The Countryside Alliance has accused the BBC of hypocrisy after it sanctioned freelance journalist Jennie Murray for expressing personal views on “controversial subjects” having recently cleared another freelance BBC presenter, Chris Packham, for an almost identical breach of its editorial guidelines.
BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s hour presenter, Jenni Murray, has been sanctioned by the BBC for publishing an article in the Sunday Times: Jenni Murray: Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a “real woman”. Responding to criticism of Ms Murray’s comments, 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.”
In 2015 the Countryside Alliance made a formal complaint to the BBC and appealed to the BBC Trust regarding BBC presenter Chris Packham, arguing that he has breached BBC impartiality rules after Mr Packham 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 rejected the complaint, arguing that Mr Packham had not breached the BBC impartiality guidelines. The BBC’s position was upheld by the BBC Trust which stated that:
“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”.
Since the complaint 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.
Commenting on the different responses from the BBC, Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Alliance said:
“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’s 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, Sunday Times, about her personal views on transgender issues. There is a glaring inconsistency here that reeks of hypocrisy.”
“This illogical approach will only raise further concerns about the ability of the BBC to regulate itself, and its treatment of the rural community”.