BBC staff have been threatened with internal sanctions if they publicise strong political opinions on social media after workers complained about the broadcaster’s coverage of LGBT+ education in schools.
According to The Guardian, the BBC’s director of news, Fran Unsworth, warned staff that they may face “appropriate action” if they publicly share political views or criticise colleagues.
The broadcaster faced a backlash from some workers after a Question Time audience member was allowed to ask “Is it morally right that five-year-old children learn about LGBTQ+ issues in school?” during an episode on March 28.
Responding to the question, BBC Breakfast presenter, Ben Thompson, tweeted: “LGBT ‘issues’? Like what? That we exist? One of them, RIGHT HERE, is on your TV every morning … Would you ask if it’s ‘morally right’ to learn about gender/race/religion/disability ‘issues’?”
LGBT ‘issues’? Like what? That we exist? One of them, RIGHT HERE, is on your TV every morning. I held back on this, hoping it was clumsy writing, done in haste. But it’s still online. Would you ask if it’s ‘morally right’ to learn about gender/race/religion/disability ‘issues’? https://t.co/V24tHo39w1
— Ben Thompson (@BBCBenThompson) March 29, 2019
The broadcaster’s senior foreign news producer, Tony Brown, added: “Replace LGBT with black or Jewish and this question would never have been asked on national TV.”
BBC chief Fran Unsworth has now sent a private email to staff, advising them not to publicise views which could compromise impartiality.
“We all have personal views, but it is part of our role with the BBC to keep those views private,” she said, according to The Guardian.
“Our editorial guidelines say BBC staff must not advocate any particular position on a matter of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or any other ‘controversial subject’. That applies to all comments in the public domain, including on social media. There is no real distinction between personal and official social media accounts.”
“We are living in a period of highly polarised opinions on a range of subjects and the BBC frequently faces criticism for the way we report and analyse events, with our impartiality called into question.
“Many of these criticisms are unfounded and we are prepared to defend ourselves robustly where necessary. We also need to make sure our own house is in order.”
Unsworth added that the broadcaster had no intention of stopping its workers from using social media, but warned that including “retweets aren’t endorsements” in their profile description was not a sufficient means of absolving themselves of personal responsibility.
“Ignoring these rules risks undermining the BBC’s reputation, particularly given our renewed focus on impartiality. We haven’t always been consistent in dealing with this issue in the past, but we cannot afford for this to continue and will consider appropriate action in future,” she said.