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Incoming BBC chair promises diversity of geography, class, thought, race, gender and disability during tenure

Incoming BBC chair Samir Shah has promised diversity of geography, class, thought, race, gender and disability under his tenure in a note to all BBC staff at the start of his tenure.

Shah takes over the role from Dame Elan Closs Stephens, who was appointed as interim chair following Richard Sharp’s resignation on publication of the Heppinstall Report in April 2023, revealing breaches of BBC rules in his relationship with former PM Boris Johnson.

The new chair has worked in a variety of broadcast executive roles previously, including at the BBC, where he first worked in 1987 as current affairs lead, and LWT. He initally graduated with a Bachelor’s in Geography from the University of Hull before winning a doctorate from Oxford.

Addressing staff in his opening note, Shah thanked Closs Stephens for her service, and went on:

“Arguably the most important of my responsibilities is to safeguard [The BBC’s] independence. Our reputation here, and in the rest of the world, rests on this fundamental concept. It is the duty of the Chair and the Board to protect that independence – and it is a duty I promise to discharge.

“There is no doubt that the BBC is a much-valued presence in people’s homes, reaching around 9 out of 10 adults a week. I look forward to supporting Tim Davie and his team, and I’m confident they will ensure the BBC continues to hold a unique place in British cultural life.”

Shah conceded that he joins the corporation at a pivotal time, however, with digital advances reshaping how content is created and consumed:

“I join at a crucial time,” he said. “Streamers and social media platforms are competing for audiences, and their growth brings new questions for our future: What is the point and purpose of the BBC in this new media environment? Can we stay relevant to the lives of the British people? These are increasingly asked, both at street level and in the corridors of power. The challenge posed by those questions must be demonstrably met. Show, don’t tell, as the saying goes.”

Shah then addressed diversity at the BBC, including the geography promise which is hopefully good news for the North’s production and broadcast sector:

“We must be the home of the most trusted news across the UK and, indeed, the world. We must be the home for showcasing the full range of British culture and talent – geographically, of course, but also in terms of class and thought (in all its diversity), alongside race, gender and disability. And we must also simply be a home. In a world where there are forces fracturing society, we should be a sanctuary for empathy and understanding. We are a thread that binds the fabric of society, a place where people from all walks of life, with every kind of view, can find something to enjoy.”

The new chair then turned to the thorny subject of money:

“All this is made possible because the British public pay for the BBC,” he noted. “In the coming years there is going to be a national debate about how to fund what we do. Whatever our longer-term funding model, there are also nearer-term budgetary pressures and a clear imperative to invest in digital technology now. The way audiences consume content is evolving rapidly and we must adapt and innovate to ensure that the BBC remains relevant and accessible to all. The success story that is our commercial operations will of course help the money go further.

“But we will still need to live within our means in a tough financial situation. That involves thinking very hard about what we should stop doing or do very differently. My role – and that of the Board – is to work with the organisation as we confront hard choices and tough decisions.”

Shah ended on a more upbeat note, possibly quoting Einstein and praising British culture:

“It’s not all about pounds, shillings, and pence,” he asserted. “As Einstein reputedly said, ‘not everything that counts can be counted.’ And one of those unmeasurable things is how the BBC projects British values, culture, and influence onto the global stage. Taken together – our creative storytelling, our impartial journalism and our global reach – makes the BBC an extraordinary force for good in Britain and the world.

“I am delighted to be back and I’m confident that with your collective help, we will ensure the BBC continues to flourish now and for generations to come.”

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