The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the largest public broadcasting company in the world by employed staff, has set out new guidelines for some of its employees. In part, they expect certain employees who have to maintain “impartiality” to avoid “political protests.”
Although there was reportedly “pressure to extend the ban to pride events” because attendees would be seen as “[taking] a side in the debate around transgender rights,” The BBC clarified the day after publishing the changes that they did not outright ban Pride events.
Staff members were reportedly told this week that attending Pride is acceptable, except “in cases where it is a protest” and involves the “trans issue,” as the company described as an example to reporter Benjamin Butterworth. Other BBC employees also heard the phrase during meetings with senior leadership.
Asked for clarity on confusion, BBC said pride is fine if it is seen as a “a celebration”, but if the “trans issue" (as it was described) is involved then it passes as a protest and news and current affairs staff should not attend.
— Benjamin Butterworth (@benjaminbutter) October 29, 2020
have spoken to bbc staff tonight who explained that in the meeting staff were told to consider 'the trans issue' when it comes to supporting pride, and that they left the meeting feeling that going to pride could lead to ramifications for their job… very bizarre situation
— Jamie Windust (@jamie_windust) October 29, 2020
Some of the new guidelines are specifically applied to staff in news, current affairs, journalism production, and senior leadership that “are expected to be politically neutral.” The guidelines in relation to attending non-company events fall on staff in those categories.
“There is no ban on these staff attending Pride events,” BBC Director General Tom Davie said in an email, quoted in an article published by the company’s own news site.
“There are different considerations for staff who work in news and current affairs and factual journalism (and senior leaders),” Davie continued, “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.”
All in all, “Attending Pride parades is possible within the guidelines,” he states. Despite the clarification, the issue appears to remain a source of confusion and discomfort for BBC staff.
Email sent to BBC staff:
“There are different considerations for staff who work in news and current affairs … no issue for these staff attending community events that are clearly celebratory or commemorative…” pic.twitter.com/xBbQXVzxf5
— Scott Bryan (@scottygb) October 30, 2020
i News reports one staff member was told by a supervisor that they risk getting “a formal warning or suspended” if it is found that they attended an event that is “LGBT” events that are “protests” or political in nature. The BBC disputed that, claiming that employees under the guidelines simply need to seek permission first before going to “events which could be controversial.” They did not outright deny that such permission might not be given.
Another employee reportedly believes that the changes are to avoid criticism from the most-circulated publication in the United Kingdom, the Daily Mail.
BBC’s news site reported that its own LGBT Correspondent, Ben Hunte, can attest to confusion on where the company stands.
“LGBT staff at the BBC have told me that they are concerned that this statement has come far too late to undo the anger, resentment and confusion that was allowed to take hold for nearly 18 hours,” Hunte told his own peers.
Staff members asked for clarification in meetings, leading to senior leadership expressing apologies. They “hoped their shorthand choice of words had not caused offence.” The intra-company LGBTQ network, BBC Pride, was apparently not consulted about these guidelines.
This move puts the company’s own presence at Pride events throughout the UK in the air, whenever they next occur in-person. The BBC sponsored a RuPaul’s Drag Race float at the 2019 Manchester Pride, while the division in Northern Ireland banned staff from attending events that year while a national referendum on same-sex marriage was on the table.
A number of journalism unions are requesting an audience with the leadership at the BBC over the matter.
General Secretary of Prospect union, Bectu and National Union of Journalists calling for answers from BBC after Tim Davie statement left many questions unanswered about LGBT events. NUJ also demanding urgent meeting with director general after members echoed concerns in my story. https://t.co/1itULLGrKp
— Benjamin Butterworth (@benjaminbutter) October 30, 2020
Pride in London, which holds the LGBTQ pride events in the town where the BBC is headquartered, is “concerned” over the series of events that took place as well.
“The policy itself have created ambiguity about the degree to which BBC employees can publicly show support for the rights of LGBT+ people,” Director of Communications Rhammel O’Dwyer-Afflick said. “The rights of trans people, queer people of colour and black trans individuals in particular should not be up for debate. All BBC employees should be able to freely attend events in support of trans communities, such as Pride, as well as Black Lives Matter protests without fear of repercussions.”
The other notable changes in the company’s “commitment to impartiality” are the social media policy, which does not allow employees to publicly criticize any of their colleagues. They also direct staffers not to commit “virtue signalling,” which the BBC defines as “retweets, likes or joining online campaigns to indicate a personal view, no matter how apparently worthy the cause.”
Virtue signalling is defined online as a mostly disparaging term that, in part, is “the sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment.” The term was made popular online in right-wing circles by conservative media.
Employees with disclaimers such as “all views mine” are not exempt from the policies, as such notices “provide no defence.”
After the BBC’s News Director, Frans Unsworth, introduced employees to the social media policy, they noticed that she had liked posts on Twitter that were political in nature and criticized the country’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
Her likes have since been cleared, and since apologized for any harm caused by the term.