"There is no issue for these staff attending community events that are clearly celebratory or commemorative"

The BBC’s Director General, Tim Davie stated that staff members, particularly news and current affairs staff that they should be “mindful” if they are attending events that could be “deemed political or controversial”.

Davie then made it clear that there was no ban on attending Pride events and said that attending a parade was possible while staying inside the guidelines, but “due care needs to be given to the guidance and staff need to ensure that they are not seen to be taking a stand on politicised or contested issues”.

What is all the controversy about?

news reported that impartiality policies drawn up by the broadcaster included a section where certain staff members who work for news and current affairs and factual journalism could face disciplinary action if they attended events or rallies if those events are deemed too political.

This is because the BBC expects its staff to remain politically neutral, any breach of that guideline could see staffers face disciplinary action.

According to the i the broadcaster’s, director of editorial policy and standards, David Jordan, told senior executives on Wednesday that the new policy includes not attending “political protests”, such as Black Lives Matter events and LGBT protests.

The paper states that according to sources who work for the BBC, this was to ensure that BBC staffers attending Pride events would not get embroiled in the “the debate around transgender rights”, according to the i.

The paper’s reporter Benjamin Butterworth broke the story on Twitter.

According to the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality, the issue is a little more nuanced than at first glance of the i’s story. The guidelines state,

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“People working in news and current affairs and factual journalism (across all Divisions), as set out in the Guidelines, should not participate in public demonstrations or gatherings about controversial issues.

“As with social media activity, judgement 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. If in doubt, advice should be sought before attending”.

Missing the point

QC Jo Maugham Director of the Good Law Project, who have stated that they think the BBC’s position is “unlawful” said, “I am afraid that this, from Tim Davie, completely misses the point. When he says there are issues for some staff he is saying, in effect, that it breaches impartiality rules to oppose racism, homophobia or transphobia. And we think that’s just wrong.”

Lord Michael Cashman reacted to the DG’s statement by saying that it “has many holes in it”, adding, “It could be argued Pride, Black Lives Matter, against bloodsports are ‘political’. Legally challengeable, in my opinion. We will be watching this and the new ‘tenants’ at the BBC very carefully.”

Read the entire email to staff from Tim Davie here:

Impartiality guidance: Pride

Dear all,

Thank you for your support in rolling out the editorial guidance on impartiality yesterday. This new guidance, and the rules around social media activity, are significant steps in renewing our commitment to impartiality and securing the trust our audience have in us.

There is one specific issue where I want to make sure that there is no room for misinterpretation, following inaccurate commentary and some feedback from staff – which is the ability to participate in Pride parades. There is no ban on attending Pride parades.

The guidance that we published yesterday made it very clear that staff outside of news and current affairs and factual journalism may attend marches, demonstrations and protests as private individuals. I have copied below the relevant extract of the guidance for reference.

There are different considerations for staff who work in news and current affairs and factual journalism (and senior leaders) but I want to be clear that there is no issue for these staff attending community events that are clearly celebratory or commemorative and do not compromise perceptions of their impartiality.

If news and current affairs staff are participating in such events they must be mindful of ensuring that they do not get involved in matters which could be deemed political or controversial. There is no ban on these staff attending Pride events. Attending Pride parades is possible within the guidelines, but due care needs to be given to the guidance and staff need to ensure that they are not seen to be taking a stand on politicised or contested issues.

Protecting the BBC’s impartiality is core to everything we do. We must ensure that we avoid doing anything that endangers audience perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality and to protect the ability of staff in news and current affairs to report fairly and impartially.

Do drop me a line if you have any questions about this, or speak to your manager.

Best wishes,

Tim

Tim Davie
Director-General