BBC News director James Harding is to stand down at the end of the year, in order to set up his own company.

Harding, a former Times editor whose role covers news and current affairs at the BBC, had been considered a frontrunner to take over as the BBC’s director-general from Tony Hall.

Hall said Harding was leaving a “great legacy” as head of news, after appointing the corporation’s first female political editor, launching the Beeb’s popular Reality Check fact-checking service, and securing government funding for the World Service.

Harding grew up in north-west London, the grandson of a German Jewish refugee, at first working at the Financial Times, then at The Times, where he later became the Rupert Murdoch-owned broadsheet’s first Jewish editor.

Last month he took part in the Board of Deputies’ annual dinner, interviewing Scottish Opposition leader Ruth Davidson, who has been mooted as a possible future Tory leader.

In a note to staff this week, Harding wrote: “There is some journalism that the BBC, for all its brilliance, can’t, and probably shouldn’t, do. And that’s what I want to explore.

“I am going to start a new media company with a distinct approach to the news and a clear point of view… I’m seriously excited about the prospect of building a new venture in news.”