Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
When BBC Radio 4 ‘Inside Science’ presenter Dr Adam Rutherford launched a feisty attack on Labour MP Graham Stringer’s reappointment to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee on social media he did not seem to have BBC Editorial Standards in mind. Mr Stringer complained to the BBC and almost immediately the Head of Editorial Standards for BBC Radio ruled that “any BBC presenter, freelance or otherwise, needs to consider how their outside comments might impact on the work they do for the BBC. On this occasion, in my view, Dr. Rutherford’s comments on Twitter potentially compromised the BBC’s impartiality on this issue”.
Dr Rutherford is a freelance presenter, rather than a BBC employee, as is Dame Jenni Murray who was reprimanded by the BBC in March after writing an article on transgender issues. The BBC said that it had “reminded her that presenters should remain impartial on controversial topics covered by their BBC programmes”.
Yet, another freelance BBC presenter, Chris Packham, continues to abuse, bully and spread lies through social media, the press and even the BBC’s own publications with impunity. When we complained the BBC said that the guidelines did not apply because Mr Packham was a ‘recurrent’ presenter, not a ‘regular’ one, despite working over a hundred days a year. It claimed rural issues are not ‘public policy issues’ and that as a freelance he could express his personal opinion.
The double standards are almost too obvious to point out, but suffice to say that if the BBC Radio Head of Editorial Standards considers that Dr Rutherford’s brief spat with an MP on Twitter “potentially compromised the BBC’s impartiality” then the BBC must accept that Chris Packham’s obsessive and nasty campaigns against rural people have utterly destroyed its impartiality on many issues.
When Dimitri Houtart, the BBC’s ‘Rural Champion’ came to the Game Fair in July he seemed shocked that not a single person in the audience of a debate about the BBC’s rural coverage thought that the BBC represented them. Unfortunately, that reaction was no surprise to many of us there who understand how frustrated and angry many in the rural community are by the BBC’s complicity in promoting Mr Packham and his unpleasant agenda. The BBC is working to one rule for all other BBC presenters, but to no rules at all for Chris Packham.
We have an outstanding complaint against Chris Packham’s description of gun owners as “psychopaths”, which includes questions about whether the formal processes which the BBC Trust imposed on the BBC in its dealings with Mr Packham following his previous outbursts have been adhered to. You will not be surprised that the BBC took weeks to respond (despite dealing with Dr Rutherford’s case in a matter of days) and that it has not even addressed the fundamentals of the complaint.
We will pursue this complaint through the BBC’s new and even more complex complaints procedure in the full expectation that we will be fobbed off with another illogical and ridiculous ruling. The BBC cannot credibly argue that brief interventions from the presenters of Inside Science and Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 “compromise its impartiality”, whilst sustained and aggressive campaigning by the presenter of endless prime-time BBC television programmes does not. If past behaviour is anything to go by, however, it will probably try.
Follow Tim at @CA_TimB