Chris Mason: who is the BBC’s new political editor?
Long-time correspondent and presenter seen as safe pair of hands during time of transition
Chris Mason has come from relative obscurity to land one of the most coveted and prestigious jobs in British journalism.
The 42-year-old presenter was the surprise choice to replace Laura Kuenssberg as the BBC’s new political editor in April after a host of more well-known names ruled themselves out and a women-only shortlist was scrapped by executives.
While unexpected, Mason is seen as a safe pair of hands during a time of transition for the broadcaster’s news department following a series of high-profile departures and constant accusations of political bias.
What is his background?
Born in Bradford, West Yorkshire in 1980, both Mason’s parents were primary school teachers.
While he is now required to “help millions of viewers to navigate Westminster drama from the doorstep of Downing Street”, The Times reported that he “got his break in more modest surroundings, battling against fake BBC news and introducing items like Babes on the Box for a haphazard student television show.”
Hailing the “straight-talking grammar school-educated ‘proud Yorkshireman’ from a working-class background”, the Daily Mail said he “briefly flirted with the dream of becoming a bus driver, before developing his insatiable appetite for news”.
After graduating from Cambridge he began his journalism career as a trainee at ITN the week after 9/11. He has spent the two decades since at the BBC, working on its regional desk at Westminster and as a political reporter for BBC Radio 5 Live. In 2012 he became a political correspondent for BBC News, covering British politics on national TV over the course of a decade during which he “developed his distinctive ‘earnest yet informal’ style in front of the camera”, said politics.co.uk.
He shot to prominence in 2017 as the presenter of the popular Brexitcast podcast, first with Adam Fleming, and then with Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler.
In October 2019 Mason became the host of BBC Radio 4‘s Any Questions?, taking over from long-time host Jonathan Dimbleby.
Mason lives in southeast London with his wife, who is a primary school teacher, and their two sons.
How did he get the job?
Mason first emerged as favourite for the six-figure-salary job in early April. He is “widely liked across the BBC”, The Guardian said at the time, but did not originally apply as it was seen as a role for a more experienced journalist.
People with knowledge of the recruitment process told The Sunday Times that BBC bosses had encouraged him to apply after the “protracted” appointments process “descended into farce” and plans for an all-women shortlist were scrapped.
Jonathan Munro, interim director of BBC News, and Katy Searle, its executive editor for politics, had “emphasised during interviews that they wanted a journalist who will produce exclusives”, the paper added. But “Mason is not known for big scoops”.
“They said they wanted someone who breaks stories but I think they’ve realised they actually need a wise statesman who is good at analysing events, and Chris will do brilliantly at that,” a senior political journalist told the paper. “This feels like a moment of self-realisation for the BBC, that they can’t be that bold.”
What are his political views?
While Mason “is yet to provoke as many (and varying) different claims of bias as his predecessor, his broadcasting career to date has not been shy of controversy”, says politics.co.uk.
The Independent unearthed a 2000 interview he conducted while still a student with the former chancellor, Norman Lamont, in which he blasted the Lords as a “talking shop for past-it politicians and do-gooders in high places”.
“However, those on the left of the political spectrum have also had their disagreements with Mason,” says politics.co.uk. It cited a December 2021 episode of BBC Breakfast in which Mason was accused of targeting Labour shadow cabinet minister Baroness Chapman, and there was another bias row in 2021 when he intervened to defend former Conservative MP and minister Ann Widdecombe during a live recording of Any Questions?.
What has the reaction been?
“Internally, he is seen as the ultimate safe pair of hands – with both the pluses and minuses that entails – for a BBC news operation in transition,” said The Guardian.
His promotion from a host on Radio 4 to BBC political editor “seems to have taken many people by surprise”, said the Daily Mail, but “the public outpouring of praise appears to have touched the born-and-raised Northerner”.
Mason reacted to his appointment to “the most extraordinary job in British broadcasting and journalism” by saying he “clambers upon the shoulders of giants like Laura, Nick Robinson and Andrew Marr with a smattering of trepidation and a shedload of excitement and enthusiasm.
“To lead the best team of journalists in the business on the best news patch of the lot is something I’d never even dared dream of. I can’t wait to get started.”
What is more, says the Daily Mail, “in this day and age of equality and diversity, Mason’s strong Yorkshire accent will allow BBC bosses to keep Boris Johnson’s prowling Culture Secretary satisfied as the government insists on more regional representation within the corporation’s ranks”.