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Why BBC Social Media Rules Matter
It's not gagging. It's key to maintaining support.
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This week, I did a blog post reporting on the news that presenter Carol Vorderman had left the BBC because she didn’t want to stick to its recently introduced social media rules. I thought it was an interesting story as she’s the first recognisable name to leave the public broadcaster because she wanted to keep airing her political views online, but not much more than then.
However, it seemed to get a bit of attention and this highlights a much wider issue. People do not seem to understand why BBC neutrality matters.
Vorderman is very critical of the Government, as is her absolute right. However, the new guidelines make it clear that you cannot do that online and stay at the BBC. You can’t post content in favour of the Conservatives and keep a show on the BBC either. It is not about WHAT your political views are, but the fact you’re expressing them at all.
I’ve been genuinely shocked at some of the comments I’ve got where people seem to think Vorderman has been wronged in some way - her statement certainly did not indicate she thinks that. (Worth noting that a part of the issue in this instance is that Vorderman’s Radio Wales show was named after her, adding to the association between her and the BBC.)
Forget one case and one presenter. Objecting to someone employed by the BBC, particularly on-air talent, needing to follow certain rules shows a complete misunderstanding of the role of a public broadcaster.
While Britain has fairly strict impartiality rules for broadcasters as a whole, regulator Ofcom broadly takes into account the spectrum of voices on an outlet. LBC has both Nick Ferrari and James O’Brien, for instance. The BBC, funded via the Licence Fee, has to be even more careful. We all pay for it, so it has to seek to avoid any sense of political bias. I know, everyone thinks it is too left-wing/too right-wing (delete as applicable).
Those involved in news basically have to avoid sharing their opinions at all. It has often been a source of newsroom irritation that other figures were allowed on a looser leash. A reminder, this is what the executive summary of the document outlining the new rules says:
Flagship-Brand Presenters must refrain from campaigning in party politics or for activist organisations.
a) Do not endorse nor attack political parties, individual politicians or urge the public to vote for a party
b) Do not ‘campaign by proxy’ by posting frequently on a range of issues that resemble one party’s manifesto and presents sustained criticism to a government or opposition policy agenda
Yes, it is somewhat vague who “flagship-brand presenters” are, although the full document gives examples, and the rules were definitely written to allow for some wiggle room. However, the basic point is pretty clear.
Asking presenters to largely keep their politics private is not gagging them. It does not stop them from raising certain issues online, but it seeks to avoid partisanship and accusations of bias. Ultimately, it helps keep support for the BBC, a vital institution in British news and culture.
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