Another prominent BBC journalist has quit for a commercial rival after tiring of the public broadcaster’s impartiality drive.
Lewis Goodall, the policy editor of Newsnight, will join former colleagues Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel in making a daily podcast for media company Global, which owns radio stations including LBC.
Goodall was a rising star at the BBC who was increasingly featuring in the corporation’s election night coverage. But rather than stick with the BBC he has instead decided to join the exodus to commercial rivals that can offer more editorial freedom – and more money.
Colleagues said Goodall, who this year made a long-shot application to be BBC political editor, was frustrated with the way the BBC management was interpreting director general Tim Davie’s drive for impartiality.
The journalist was targeted by Sir Robbie Gibb, a former BBC executive who served as Downing Street director of communications under Conservative prime minister Theresa May. En 2020 Gibb publicly asked: “Is there anyone more damaging to the BBC’s reputation for impartiality than Lewis Goodall?"
Gibb was subsequently appointed to the board of the BBC by the Tory government and has helped to launch a series of forthcoming impartiality reviews that will examine every aspect of BBC output for potential bias.
Tim Davie made enforcing impartiality a core plank of his pitch to run the broadcaster and has partially succeeded in reducing the number of critical news stories about his journalists from right-wing media outlets. But exactly who gets to define impartiality on leading political issues has sometimes been hard for staff to interpret. Many BBC journalists report increased pressure from the government on stories and a general chilling effect, with management second-guessing what objections could be coming from Downing Street on important stories.
Maitlis had also tired of being told off by management over breaches of impartiality rules in her Newsnight monologues and tweets, while Andrew Marr also quit the BBC saying he wanted to be able to speak more freely.
One BBC news journalist said the issue was not with the impartiality rules but how the government is using them to bully management. “Impartiality should be a liberating concept – it should mean without fear or favour. En lugar de, they allow it to be used as a stick to destroy them with," él dijo.
While in the past BBC journalists could not find attractive job offers elsewhere, the boom in podcasts and speech radio has meant they now have viable alternative careers.
The BBC also recently introduced a requirement that its presenters declare external earnings from hosting conferences and awards events, which can be lucrative – but has attracted scrutiny for the likes of Sopel and Marr. Global has no such requirement to make its employees declare their freelance earnings publicly.
Other prominent journalists at the BBC are considering similar offers from commercial rivals, although many remain loyal to a broadcaster that can still offer access to an enormous audience far bigger than any commercial rival.