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Fran Unsworth

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Fran Unsworth
Unsworth in 2019
Francesca Mary Unsworth

(1957-12-29) 29 December 1957 (age 66)
Alma materUniversity of Manchester
  • Journalist
  • media executive
Years active1981–2022
TitleDirector of News & Current Affairs, BBC News

Francesca Mary Unsworth (born 29 December 1957) is a British journalist and media executive. From January 2018 to 2022, she was Director, News & Current Affairs for BBC News.[1][2] She was appointed in succession to James Harding. Before then, she served in various senior positions in the BBC, including director of the BBC World Service Group. Previously, she was acting director of News at the BBC from November 2012 until August 2013 and a member of the BBC's executive board. In 2013, she was appointed deputy director of News and Current Affairs.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Unsworth was born on 1957 in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.[4] She attended St Dominic's High School, Stoke-on-Trent, a direct grant grammar school.[3][5] She studied drama at the University of Manchester but was unable to get into a drama school and so switched careers to publishing in London.[6]

BBC career[edit]

Unsworth began her broadcasting career in local radio, working at BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Radio Bristol, before going on to become producer of Radio 1's Newsbeat. In 1990, she moved to Radio 4 and was based in Washington as a radio producer for the network during the Gulf crisis of 1990–1991. She worked as a producer on The World at One and PM while at Radio 4.[7]

She moved to the BBC's Newsgathering Department in 1993, where she had responsibility for UK domestic news, and was a producer and editor for the BBC One O'Clock News and the BBC Six O'Clock News. Unsworth was appointed Head of Newsgathering in January 2005.[8]

In December 2005, Unsworth appeared on the BBC's Newswatch programme, responding to accusations of double standards in BBC News reporting of racial crimes when white people were the victims. Complainants suggested the BBC buried stories such as the racist murder of Kriss Donald, with comparable murders involving black victims given twelve times more coverage and the opening of an arts centre in Gateshead reported in preference to Donald's murder. Unsworth admitted the case had not been covered sufficiently and that there had been space to do so.[9] Her department again failed to cover the case adequately the following year.[10][11] In 2011, BBC News was criticised for referring to looters in the 2011 London riots as "protesters", even two days into the violence.[12] In response to 62 complaints about the matter, Unsworth conceded that the BBC had been wrong to do so.[13]

In November 2012, Unsworth was appointed acting director of News after Helen Boaden stepped aside while Nick Pollard prepared his report into the BBC's non-coverage of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal.[14][15] She ceased working in this role in August 2013 and was appointed deputy director of News and Current Affairs.[3] In November 2013, Unsworth was replaced as Head of Newsgathering by Jonathan Munro.[16]

In August 2014, Unsworth ordered helicopter filming of a police raid on a mansion belonging to singer Cliff Richard. The coverage led to Richard suing the BBC for breach of privacy.[17] On 8 May 2018, The Guardian reported: "Sir Cliff Richard is seeking a payment of at least £560,000 from the BBC following the broadcaster's coverage of a police raid at his home in 2014." In July, Richard was awarded £210,000 in damages and the BBC agreed to pay £2 million in legal costs. Unsworth apologised to Richard and stated that "there were elements of its coverage that should have been handled differently" but criticised the ruling as an attack on liberty and press freedoms.[18][19]

In January 2018, she was invited to present evidence at a parliamentary select committee meeting on gender pay gap at the BBC. This was initiated by the resignation of the then China editor Carrie Gracie in the same month over the same issue. Unsworth defended the pay gap between Grace and the BBC's North America editor Jon Sopel as Sopel was "on air twice as much" and that "The China job [is] a more features-based agenda".[20] Gracie also reported that Unsworth had privately commented to a colleague that the pay gap was due to her being part-time.[21] Unsworth denied this stating "I did the contract, I knew she wasn't" but apologised to her for causing a 'misunderstanding' due to 'loose' language.[22] BBC and Gracie agreed to an equal pay deal in June 2018 and she donated the back pay awarded to charity.[23]

In September 2021, it was announced that Unsworth will leave the BBC in 2022 after 40 years.[24]

Other roles[edit]

Unsworth was president of the Society of Editors between 2011 and 2012, and is a board member of the organisation.[25][26][27] She is also a board member of the European Union's Erasmus Mundus programme.[28]


  1. ^ Inside the BBC, Executive Committee, Francesca Unsworth, Director, News and Current Affairs retrieved 1 February 2018
  2. ^ "BBC appoints Fran Unsworth as next head of news". BBC News. 15 December 2017. Archived from the original on 15 December 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "BBC – Francesca Unsworth, Director, BBC World Service Group and Deputy Director of News and Current Affairs – Inside the BBC". About the BBC. Archived from the original on 20 November 2017. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Unsworth, Francesca Mary, (born 29 Dec. 1957), Director, News and Current Affairs, BBC News, since 2018". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2019. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u273246. ISBN 978-0-19-954088-4. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  5. ^ "Toffs at the top". Press Gazette. 7 October 2012. Archived from the original on 7 October 2012.
  6. ^ "Fran Unsworth: Facing the challenges for BBC News head on". Royal Television Society. April 2019.
  7. ^ "Francesca Unsworth". About the BBC. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Profile: Francesca Unsworth". BBC News. 12 November 2012. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
  9. ^ Presenter:Raymond Snoddy, Interviewee: Fran Unsworth (11 December 2005). "NewsWatch". NewsWatch. London, UK. BBC. BBC 1, BBC News Channel. Archived from the original on 20 October 2006.
  10. ^ Presenter:Raymond Snoddy, Interviewee: Peter Horrocks (30 October 2006). "NewsWatch". NewsWatch. London, UK. BBC. BBC 1, BBC News Channel. Archived from the original on 4 November 2013.
  11. ^ The BBC Trust (23 January 2008). "Editorial Standards Findings: Appeals to the Trust and other editorial standards matters considered by the Editorial Standards Committee" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  12. ^ "London riots: BBC criticised for branding thugs as 'protesters'". Telegraph.co.uk. Archived from the original on 22 September 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  13. ^ "London rioters are not 'protesters', admits BBC | Media | the Guardian". TheGuardian.com. Archived from the original on 5 October 2017. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  14. ^ "BBC news executives 'step aside'". BBC News. 12 November 2012. Archived from the original on 8 April 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  15. ^ "Fran Unsworth named new director of BBC News". Digital Spy. 12 November 2012. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  16. ^ "BBC News announces two new senior appointments". BBC. Archived from the original on 24 November 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  17. ^ Bowcott, Owen (12 April 2018). "Coverage of raid on Cliff Richard's home was in public interest, BBC tells court". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  18. ^ Waterson, Jim (18 July 2018). "Cliff Richard wins £210,000 in damages over BBC privacy case". The Guardian.
  19. ^ "Sir Cliff Richard: BBC pays £2m in final settlement after privacy case". BBC News. 4 September 2019.
  20. ^ Singh, Anita (29 June 2018). "Carrie Gracie wins £280,000 in pay battle with BBC as broadcaster apologises over unequal salary". The Daily Telegraph.
  21. ^ Ruddick, Graham (31 January 2018). "Trust is broken at BBC over equal pay, Carrie Gracie tells MPs". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "Fran Unsworth: I did not say Carrie Gracie was part-time". The Irish News. 31 January 2018.
  23. ^ Sweney, Mark (29 June 2018). "BBC reaches equal pay deal with former China editor Carrie Gracie". The Guardian.
  24. ^ "Fran Unsworth to leave BBC". BBC Media Centre. 7 September 2021. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  25. ^ "Society of Editors, Fighting for media freedom". Societyofeditors.co.uk. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  26. ^ "Society of Editors 2012: Show goes on despite the notable absentees". Press Gazette. Archived from the original on 22 September 2017. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  27. ^ "Fighting for media freedom". Society of Editors. Archived from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  28. ^ "BBC Declaration of Personal Interests" (PDF). Downloads.bbc.co.uk. Archived (PDF) from the original on 11 August 2014. Retrieved 23 September 2017.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Peter Horrocks
BBC World Service

Succeeded by
Jamie Angus