'Honoured' to join the BBC: James Harding - the man who tore it to bits

New colleagues may be unsettled by the views printed in The Times during his time as editor

After being confirmed as the BBC’s new director of News & Current Affairs, James Harding told his new colleagues that he was “honoured to join a newsroom such as this”.

The former editor of The Times also told journalists at New Broadcasting House that “the BBC, of course, has its critics”.

He should know. The Times, during Harding’s five years of editorship, was among the most strident.

“What the BBC is not, and has never been, is an organisation devoted to investigative journalism. This is neither its forte, nor its primary métier,” opined a leading article in Harding’s paper last November, as the news division which he will lead found itself reeling over the Savile and McAlpine scandals.

Panorama, the BBC’s flagship investigative programme, which is facing a problematic period after criticism of two documentaries, will await his thoughts. The London School of Economics demanded the withdrawal of a programme on North Korea, shown on Monday night, because it allegedly endangered students used as cover by the presenter John Sweeney. And a producer working on a separate investigation into homes in the Caribbean has resigned after allegations that he attempted to bribe a security guard.

Addressing staff, Mr Harding certainly did not say investigative journalism should not be the BBC’s forte. “It is charged with pursuing journalism in the public interest and it can – and must – produce the investigative journalism and analytical reporting that delivers on this mission to inquire and explain,” he said.

Many BBC journalists feel squeezed by cuts resulting from a frozen licence fee. But The Times had no sympathy in a leader published by Harding last July. “The BBC distorts and suffocates an industry. It is too big,” it said. “The BBC’s charter will be up for renewal in 2016. It stretches credibility that it could or should be renewed in its current form.”

Today his tone was different. “The BBC plays a role that should make us all immensely proud.”

The Times, of course, is part of a commercial media empire that is threatened by the BBC. Leading articles do not necessarily represent the personal views of the editor. And by the time Mr Harding resigned in December he had fallen out with Mr Murdoch, as he indicated in his resignation email. “It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times.”

Among the biggest BBC targets for The Times under Mr Harding was the BBC website, a major threat to subscription-only sites like the one set up by Rupert Murdoch in 2010. “The BBC ought to be a creative force for entrepreneurship. In reality it stifles innovation,” said a Times leader. “Its websites... have destroyed jobs, livelihoods and creativity by dumping free content on to markets where its rivals have no public subsidy.”

Mr Harding will spend four months preparing for the transition in roles. Among his tasks will be to make BBC news output attractive to young people. That does not sit well with Times demands in 2010 for the BBC to “consider selling Radio1”, home of youth news service Newsbeat, or to “give up BBC Three”, which has made award-winning documentaries for the under 35s. The paper, under Mr Harding, also used its leaders to call for the BBC to be regulated by Ofcom and berated the BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten for “arrogance and defensiveness”. It complained repeatedly of BBC executives earning “more than the Prime Minister” (as will Mr Harding, who will have a salary of £340,000).

He was an extremely popular editor and his task is to build a similar morale among the BBC journalists who recently went on strike over their working conditions and who, he acknowledged, have been through a turbulent time. “I know these last months have been hard going, but I hope that the recent chastening of the BBC will have, if anything, renewed our ambition,” he said. He must hope they believe his latest battle cry – and not the withering words he signed off while editing Mr Murdoch’s “Thunderer”.

A change of tune? The Times on the BBC

“The BBC distorts and suffocates an industry. It is too big.”

“Big, bloated and cunning” – headline of a leader on the BBC, 2010

“The BBC ought to be a creative force for entrepreneurship. In reality it stifles innovation.”

“Its websites, which may seem like a handy and innocuous extension of its news gathering, have destroyed jobs, livelihoods and creativity.”

“What the BBC is not, and never has been, is an organisation devoted to investigative journalism.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Guru Careers: Product Design Engineer / UX Designer

£20 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a tech savvy Product Design Engineer /...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor