The new chairman of the BBC is a television executive who once criticised broadcasters for positive discrimination in casting.
Samir Shah, a contributor to multiple reports on race relations in Britain, has been chosen as the successor to Richard Sharp, who resigned from the position in April following a row over an £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson.
Mr Shah has spoken out against prevailing “woke” opinion, and his appointment comes at a time when BBC programming has faced criticism for its supposed bias.
An experienced executive and former BBC director, Mr Shah co-authored the Sewell Report in 2021 which pushed back against claims that the UK is “institutionally racist”.
In 2008, he used a speech at the Royal Television Society awards to call out broadcasters for failing to appoint non-white people to executive positions, despite droves of equal opportunities policies.
He said at the time: “The fine intentions of equal opportunities - and they are fine intentions - have produced a forest of initiatives, schemes and action plans. But they have not resulted in real change.
“The result has been a growing resentment and irritation at the straitjacket on freedom such policies impose and, paradoxically, the occasionally embarrassing over-compensation in an effort to do the right thing.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Shah said he was “delighted” to be chosen by Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, as the preferred candidate for the chairmanship of the BBC.
He said that he hoped to “help this brilliant organisation meet the complex and diverse challenges it faces over the coming years”.
He added: “The BBC has a great place in British life and a unique duty to reach a wide audience right across the country and I will do all I can to ensure it fulfils this in an increasingly competitive market.”
Mr Shah will face the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee prior to his official appointment as part of a formal vetting process, but these MPs cannot block the appointment.
‘A wealth of experience’
Ms Frazer said: “With a career spanning more than 40 years in TV production and journalism, Dr Shah has a wealth of experience to bring to the position of BBC Chair.”
Mr Shah, 71, was named head of current affairs at the BBC in 1987 and went on to run the broadcaster’s political programming before leaving in 1998, later returning to the corporation as non-executive director at the BBC while acting as chief executive of his TV production company Juniper. He is also understood to be the half-brother of Mohit Bakaya, the controller of BBC Radio 4.
He has served in numerous prominent roles at public institutions, including terms as deputy chairman of the V&A museum and chairman of the Museum of the Home, in which capacity he helped advise on the government’s “retain and explain” approach to preserving contentious statues.
He served as chairman of the Runnymede Trust from 1999 to 2009, overseeing research into race relations in Britain, and most recently co-authored and defended the Sewell Report which undermined claims about the UK being institutionally racist.
His long-time friend and fellow broadcaster Sir Trevor Phillips believes Mr Shah will be the perfect choice as BBC chairman. He told the Telegraph: “If anyone can save the corporation it’s Samir Shah.”
He added: “I think it’s a very shrewd move by the Government, and a very good move for journalism and the BBC. I had my doubts about whether the BBC would make it into the 2030s.
“It stopped understanding the difference between journalism and campaigning. The BBC has been doing its best to destroy itself.”
“I think Samir is a fantastic choice, who will give the BBC the chance of laying into the next decade.”
The position of chairman of the BBC was embroiled in controversy in April when the newly appointed Mr Sharp was found to have failed to declare his involvement in an £800,000 loan for former Prime Minister Mr Johnson.
Mr Sharp said his breach of public appointments rules was “inadvertent and not material”, but stepped down from his role as chairman.
A spokesman for the BBC said: “We welcome the announcement that Samir Shah has been selected as the Government’s preferred candidate to take up the role of BBC Chair and look forward to him joining the Board once the formal process has been completed.”