit those on lower incomes, positing that the fee could be restructured to be linked to broadband payments, or council tax.

“The BBC has to be well-enough funded to provide an opportunity for people to get rich media consumption who are on lower incomes,” he added. “That leads you to the view that there is an opportunity to have a limited differential in terms of how consumers pay for it.”

The BBC will soon begin a consultation with hundreds of thousands of its audiences over license fee reform, while an expert panel has been assembled by the government to examine the model.



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