A new ruling by the BBC on the use of social media by a freelance BBC presenter has raised allegations of double standards from the Countryside Alliance.
Dr Adam Rutherford presenter of Radio 4’s Inside Science, asked his Twitter followers to write to their MPs in protest following the reappointment of Labour MP Graham Stringer to the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. Following a complaint the BBC rebuked Rutherford as he had “potentially compromised the BBC’s impartiality”.
Paul Smith, Head of Editorial Standards and Commissioning Policy, BBC Radio said: “However, 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.”
Yet the BBC, and the BBC Trust, had previously rejected a complaint about the campaigning activities of another freelance presenter Chris Packham who had described farmers and those involved in country sports as the “nasty brigade”. Mr Packham also uses twitter to encourage people to write to MPs and take other actions on any number of animal rights campaigns. In its ruling the trust said Chris Packham was a freelancer and did not count as staff or a regular BBC presenter or reporter, and thus was not bound by rules against expressing opinions on public policy issues.
In March another freelance BBC presenter, Dame Jenni Murray, was reprimanded by the BBC 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”.
Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said:
“This whole situation is becoming increasingly farcical. The BBC spent a year tying itself in knots finding reasons not to uphold our complaint against Chris Packham, but has found another freelance presenter guilty of exactly the same sort of behaviour in a matter of days. Chris Packham has not compromised the BBC’s impartiality on a range of animal rights issues, he has destroyed it, and if the Corporation is to start to rebuild its reputation with rural people it needs to act on his behaviour consistently with the way it had dealt with other freelance presenters such as Adam Rutherford and Jenni Murray.
“The impression that the BBC is currently giving is that there is one rule for all other BBC presenters, but no rules at all for Chris Packham.”