Amol Rajan has just been appointed the BBC’s first ever Media Editor, so congratulations are in order.
But what qualifies the 33-year-old for this prestigious publicly-funded post?
He is a former editor of the Independent, so he has several years of frontline experience running a media property. It is unfortunate that he is infamous in media circles for being the last ever editor of the Independent’s print edition, the newspaper having folded on his watch earlier this year, but he can hardly be blamed personally for its death. It had teetered on the brink for years.
In his capacity as the Independent’s editor – and to the obvious dismay of some of his left-leaning readers – Rajan backed the continuation of the Coalition government, using his newspaper to suggest it deserved to be returned to government at the 2015 general election.
Doesn’t it worry the BBC that its new Media Editor set out his political stall so publicly? Might some BBC licence fee payers conclude that Rajan’s support for David Cameron’s party impacts on his ability to cover objectively the Tory government’s stance on some media matter or other in future?
If so, these concerns were not obviously shared by BBC news chief James Harding, whose fingerprints are all over Rajan’s appointment.
Meanwhile, Rajan has also made his views clear on other political issues.
In September he suggested that he was anti-Brexit by praising as “brilliant” an advert produced – but never used – by the Remain camp which criticised Nigel Farage:
Yes it's personal, but I have to say this poster that Remain never used is rather brilliant – and I suspect may have kept Britain in Europe pic.twitter.com/ZtjA4lpPDH
— amol rajan (@amolrajan) September 24, 2016
And just last month he was a guest on BBC1 programme Question Time. He used that opportunity to call Donald Trump a “psychopath” (see 28.15 below).The definition of a psychopath is “a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour”. (He went on to call him “a lying, racist, sexist bully”). Unless he has access to Trump’s medical records, surely this was an ill-judged slur from a would-be BBC Media Editor.
Mysteriously, Rajan’s airing of these views – however understandable – didn’t harm his chances of joining the ranks of the BBC’s senior journalists either. Yet BBC journalists are not supposed to reveal their personal opinion on such matters in case it dents the corporation’s reputation for impartiality.
In his new job Rajan will apparently cover – among other things – mergers, digital advances and media trends.
He is known to be very close to the Lebedevs, co-owners of the Evening Standard and Independent digital edition. The family is headed by Alexander Lebedev, a 56-year-old oligarch who once worked for the KGB. His son is 36-year-old Evgeny Lebedev.
Rajan is described by a former Independent staffer as having served as Evgeny’s “bag man” as well as being one of his former editors, a job for which he was probably paid about £150,000 a year – maybe more. What will happen if he is called upon as BBC Media Editor to report on a story involving these Russian-born UK media players? Will he have to sub-contract that job to a colleague?
On the subject of money, he will apparently remain as a radio presenter on the BBC Asian Network, where he hosts a morning speech programme. As he is already on the BBC payroll, the question will inevitably arise: what will he be paid for taking on this second BBC job?
In 2014 Rajan opined: “There is astonishing waste at the BBC, which ought to have infinitely more budgetary discipline than it does. That said, it is the most precious cultural institution in Britain: central to our history and essential to our future. Just use it better.”
Will he in his new role be investigating further his employer’s wasteful ways? Don’t bet on it.
Putting all of this together, it seems fair to ask whether another journalist would have been made BBC Media Editor if they had recently come out in support of David Cameron, lambasted Donald Trump, and were close to an existing media conglomerate.
It’s hard to imagine they would, leaving Rajan in the unenviable position of potentially facing more scrutiny than he – and James Harding – might have wanted.