Kevin Bakhurst

Kevin Bakhurst

RTÉ’S SAVIOUR, new director general, Kevin Bakhurst, has made much of the need for a register of RTÉ employees’ interests and the avoidance of conflicts of interests. Bakhurst knows what he is talking about here as he came under fire from BBC rivals who levelled precisely such a charge against the new DG less than a year ago.

The former BBC executive – then group director of British media regulator, Ofcom – was at the centre of a row when radio broadcaster, Global, said, “There appears to be a conflict of interest at the heart of decisions” involving Bakhurst. This accusation was published by the Telegraph last December.

The background here is not the levels of pay for “The Talent” at the Beeb but the concerns of private radio in the UK about Ofcom’s role as regulator and the claim that it is too close to the BBC. This, claimed the same admittedly self-interested quarters, meant that Ofcom could not be trusted to regulate and restrain the BBC from stifling private competitors.

Specifically, Bakhurst was cited as having a conflict of interest as he was accused of holding talks with the BBC about a new job with his former employer while supervising a review of its operating licence. Bakhurst was then Ofcom director of broadcasting and online content.

The Telegraph claimed that following litigation, emails between Bakhurst and the BBC showed that he had been approached by the Beeb in October 2021 to apply for the vacancy as chief executive, news and current affairs. Further, said the Telegraph, he sent his CV to BBC director general, Tim Davie a fortnight later.

The Telegraph also claimed that shortly after the BBC had approached Bakhurst minutes of an Ofcom board meeting showed no new declarations of interest had been made by Bakhurst or anyone else.
It should be said that in response Bakhurst and indeed Ofcom denied absolutely the report in the Telegraph and accusations from Global, with Ofcom stating, “We are aware of Global’s complaint. To be clear, our Group Director for Broadcasting did not apply for this role and any concerns about a conflict are completely unfounded.”

Goldhawk put the allegations to Bakhurst and he responded as follows: “The answer to this is that the article you refer to was factually wrong. The head hunter from Korn Ferry asked to meet me (online) without mentioning the BBC. So I met him. He asked for me to send them my CV. Which I did.

“At the first meeting, they raised the BBC job. I said it would be a potential conflict of interest for me to apply – which they understood. They asked me to think about it. We had a second online meeting around a fortnight later (as the head hunter had been away on leave) that lasted about 10 minutes at which I said that given the conflict of interest, I would not be applying.
So there were never any ‘talks about me joining the BBC’ beyond them asking if I was interested and me saying no. They confirmed to the BBC/Tim Davie in a subsequent email that I had told them that I was not interested.

“As soon as I had had the first meeting, I told the Ofcom CEO and the head of HR – but I also said that I was not intending to apply. Which I confirmed to them after the second meeting.”

Keyes - Oppenheimer

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