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Friday, October 30, 2020

Have the BBC lost the plot on 'no bias' rules?

Nobody can accuse the BBC of being insensitive to criticism, or at least not when it is the government, their paymasters, finding fault. Their new rules for the way journalists and frontline current affairs broadcasters use social media are designed to keep government ministers happy by preventing employees from expressing a "personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or controversial subjects":

The guidance states staff should avoid using disclaimers such as "My views, not the BBC's" in their biographies and profiles, as they provide no defence against personal expressions of opinion.

It also advises staff against using emojis which could reveal an opinion and undercut an otherwise impartial post, and to always assume they are posting publicly even if they have tight security settings.

The guidance states employees should "avoid virtue signalling" and adds: "Remember that your personal brand on social media is always secondary to your responsibility to the BBC."

However, the latest diktat from Broadcasting House calls into question the way the corporation is balancing the need for impartiality, with unnecessary intrusion into the personal lives of staff.

As the Guardian reports, BBC journalists have now been told that new rules on impartiality mean they may no longer be able to go on LGBT pride marches, even in a personal capacity, in case their presence is taken as a sign of political bias:

The guidelines state that “judgment is required as to what issues are ‘controversial’ with regard to marches or demonstrations, though it should be assumed that most marches are contentious to some degree or other”.

Journalists in BBC newsrooms across the UK told the Guardian that managers had informed them that while pride marches were not specifically mentioned by the guidelines, journalists would be stopped from attending due to the new rules.

BBC sources did not dispute this, but said interpretation of the rules would at the discretion of local managers. They emphasised that there was no explicit ban on pride marches in the rules. BBC employees not working in the news or current affairs divisions would still be able to take part in public marches and protests.

One BBC journalist said their manager had been told that growing media and political opposition to trans rights in the UK meant public LGBT pride events were now more likely to count as controversial events, meaning they would not be able to attend even in a personal capacity.

Managers also held up Black Lives Matter marches as an example of protests that would be banned for news staff, even in their spare time.

BBC Northern Ireland pulled its employees from taking part in Belfast Pride last year, after politicians raised concerns that it breached impartiality rules by implicitly endorsing same-sex marriage. The same year, however, the BBC’s entertainment arm spent a substantial sum to launch RuPaul’s Drag Race UK with a float at Manchester Pride.

Rumours that BBC journalists will, in future, be forced to live in a monastry or nunnery between broadcasts are unverified.
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