Our Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: You may remember that late last year the BBC Trust finally responded to our complaint that presenter Chris Packham had breached BBC impartiality rules after he wrote in the BBC Wildlife Magazine that all those involved in hunting and shooting were “the nasty brigade”. Mr Packham had previously been criticised for referring to farmers carrying out the Government backed badger cull as, “brutalist thugs, liars and frauds”. The BBC Trust upheld the decision of the BBC, which had rejected the complaint, saying:
“Mr Packham was a freelance presenter and as such not a BBC employee”, and that, “it was clear that Mr Packham had been expressing his personal views as an individual, and that there was no implication that the charities and other causes he supported were endorsed by the BBC. Accordingly, Trustees did not consider that Mr Packham had undermined the BBC’s reputation for impartiality”.
You can therefore imagine our surprise to read that that BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s hour presenter, Jenni Murray, has been sanctioned by the BBC for writing an article in the Sunday Times. Responding to criticism of Ms Murray’s comments about transgender women, a BBC spokesperson said:
“Jenni Murray is a freelance journalist and there were her own views. However, we have reminded her that the presenters should remain impartial on controversial topics covered by BBC programmes.”
However you read those two statements it is absolutely clear that the BBC has taken diametrically opposed positions on two complaints which share exactly the same elements. Either freelance BBC contributors are subject to editorial guidelines, or they are not. Either BBC presenters can express their personal views as individuals, or they cannot. What cannot be right is for the BBC to make completely contrary judgments based on who is expressing the view, or what that view is.
The judgment of the BBC is that it is absolutely fine for BBC “freelance” presenter Chris Packham to write in BBC publications (BBC Wildlife Magazine) abusing all those involved hunting, shooting and the Government backed badger cull. However, they are prepared to sanction another BBC freelance presenter, Jenni Murray, for writing in a non-BBC publication, the Sunday Times, about her personal views on transgender issues. There is a glaring inconsistency here that reeks of hypocrisy.
More that that this illogical approach will only raise further concerns about the ability of the BBC to regulate itself, and its treatment of the rural community. It is no surprise, for instance, that since the complaint about him was dismissed by the BBC Trust Chris Packham has continued to use the platform provided to him by the BBC to express his own personal views on controversial issues. Last month Mr Packham launched on unprovoked attack on the Countryside Alliance, accusing it of “dirty tactics”, and has also attracted strong criticism from the National Farmers Union who made an official complaint about his comments on pesticide use.
We will be writing to the Chairman of the BBC Trust about the inexplicable discrepancy in the way the BBC has dealt with these complaints. The response will be interesting.
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