The BBC will withstand “corporate interest” in the appointment of a senior executive, its news chief has said, amid a row over a “left-wing” candidate on the shortlist for a top job.

Sir Robbie Gibb, a former Conservative aide and now on the BBC board, reportedly tried to block the hiring of Jess Brammar on political grounds.

Ms Brammar was formerly editor of the UK’s Huffington Post news site, and prior to that was deputy editor of Newsnight. 

Last year, she had a public row with Kemi Badenoch, the Treasury minister, in defence of a Huffington Post journalist.

Sir Robbie is said to have texted Fran Unsworth, the director for news and current affairs, saying she “cannot make this appointment” because the Government’s “fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered”.

Appearing at the Westminster Media Forum, Ms Unsworth was asked about the row. 

She insisted: “The executive of the BBC is responsible for the appointments that it makes. It has an independent process which is free from any corporate interest.”

Ms Unsworth said the BBC always sought to employ people “who understand their role as a public service provider and the need for independence and impartiality in what they do”.

She added: “We have to withstand any kind of pressure that comes from anywhere, and I think we do it pretty well, actually.

“It’s also about our editors – they’re the ones that make the editorial decisions at the end of the day. They’re not made by the corporate centre, they’re not made by the board of governors, they’re made by editors. Our structures will support us in this.”

In a speech to the Forum, Ms Unsworth said the BBC must “shrug off social media pressure and cancel culture”.

She conceded that the BBC faces a tricky time in reconciling the more “traditional” section of its audience with the “young and radical”.

She said: “How do we pick our way through the debate over gender and sex, when to say that biological sex is real might be seen by some as transphobic hate speech and by others as a statement of fact?

“How do we respond to our traditional audiences who might not understand why we have an LGBT correspondent or a gender and identity correspondent?

“We shouldn’t have to wait for statues to be toppled to realise that times are changing, that the past can be a hindrance to our judgement.

“But nor should we assume that the revolutionaries speak for all the people: for the wider, quieter, more reflective members of our audience.”

She admitted that the BBC makes editorial mistakes as “we are all human beings, fallible at times… We can get facts wrong, pick up the wrong end of the stick, misapply a political label, or invade someone’s privacy by mistake. Stuff happens. It shouldn’t, but it does.”

Ms Unsworth presided over the decision to film a police raid on the home of Sir Cliff Richard, who eventually won a privacy case against the BBC.

In her speech to the forum, Ms Unsworth railed against the “new and unwelcome rush to judgment” from certain sections of the BBC’s audience, with opinions that were “vile, or abusive, or form part of the cancel culture”.

They included harassment in the street of Nick Watt, Newsnight’s political editor, and a reporter who received a “torrent of threats and messages” after reporting on online conspiracies being promoted at a protest in London. 

They included a message wishing that she would die from having the Covid-19 vaccine, and another calling for her to be tried for war crimes.

“The internet is a place where radical ideas stew, where opinions and lies prove a heady mix, more potent than any objective facts.

“Today’s online warriors move swiftly to coalesce around a position and gain access to the BBC through its complaints procedures, or by email to our journalists,” she said.

“Accountability is right and proper, for government and the press. But that doesn’t mean our work should be drowned in vitriol.”