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If anyone can save the BBC, it’s Samir Shah

Samir Shah is a leading member of the counter-establishment establishment. Credit: Gov.uk

December 7, 2023 - 7:00am

If anyone can save the BBC, it is probably Samir Shah. He is a media entrepreneur and the first BBC chair to have built his own private sector business. He was once a journalist, then a programme-maker, and understands the distinction between reporting and campaigning, which many young journalists at the corporation seem to struggle with. He is a clear and rigorous thinker who knows how to run a meeting, according to those who have sat in many of them.

Perhaps most importantly, in these over-politicised times, he is a leading member of the counter-establishment establishment, among whom people of colour feature prominently, including his fellow secular Muslim Kishwer Falkner at the EHRC. 

By the counter-establishment establishment I mean people who are capable of resisting the blandishments and sometimes irrational groupthink of a modern progressivism that has undue influence at the top of British society, including at the BBC. The arrival of a Starmer government is likely to strengthen that progressivism, whatever the Labour leader himself says, and we need bulwarks of intelligent common sense, such as Shah, to resist it.

He has already won several decorations in this battle. As chair of the Museum of the Home he resisted the bid by some members of staff to pull down the statue of the museum’s 17th-century benefactor Robert Geffrye, who had some links to the slave trade. Shah’s insistence that due process be observed led to the establishment of the Heritage Advisory Group and the end of the statue madness. 

He was also a member of the Tony Sewell-led CRED commission on race that challenged some of the orthodoxies of today’s anti-racism. And, more recently, he was tasked, alongside Madeleine Sumption of the Migration Observatory, with reviewing the BBC’s coverage of immigration. I was one of many people interviewed for the review and, without claiming to read his mind, he did not seem unsympathetic to the claim that a relaxed, liberal, London-centric view was too evident in the coverage. One small example: on the day I was interviewed there was an announcement of another big leap in numbers and BBC News led on how quickly asylum claims were being processed. 

His production company Juniper TV made the 2016 documentary fronted by Trevor Phillips detailing what British Muslims really think about gays, Jews, and terrorism, among other subjects. It caused an uproar. But unlike Phillips, his close friend who started at London Weekend Television on the same day in 1979, Shah has been adept at keeping out of the headlines. “The thing about Samir is that he is a very careful and rigorous thinker,” says Phillips. “He is capable of being very dispassionate and, by the way, he is certainly not a Tory.” After their stint at LWT, Shah went off to Channel Four to make the programme Eastern Eye while Phillips made Black on Black. 

Shah, like Phillips and many other members of the counter-establishment establishment, has been on a journey. This extends from a PhD on the French Marxist theoretician Louis Althusser to writing about the excesses of race politics in the Spectator (including his recollection of constantly being mistaken for a minicab driver in media offices when brown-skinned people were rarer). 

Restoring faith in the BBC as an efficiently run organisation, as an impartial purveyor of news that is also capable of holding power to account (in a less shrill way than Newsnight), and as an institution that can still speak to the whole country in more divided times, may be an impossible job.

Like many other people of my age and outlook I have largely given up on BBC radio and TV, preferring podcasts for ideas and opinion and streaming services for drama. When I was drawn back to it during the pandemic I was shocked by how dumbed-down and emotional most of the coverage was. And whenever I am driving and turn on Radio 4, it is usually only a matter of minutes before some minority cause is being advocated.  

As it happens it is Shah’s half-brother, Mohit Bakaya, who has been running Radio 4 since 2019. Bakaya is said to share much of Shah’s sceptical outlook, yet in my unscientific sampling of the station the campaigners still have a loud voice (some conservative alternatives have made it onto the schedule, such as comedian Geoff Norcott). This may be a warning not to place excessive faith in the man at the top to be able to change much, at least not at all quickly.

The NHS and the BBC are two great institutions that help to distinguish us from the US, and both are in poor health. Shah is returning to the BBC after 25 years, having served as head of television current affairs and political journalism, so he will have some sense of the enormity of the task facing him. He was raised a Jain in India before coming to England in 1960 aged 9 and later converting to Islam to marry his wife Belkis. One of Jainism’s guiding principles is to always tell the truth. The BBC certainly needs plenty of brutal honesty from Shah. 


David Goodhart is the author of Head, Hand, Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century. He is head of the Demography unit at the think tank Policy Exchange.

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Peter Principle
Peter Principle
7 months ago

This piece seems a bit optimistic about the impact Mr Shah can have as the next BBC Chair. The Chair leads the BBC Board which is supposed to ensure the delivery of the BBC Mission, as set out in the BBC Charter. The Charter says that the BBC is to “act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain”.
The problem that Mr Shas is going to face is the interpretation of that word “impartial”. As an organization the BBC is drunk on woke and many of its staffers actually believe that they ARE being impartial when they are spouting jiggery-wokery. Even persuading the Board to change their way of thinking will be a gargantuan task.

Last edited 7 months ago by Peter Principle
N Satori
N Satori
7 months ago

Strangely enough this piece reminds me of the way in which the BBC and other MSM used to report on new leaders of the Soviet Union. From Alexei Kosygin onward there was always much talk about how the latest apparatchik to be given the top job would be some sort of reformer and liberaliser. A new better USSR must be on the horizon. In the end, of course, the better USSR was a dead USSR.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
7 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Well put Sir!

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
7 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Yes, very good indeed. It reminds me too, of those broadcasts. It has the sort of twittering wistfulness that the BBC used to adopt when telling us that the latest stony-faced Stalinist ogre in the Kremlin, just might turn out to be Father Christmas in disguise.

Last edited 7 months ago by Albireo Double
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago

A good profile of Samir Shah whose appointment seems good news but with a realistic warning regarding the limited effect that a Chairman can have in turning the tanker of woke that is the BBC.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
7 months ago

A fine good man. But all too late. And he is not the Director General and so will be unable to control and de-radicalize a fear-riven staff captured and slave to radical identitarian ideology and Linkerism.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
7 months ago

The author seems to be describing Mr Shah as a secular Muslim. But he also extols the virtues of his Jainism.

We are told that Mr Shah converted to Islam in order to marry his wife. My understanding is that Islam is not terribly tolerant of its adherents subscribing to other faiths instead or in addition to Islam. I believe the relevant word is apostasy and the sentence is sometimes death.

I hope I am wrong about this. But if I am not, then it would be courteous of the author to have let us know, which set of religions teachings Mr Shah subscribes to and will apply in his daily working life.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
7 months ago

I will go back to the BBC when Patrick Christy is presenting Newsnight and Leo Kearse is on hignfy. Until then, forget it.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
7 months ago

So, the new Chair of the BBC is capable of independent thought, apparently.
I’m not sure whether to laugh or crack open a bottle of warm prosecco.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
7 months ago

Referring to a corporatist power grab as “the pandemic” is itself evidence of a “relaxed, liberal, London-centric view“. It’s certainly not “telling the truth”.

And there’s the problem. The transhumanist, self- and world-hating architects of Project Mindf**k (look it up if you don’t what I am talking about. It’s dark) have by and large succeeded in shattering our shared sense of reality. No-one – the BBC and learned academics included – can put it back together again. They’ve literally (cf “pandemic”) redefined the very words that we use, making effective opposition near-impossible, unless one is willing and able to break free of their manipulative values-laden vocabulary and grammar.

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. Explaining what one sees to those who can’t or, perhaps more accurately, don’t want to see it is like trying to explain the concept of water to a complacent goldfish.

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

The medical definition of a pandemic is “an epidemic occurring on a scale that crosses international boundaries, usually affecting people on a worldwide scale”.
So what exactly was the BBC describing as a pandemic which you would prefer them to call a “corporatist power grab”?

Last edited 7 months ago by Philip Burrell
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
7 months ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

Philip, or should I call you 84r9d6zjn9 (ffs if you make a comment using your fake alias don’t subsequently edit it!) what exactly are you? A paid-for corporate agent, a sniping bot, or an actual agentic free-thinking human named by his loving parents, “Philip”?

I won’t bother to engage on the substance of your post because, if you are actually a sentient human, you will know it’s utter nonsense.

I would call on Unherd to rid us of these unreal trolls – they damage the fabric of our democracy and certainly that of this forum.

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

No that is my real name and I was simply editing so that the post was grammatically correct. Quite why that combination of letters and numbers came up when I was editing, I have no idea. Best to address your query to Unherd rather than myself.
I did note that you failed to address the point I was making. I have to assume that your comment was in reference to BBC coverage of Covid 19. You accused the BBC of redefining words but your example is completely false. Covid 19 was a pandemic according to the medical definition I gave and therefore the BBC was correct in using that word. Calling Covid 19 a “corporatist power grab” is an opinion and if the BBC were to describe Covid 19 as such then criticism of them would be fully justified.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
7 months ago
Reply to  Philip Burrell

Thanks for your reply, Philip. Please accept my apologies that the tone and content of my reply to you was unnecessarily aggressive. I was having a bad day but it doesn’t excuse it. Sorry for my misunderstanding.

Anyway, on the substance of the point: what is the medical definition of “pandemic”, in your estimation? The WHO have been coy about giving a clear definition but their 2003 influenza preparedness say that “An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus appears against which the human population has no immunity, resulting in several, simultaneous epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness”. This was changed a month before the declaration of the H1N1 (swine flu) “pandemic” of 2009 to “Influenza pandemics occur when a new influenza A virus emerges to which the
population has little or no immunity.” H1N1 would not have been declared a pandemic under the old definition. A WHO-appointed independent review committee in 2011 faulted the WHO for “inadequately dispelling confusion about the definition of a pandemic”.

They still are not clear on this because the lack of clarity gives them power to declare a “pandemic” as and when it suits them. Once a pandemic is declared, money and power flows their way.

If you’re still in the paradigm in which you believe that authorities such as the WHO are benign, well-meaning groups of experts concerned with protecting your health you are, in my view, sadly very deeply mistaken. I can’t make you see it if you don’t want to see it but if you do want approach this question with an open mind I would kindly invite you sit down and read through the second link below,

For more detail see

https://archive.hshsl.umaryland.edu/bitstream/handle/10713/6669/Doshi_ElusiveDefinitionPandemicInfluenza_2011.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

and

https://www.pandata.org/wp-content/uploads/PANDA_WHO_Review.pdf (pp33-35)

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
7 months ago

It’s time to give up on the BBC. Left-wing ideology is too deeply ingrained. Cut it loose from the public teat and let it compete with the rest of the broadcast media. It will sink or swim; my money is on the former.

Robert Routledge
Robert Routledge
7 months ago

Is the B B. C. Even worth saving? Surely the U K has better things to spend it’s tax money on

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
7 months ago

“The NHS and the BBC are two great institutions that help to distinguish us from the US…”
They sure do!

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
7 months ago

Biased British Broadcasting: BBC 😉

Crispin Jewitt
Crispin Jewitt
7 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

British Brainwashing Corporation, anyone?

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
7 months ago

Sounds as though he’s been appointed to the wrong job – he ought to be DG, chairman will have little direct influence.