The BBC refuses to obey its own impartiality guidelines



In the minds of many people, certain BBC presenters have overstepped the mark on numerous occasions. Social media has allowed such individuals to express personal opinions and, because of their high profiles, gain considerable numbers of followers.

Things, however, may be about to change. The BBC’s new Director General, Tim Davie, said when starting his role this month, “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”  

The BBC has rules about impartiality, though some might think they are so poorly administered that they are hardly worth having. Also, there is confusion over the status of certain presenters, some of whom are regarded as ‘freelance contractors’ rather than employees and therefore not subject to the impartiality rules. The result is obvious to anyone who has witnessed and probably fumed at BBC presenters’ comments and statements that appear to be less about informing viewers and instead more about telling them what to think. 

The furore over the understandable actions of government advisor Dominic Cummings at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and the sensible comments of actor Laurence Fox on racism opened the door to so much self-righteous bile from some within the BBC who saw themselves as makers and manipulators of the news rather than presenters of it. Nowadays, we don’t have mere news readers, we have ‘personalities’.

Well known in this field is Chris Packham, who is never backward in letting his anti-hunting, anti-shooting and anti-badger culling views be known, whether it be via Twitter, articles, legal action through his organisation Wild Justice or at various rallies (including at least one organised by Extinction Rebellion). His BBC appearances and the platform it provides undoubtedly contribute to the exposure he now enjoys. 

This all fits perfectly into the left-wing agenda that has been gradually building within the BBC over years, with key positions now held by some very dubious people, some of whom are happy to use vile language and insults in their personal tweets. Worryingly, it seems to be a trend that other news outlets are following. It isn’t that legitimate comments should never be made in the media, more that when they dominate and go unchallenged as if they are mainstream news, it creates a ‘single view’ of things and slowly other opinions are squeezed out.

The late Professor David Bellamy dared to speak at the Hyde Park Countryside Rally in 1997 to oppose an anti-hunting bill. He said, “While we have hunting, shooting and fishing interests in this country we will have better landscape management. Without these interests, Britain would have become a prairie landscape.”  But such a stance and his other views on climate change didn’t fit the perceived knowledge at the BBC and he was axed.

The same thing happened to conservationist Robin Page, once the presenter of television’s One Man and his Dog. Never one to be quiet on countryside matters, especially hunting with hounds, Robin was unceremoniously dropped by the BBC.  

Yet talking to three prominent BBC presenters regarding hunting and the Hunting Act revealed they did not support the ban, one being clearly of the view that it was passed purely for party political reasons. I doubt they would want their names divulged, given that these comments were made on a one-to-one basis, but it was gratifying to know all the same. I know of at least one other presenter who was told to keep his personal views on hunting off air.

None of this applies, it would seem, to Mr Packham who is one of those ‘freelance contractors’ and, like some others within the BBC, took exception to the new Director General’s statement. In an almost immediate response, he tweeted his objection to stag hunting – without showing any signs that he understands the activity or the consequences of limiting the use of hounds in the management of the red deer on Exmoor. 

Curbing these people, with their over-active egos, eagerness to exploit their positions and propensity to think they are always right, won’t be easy. As the Countryside Alliance’s Tim Bonner said in response to Mr Davie’s announcement, “Despite the manufactured rage that will undoubtedly ensue he must ensure that every BBC presenter is governed by clear rules on partisan campaigning whatever their employment status.”

Many will echo this view because they want a state broadcaster that informs and entertains, not one that preaches and pretends to be impartial. Being forced to pay for the privilege of owning a television, regardless of whether not they actually watch BBC programmes, undoubtedly causes resentment – a bit like buying a car yet having to pay the M6 motorway toll fee even though you never use that road. Exorbitant salaries for certain ‘celebrities’ and banning patriotic songs while reneging on a deal that gave over 75-year-olds a free TV licence makes one wonder if the corporation had some kind of death wish under its previous management.

Tim Davie sounds like the kind of person who might just be able to turn all this around, but if he fails and it doesn’t change, the future of the BBC looks bleak.

Jim Barrington is a former Executive Director of the League Against Cruel Sports. He is now an animal welfare consultant to the Countryside Alliance. Follow him on twitter @jimbarrington