Incoming BBC Natural History Unit boss Andrew Jackson has found himself at the centre of a conflict of interest row - weeks before he even starts the new job.
Jackson, currently on gardening leave since stepping down as Tigress Productions’ managing director, has come under fire from the Bristol Evening Post after it emerged the winner of a Blue Peter coin design competition is his daughter. Nine-year old Florence Jackson beat more than 17,000 entrants in a contest to design a new coin for the 2012 Olympics.
The BBC has robustly defended the win, however, noting that the Blue Peter team did not know about the family link until last week.
“We strongly refute any allegations of wrongdoing. The judging panel was not given any indication of the name, sex or age of any of the entrants. Their decision was based purely on the design of the coin,” a spokeswoman said.
“Any suggestion that anyone at the BBC could have had undue influence on the selection of the winning entry is totally wrong and without any foundation whatsoever. The competition closed in March, before any discussions between the NHU and Jackson. The eventual winner was selected as a finalist in May. Andrew is due to start at the NHU at the end of October.”
As reported Jackson was mounting a management buyout attempt of Tigress in May, which subsequently failed. He did not take the NHU job until July.
It is also understood Florence Jackson entered the competition before Andrew Jackson engaged in serious discussions about the NHU job and, when he eventually accepted the position, that he flagged up the fact that she had made the shortlist with the BBC.
The row – which has already been picked up by the Daily Mail – highlights the increasing level of press scrutiny that accompanies senior BBC positions. This summer BBC Vision director Jana Bennett and BBC1 controller Jay Hunt also came under attack for alleged conflicts of interest because their husbands have companies which win BBC contracts.
The BBC defended both women. However, Hunt admitted at the Edinburgh Television Festival that the row had been “extremely tough” to deal with and that the “bad” of her job sometimes “doesn’t completely balance” with the good. She also said she worried that the level of press intrusion will put other women off senior BBC jobs.
“It was extremely hard for my family and friends to read and I think me being a woman certainly played a part in it. [I have been struck by] how many women have been put off by what’s happened to me and that I think that is quite dispiriting. I think that’s alarming.”