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BBC chief quits over role in Boris Johnson loan

Richard Sharp
Richard Sharp Copyright HANDOUT/AFP
Copyright HANDOUT/AFP
By Euronews with AP
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The chairman of the BBC Richard Sharp has quit after a report found he failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest over his role in arranging a loan more than two years ago for Boris Johnson

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The chairman of the BBC has resigned.  Richard Sharp said he would be leaving his job after a report found he failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest with then prime minister Boris Johnson.

The publicly funded national broadcaster has been under political pressure after it was revealed that Richard Sharp helped arrange the line of credit weeks before he was appointed to the BBC post on the government’s recommendation.

The €900,000 line of credit came from wealthy Canadian businessman Sam Blyth, a distant cousin of Johnson's. It was facilitated by Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Conservative Party donor, who arranged a meeting between Blyth and the U.K.'s top civil servant to discuss Blyth's offer of financial help.

Johnson was then Conservative Party leader as well as British prime minister.

Sharp said he had made an “inadvertent” breach of the rules and was quitting to “prioritize the interests of the BBC.”

“I feel that this matter may well be a distraction from the corporation’s good work were I to remain in post until the end of my term," he said.

Sharp said he would remain in his BBC role until the end of June while the search for a successor takes place.

A report on the episode by senior lawyer Adam Heppinstall published Friday found Sharp “failed to disclose potential perceived conflicts of interest."

The report found Sharp did not reveal his role in the loan guarantee to the BBC appointments panel before he was appointed chairman in early 2021.

"There is a risk of a perception that Mr Sharp was recommended for appointment because he assisted … the former prime minister in a private financial matter,” Heppinstall wrote in his report.

“There may well have been a risk of a perception that Mr Sharp would not be independent from the former prime minister, if appointed,” he said.

Conservative government accused of undermining BBC's impartiality

Opposition politicians accused the Conservative government of undermining the BBC's impartiality.

“This breach has caused untold damage to the reputation of the BBC and seriously undermined its independence as a result of the Conservatives’ sleaze and cronyism," Labour Party culture spokeswoman Lucy Powell said.

The loan investigation is the latest uncomfortable episode for the 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by a license fee paid by all households with a television and has a duty to be impartial in its news coverage.

The public broadcaster is frequently a political football, with some members of the Conservative government seeing a leftist slant in its news output and some liberals accusing it of having a conservative bias.

The BBC was engulfed in a storm over free speech and political bias in March when its leading sports presenter, former England soccer player Gary Lineker, criticized the government’s immigration policy on social media.

Lineker was suspended – and then restored after other sports presenters, analysts and Premier League players boycotted the BBC airwaves in solidarity.

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