Turness joined NBC News in 2013, becoming the first female president of an American network news division, and later served as president of the network’s global arm.
Between 2004 and 2013 she was editor of ITV News – the first woman to hold the role.
She will be paid a salary of £400,000, an increase on Unsworth’s by around £60,000, and her start date will be confirmed in due course, the BBC said.
There had been speculation that Unsworth’s deputies Jonathan Munro, deputy director of BBC News, and Jamie Angus, senior controller of BBC News output and commissioning, were frontrunners for the role.
However, the position has gone to an external candidate.
Turness was reportedly wooed by the BBC’s director-general Tim Davie for the position, despite earlier ruling herself out for the role.
News of her appointment was warmly received by media figures, with former ITV News colleague Alastair Stewart calling her “the stand out news executive of her generation”.
Turness will inherit a newsroom that is undergoing a controversial restructuring process and a news team that has experienced recent redundancies due to growing financial pressures.
She will also be helming the BBC as it comes under increased political scrutiny and will soon have to make a number of key staffing decisions.
Huw Edwards, the BBC’s top news anchor, has signaled that he expects to leave the News at Ten in early 2023. Laura Kuenssberg has decided to step down as political editor and Andrew Marr is also leaving.
Turness made her name during her role as editor of ITV news and moved to New York in 2013 to run the NBC News operation. In that role she was the first woman to run a major US news network.
She married John Toker, in 2011. A fellow journalist, Mr Toker spent many years at ITN News before moving to the Cabinet Office to become a senior press chief before retiring in 2012.
Mr Toker has tweeted his dislike of Labour politicians Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn in the past, calling both men “gutless”. Commenting on Corbyn’s response to the US air strike on Jihadi John, Mr Toker posted in 2015: “Corbyn shows the experience which can only come from being a Labour Party leader, pacifist, Troops Out, CND supporter. Gutless.”
Commenting on her appointment on Thursday, Turness said: “In the UK and around the world there has never been a greater need for the BBC’s powerful brand of impartial, trusted journalism.
“It is a great privilege to be asked to lead and grow BBC News at a time of accelerated digital growth and innovation, when its content is reaching more global consumers on more platforms than ever before.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “Deborah brings a wealth of experience, insight, first-class editorial judgment, and a strong track record of delivery. She is a passionate advocate for the power of impartial journalism and a great believer in the BBC and the role we play, in the UK and globally.
“She will do a brilliant job of leading our news and current affairs as we deliver on the BBC’s public service mission in the digital age.”
The BBC said it had renamed the position from director to chief executive to reflect its “ambition to continue to build the BBC’s global news brand and continue to grow its news services”.
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