Deceit of the BBC bosses and the ex Labour minister

Deceit of the BBC bosses and the ex Labour minister

Katherine Rushton — Daily Mail July 16, 2015bbc logobbc logo

The BBC was accused of deceit last night after it denied orchestrating a celebrity letter to the Prime Minister backing the Corporation.

Despite overwhelming evidence that Danny Cohen, its director of television, masterminded the involvement of signatories, the BBC repeatedly refused to admit its involvement.

Last night MPs demanded an investigation into whether Mr Cohen had broken BBC rules by secretly asking a host of its stars to front Tuesday night’s open letter to David Cameron.

James Purnell, the BBC’s head of strategy – who also happens to be a former Labour minister under Gordon Brown – was also linked to what was initially presented as an independent protest.

Signed by 29 actors, presenters and writers – including Dame Judi Dench, Graham Norton and Stephen Fry – it urged the Prime Minister to stop the BBC being ‘diminished’.

The Daily Mail asked the BBC five times where the letter came from. The BBC insisted – repeatedly – that the letter came from the stars themselves, and said it did not ‘know about the origins of writing it’.

‘These are people who clearly want to speak up for the BBC. The letter is from the signatories. It speaks for itself. They have their own strong views,’ it said. However, the Corporation was left severely embarrassed when two of the signatories revealed it was orchestrated by Mr Cohen.

Presenter Michael Palin told a BBC News programme yesterday: ‘I was asked to sign it by Danny Cohen. He knows I’m a supporter of the BBC… so he just asked: “Would you sign? The charter’s coming up. We’re a little bit worried the BBC will become smaller and less significant”.’

Annie Nightingale, Radio 1’s longest-serving presenter, admitted she had not even read the letter but had signed it anyway following a request from her boss Ben Cooper. ‘Ben said Danny Cohen was putting this letter together,’ she told the Times.

In one, he linked to a BBC article about Mr Palin’s comments, which made no mention of Mr Cohen’s efforts behind the scenes. However, one viewer responded: ‘What could go wrong when the BBC instigates a letter to which highly paid people put their name? Huge own goal.’

Yesterday, MPs called for an inquiry into how the letter was orchestrated and whether it broke BBC rules.

The Corporation’s editorial policy states that BBC output ‘must remain independent and distanced from government initiatives, campaigners, charities and their agendas.’ It stipulates: ‘We need to ensure the BBC’s impartiality is not brought into question and presenters or reporters are not exposed to potential conflicts of interest.’

Tory Damian Collins, who sits on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said it was wrong for BBC executives to pressure its stars in this way, and that Mr Cohen’s £327,800-a-year job should now be ‘put out to tender’.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling also added her signature to the letter.

‘Clearly it seems as if the BBC broke [its editorial policy],’ he said. ‘This is a blatant attempt by BBC grandees to try to lobby ministers by using TV talent. They made that pompous statement that Britain would be diminished. Do we really think Britain would be diminished if Danny Cohen didn’t get his megabucks salary?’

Tory MP Bill Cash said Mr Cohen’s ‘job should be on the line’ and both the Government and the BBC Trust, should investigate. He added: ‘They even appear to have deceived the people who “wrote” the letter.’

Labour’s Chi Onwurah said: ‘This does seem unnecessary and disingenuous. There is huge support out there. Why orchestrate what’s already out there? It doesn’t do the BBC any favours. It gives the impression of over-management.’

A BBC Trust spokesman said: ‘The genesis of this letter is not a matter for the BBC Trust.’

Stephen Fry, Claudia Winkleman, Miranda Hart, Graham Norton, Sir David Attenborough and Gary Lineker were among 29 celebrities who wrote to David Cameron warning funding reforms will ‘diminish’ Britain.

Many of those who backed it rely indirectly on Mr Cohen for work, while others such as Rachel Weisz are friends.

Yesterday, sources at the corporation claimed that the letter had been circulated by Professor Brian Cox, another one of the signatories. It is unclear whether the letter was written by Mr Cohen, the BBC’s press office, or someone else.


Danny Cohen, Oxford educated BBC executive, famed for introducing programs that seemed intended to dumb down the audience. Click to enlarge

Danny Cohen’s ascent to the top of the BBC has been nothing short of meteoric.

At 33, he became boss of BBC3, pedalling ‘yoof’ shows with trashy titles such as Snog Marry Avoid, **** Off, I’m A Hairy Woman, and Hotter Than My Daughter.

It was an odd fit for the Oxford-educated television executive, who is described by colleagues as serious and cerebral.

But Mr Cohen, who is also supremely ambitious, knew that it was necessary for him to get ahead.

His plan worked and he was soon promoted to run BBC1, becoming – at 36 – its youngest-ever controller.

A few years later, he became director of television, earning £327,000 a year. The next goal, friends say, is to succeed Lord Tony Hall as director general.

He was at the centre of the Jeremy Clarkson scandal, which eventually ended in the presenter being sacked for punching a Top Gear producer over a steak.

‘He’s quite a moral character, so it is very uncomfortable for him,’ said a friend at the time.

The BBC’s golden boy wanted to suspend or sack Clarkson last year, after he used the racist word ‘slope’ on a Top Gear special in Burma.

However, Mr Cohen was overruled by Lord Hall, forcing him to let Clarkson off with a ‘final’ warning. ‘It was humiliating for him,’ said a colleague.

The executive is married to Noreena Hertz, a beautiful Cambridge economics professor six years his elder.

The pair have spent years living together in Bohemian splendour in North London, forming one of the area’s most impressive power duos.

When the couple married in March 2012, actress Rachel Weisz was a bridesmaid, and the guest list included Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson

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