Lord Deben, who served as Conservative Party Chairman and Agriculture minister under Margaret Thatcher, says the BBC should apologise for annoying “the very people who are its staunchest supporters” over its decision to defend reprimanding Graham Norton for wearing an HIV/AIDS awareness ribbon on his Friday night chat show.

On Wednesday, Lord Deben, better known as John Gummer before his 2010 peerage, told PinkNews.co.uk: “It is difficult to understand the ‘jobsworth’ attitude of BBC. The red ribbon is less controversial than the Red Nose and not as specific as Comic Relief. Given we have had no rational explanation from BBC, I think an apology would be in order.

“I cannot see why the BBC continues to annoy the very people who are its staunchest supporters and those most appreciative of its quality and standards.”

Lord Deben’s message to the BBC is: “Just say ‘sorry, it was an error and it won’t happen again’. Who, except UKIP, will complain!”

The National Union of Journalists has said the decision of the BBC to discipline Graham Norton was “heavy-handed”.

Labour MP and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw revealed to PinkNews.co.uk on Monday that he had written to BBC Director General Lord Hall over the decision to reprimand Norton.

On the same day, the Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, Michael Fabricant, tabled a parliamentary question for Culture Secretary Maria Miller over the BBC’s “extraordinary” decision to discipline the presenter.

Central to this story is the question of why the BBC treated Graham Norton’s support for World AIDS Day differently from other cases of presenters promoting singular causes such as Save the Children’s ‘National Christmas Jumper Day’ and ‘Movember’. 

The BBC has sent emails to PinkNews readers claiming that the red ribbon is a “charitable symbol”. However, such claims are completely inaccurate as the ribbon, unlike poppies, is an internationally recognised symbol relating to HIV/AIDS.

Simon Blake, the CEO of young people’s sexual health charity Brook, emphasised this point earlier on Wednesday. 

“The red ribbon is the internationally recognised symbol which demonstrates the importance of care, compassion and an end to the stigma still associated with HIV. There is absolutely nothing partial about promoting and protecting the fundamental human rights of people living with HIV,” he said to PinkNews.co.uk.