Richard Sharp, the chairman of the BBC, resigned on Friday after an independent audit concluded he violated regulations by failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest in his role in negotiating a $1 million loan for then-prime minister Boris Johnson.
His departure amid a cronyism scandal comes at a time when the impartiality of the publicly-funded British broadcaster is under increased political scrutiny. Last month, a feud with high-profile presenter Gary Lineker over tweets criticizing government policies grabbed national news.
Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker and donor to the governing Conservative Party, was made chairman in 2021.
But he has been under pressure since February when a committee of lawmakers said he had made “significant errors of judgement” in failing to declare his involvement in the loan.
Sharp agreed to stay on until the end of June while the government searches for a replacement.
While the government appoints the chairman of the BBC, the broadcaster’s independence from government is what helps make it a central presence in British cultural life. It is funded by a license fee paid by TV-watching households.
The opposition Labour Party’s culture spokeswoman Lucy Powell said the Conservative government’s “sleaze and cronyism” had damaged the BBC’s reputation and “a truly independent and robust process” was needed to appoint Sharp’s successor.
Asked by reporters whether that replacement should be a non-political appointment, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who worked with Sharp at Goldman Sachs, said: “There’s an established appointments process for all these things and it will be right that we turn to that when the time is right.”
Questions about the BBC’s neutrality are just one of the challenges it faces, along with trying to stay relevant to younger audiences who no longer watch live television, while also fighting threats to its funding from some lawmakers.