The BBC is facing criticism after it invited its former economics editor Stephanie Flanders – a renowned Remainer – back to present the Today programme.
Insiders suggested the move was part of a bid to include more ‘Alpha females’.
Miss Flanders was so vocal in her opposition to Brexit that she appeared in a TV advert aired a fortnight before the referendum vote urging voters to block it.
She also donated to one of the lobby groups behind a scaremongering billboard campaign this year designed to water down Brexit.
However, these clear ties to the Remain camp did not bar Miss Flanders from presiding over one of the BBC’s most important current affairs shows.
Controversial choice: ‘Alpha female’ Stephanie Flanders has appeared in adverts opposing Brexit
The 49-year-old was a ‘guest presenter’ yesterday alongside Justin Webb and was lined up to take the helm again this morning – even though Today already has five permanent hosts, who are paid nearly £1.5million a year between them.
‘Isn’t it a bit insulting to the BBC’s many equally brilliant reporters that she waltzes in over them?’ Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, wrote on Twitter. Another listener joked: ‘Does Stephanie Flanders presenting with Justin Webb mean there’s been a Ryanair-style mess up with the [Today] holiday rota?’
Other critics said the BBC had breached its impartiality rules.
Miss Flanders was at the BBC for 11 years, but left in 2013 for JP Morgan Asset Management where she was paid £400,000 a year as chief market strategist for Britain and Europe. She quit that job in the summer and is poised to join Bloomberg as the head of its new economics unit.
She is listed as one of the donors to a lobby group called Common Ground, which claims to be ‘fighting to pull our country together at a time when other forces are threatening to tear it apart’.
It was one of the sponsors of a poster campaign in February which featured a series of faces with stickers over their mouths, printed with the words: ‘We did not vote for…price hikes, hate crime, leaving the single market, losing our families, brutal Brexit, deal or no deal.’
The emotive campaign ended with the slogan, ‘People are speaking. Is Parliament listening?’
Critics have said the BBC had breached its impartiality rules
The BBC regularly brings celebrities in as guest editors around Christmas but usually gets stand-in hosts from its large pool of staff journalists. Economics editor Kamal Ahmed and security correspondent Frank Gardner presented Today over the summer.
But insiders said it was trying to get more Alpha females on the programme and had brought in Miss Flanders in the same way that magazines and newspapers might invite guest columnists.
It has asked acclaimed CNN host Christiane Amanpour and the BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie to present the programme in coming weeks. A source said: ‘Today is for grown-ups and Stephanie has a good understanding of subjects, and she sounds like she is on top of things. She is heavyweight.’
They added: ‘When she is on the BBC, she is neutral.’ The insider pointed out that Miss Flanders did not present any of the discussions about Brexit on the programme.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘On occasion we have guest presenters across our programmes, and whether it’s Nick Ferrari on Newsnight or Stephanie Flanders on Today they always adhere to BBC rules on impartiality.’ She would not comment on Miss Flanders’ pay for the work, but it is understood she received a ‘peppercorn’ rate for presenting Today, amounting to £200-£300 per day.
Nick Robinson, one of Today’s regular presenters, may have been too busy to host the programme yesterday – but he still found the time for a public game of one-upmanship with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
Miss Kuenssberg, who succeeded Robinson in the post in 2015, published a message on Twitter offering a sliver of insight into the landmark Brexit speech Theresa May will give today in Florence. ‘Cabinet to sign off Florence speech this morn on what’s described as “open and generous” offer to EU by one minister who is familiar with it,’ she wrote shortly after 7am.
Less than 20 minutes later, Robinson embarrassed Miss Kuenssberg by republishing her message – along with his own, offering significantly more detail.
‘May will tell Germans they won’t have to pay more and Poles they won’t get less as a result of Brexit. Current EU budget won’t need re-opening,’ he tweeted, showing off his continuing ties to Westminster.
The show is not serious enough, says ex-editor
By Claire Ellicott, Political Correspondent for The Daily Mail
Ex-head of BBC television news Roger Mosey
A former Today editor claims the programme is not serious enough and is falling short of its ambition to set the news agenda.
Roger Mosey, ex-head of BBC television news, said it had become more of a magazine than a news showcase. It follows an extended programme on London Fashion Week.
Writing in the Spectator, Mr Mosey, now master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, said that while ‘broadening the agenda’ was a good thing, Today was not the ‘place to experiment’.
He claims resources were diverted to covering Fashion Week rather than the North Korean missile crisis that is threatening to bring the world to the brink of war. Mr Mosey also referred to a programme devoted to the tech industry in California and said there was concern that new editor, former Evening Standard boss Sarah Sands, would prefer it to be more a ‘magazine, than the news section’.
Today should be where the ‘bile in the debate’ about Brexit is discussed and the decisions ‘rigorously analysed’, he said.
‘It cannot lose its commitment to breaking news, which is the reason why such large audiences tune in each morning.’