Politicians from all the main parties have expressed revulsion at the BBC’s handling of the debate, while readers were angry the question had been allowed to appear.
The debate centres on Uganda, where an anti-gay bill is passing through parliament. It would impose execution or life imprisonment on gays, its sponsor David Bahati MP says.
The BBC initially defended the title of the debate but accepted that it was a “challenging question”.
The debate was closed at around 4pm this afternoon after provoking a storm of anger particularly on social media service Twitter. But it’s understood that following lobbying by BBC Pride, the state broadcaster’s LGBT society, the corporation changed the title of the debate.
Senior politicians expressed outrage at the debate’s title. Liberal Democrat shadow equality minister Lynne Featherstone wrote to the Director General to demand action on the topic.
She said: “I would be the first person to stand up for open debate and free speech, but any conversation that starts ‘should homosexuals face execution’ is completely skewed and unacceptable in this forum.
“Suggesting that the state-sponsored murder of gay people is OK as a legitimate topic for debate is deeply offensive. The BBC are only fanning the flames of hatred as many of the comments demonstrate. They must act and apologise for their gross insensitivity.”
PinkNews.co.uk understands that a senior gay cabinet minister appeared shocked when shown the debate’s title at an off-the-record event this evening.
Labour MP Eric Joyce told the House of Commons he was mystified why the BBC had published the debate at all, saying: “We should be looking at what is going on in Uganda with abhorrence. We should be condemning it, and the BBC should be condemning it, just as we do sexual violence in the Congo or genocide in Rwanda or Darfur.”
Conservative MP Peter Bone told the Commons: “If I hadn’t heard it from Mr Joyce I would have doubted it was true.”
Some PinkNews.co.uk readers have complained to the BBC arguing that readers would not be asked to debate the extermination of Jews in World War II.
But on the debate itself, there were shocking comments made by British readers which were pre-approved for publication by BBC social media editors.
Chris from Guildford, England, wrote: “Totally agree. Ought to be imposed in the UK too, asap. Bring back some respectable family values. Why do we have to suffer ‘gay pride’ festivals? Would I be allowed to organise a ‘straight pride’ festival? No, thought as much!! If homosexuality is natural, as we are forced to believe, how can they sustain the species? I suggest all gays are put on a remote island and left for a generation — after which, theoretically there should be none left!”
Another reader, from Freetown, said: “Bravo to the Ugandians [sic] for this wise decision, a bright step in eliminating this menace from your society. We hope other African nations will also follow your bold step.”
On Twitter, users attacked the BBC for allowing the debate to be held and several claimed to have reported the broadcaster to police for “hate crimes”.
World Service Africa Have Your Say editor David Stead wrote in a blog that editors had “long and hard” about posing the question and added it prompted “a lot of internal debate”.
Stead wrote: “We agree that it is a stark and challenging question, but think that it accurately focuses on and illustrates the real issue at stake.
“If Uganda’s democratically elected MPs vote to proceed with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill this week they will bring onto the statute book legislation that could condemn people to death for some homosexual activities.
“We published it alongside clear explanatory text which gave the context of the bill itself. And as we said at the top of our debate page, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind the bill.
“This issue has already sparked much debate around the world and understandably led to us receiving many emails and texts. We have sought to moderate these rigorously while at the same time trying to reflect the varied and hugely diverse views about homosexuality in Africa.”
This is not the first time the BBC has been criticised this year in relation to homosexuality. A poll for PinkNews.co.uk in March found that 69 per cent of LGBT people thought that the corporation was “institutionally homophobic.”
In October, regulator the BBC Trust ruled that corporation reinforced homophobic stereotypes in ‘lesbian jokes’ about bisexual star Lindsay Lohan.
In March, The media regulator Ofcom has found the BBC in breach of the Broadcasting Code following allegations by members of the public of homophobia towards the gay singer Will Young by BBC Radio 1 Breakfast host Chris Moyles.
Eight people complained to Ofcom about an episode of Chris Moyles Breakfast programme broadcast on January 20th 2009 where the DJ discussed the birthday of the Pop Idol winner Will Young. During the broadcast, Moyles imitated the singer by singing alternative versions to his well known singles ‘Evergreen’ and ‘Leave Right Now. During both songs, the media regulator found that Moyles “adopted an effeminate and high pitched voice.”
In May, Jonathan Ross defended allegations that he made a ‘homophobic’ joke when he said “If your son asks for a Hannah Montana MP3 player, you might want to already think about putting him down for adoption before he brings his… erm… partner home.”