BBC director general Tim Davie says it’s ‘not controversial to be transgender’ while clarifying rules on staff attending Pride

Nick Duffy November 5, 2020
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BBC boss Tim Davie admitted for the first time that communication 'could have been clearer' on the Pride policy

BBC boss Tim Davie admitted for the first time that communication 'could have been clearer' on the Pride policy (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

BBC director general Tim Davie has insisted the corporation “absolutely” supports its LGBT+ staff members, as he attempts to assuage anger over a new policy gagging news staff on “controversial” subjects.

Despite initial confusion over whether new social media guidelines would enable news staff to attend a Pride parade or a trans rights march, Davie made clear on Thursday (5 November) that his rules would not prohibit any staff from attending LGBT+ events.

In a message to members of staff LGBT+ network BBC Pride seen by PinkNews, Davie said: “Some people have asked me whether the BBC fully supports our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender colleagues. Let me be really clear: we absolutely do support you.

“I want everyone to feel proud to be who they are and to be confident about being out at work. While I lead this organisation it will value its LGBTQI+ colleagues like all others, and I won’t stand for discrimination in the workplace. ”

BBC boss Tim Davie says broadcaster ‘should have been clearer’ over staff rules.

For the first time, Davie also appeared to confirm reports that some managers had incorrectly told members of staff they would not be permitted to attend Pride events – after a previous statement in which he blamed “inaccurate commentary” for spreading concern.

He wrote: “There is no ban – and never has been – on staff attending Pride events. We should have been clearer about this and in helping managers give advice last week about how the guidance was to be applied.”

However, Davie stressed that news staff and senior officials are still prohibited from expressing opinions when they attend Pride events.

He added: “I want to be as straightforward as I can on the BBC’s policy: it’s not controversial to be lesbian, or gay, or bisexual, or transgender – either at work or outside of work.

“For the majority of staff there are no restrictions on attending marches, protests and demonstrations as private individuals, a position which is clearly set out in the guidance.

“What we’re asking senior leaders, journalists, producers and those of you who work in news and current affairs as well as factual journalism to do is to take care when making decisions about participating in events and not to take a personal public position, via your actions or your words, on public policy issues.”

BBC director general Tim Davie
BBC director general Tim Davie

Davie continued: “Specifically on attending marches, it is absolutely fine for these staff to be at Pride, or Trans Pride, but it would not be appropriate to be marching with a not be appropriate to be marching with a political party, or with a group advocating specific policy changes.

“I appreciate that this guidance involves many of us making judgement calls about what is and what isn’t appropriate. For some this will be relatively straightforward, while others will have some questions. To support you on this, we’ll be rolling out a programme of discussions and training on all of these issues over the coming months, and I hope you’ll contribute – as vigorously as you want.”

There are continued doubts from staff.

While Davie has sought to assuage fears on Pride events, staff have raised continuing doubts over the way the broader social media policy could be applied to staff relating to transgender rights, or to equality in Northern Ireland, where LGBT+ issues remain politically contentious.

Parts of the social media policy direct staff to avoid “following social media accounts which reflect only one point of view on matters of public policy, politics or controversial subjects”, potentially requiring staff who follow LGBT+ campaigners to also follow opponents of trans equality. The policy also directs staff to avoid “virtue signalling,” a right-wing term often applied to any discussion on identity, which is not defined in the BBC document.

Per BBC policy, the definition of a “controversial subject” is decided by the broadcaster’s Editorial Policy unit. PinkNews has previously seen evidence that the Editorial Policy unit has intervened in coverage of transgender issues to require the inclusion of cisgender women with ‘gender critical’ views.

The National Union of Journalists and media union Bectu have both sought meetings with BBC bosses over the policies, which they say were imposed without consultation.

Meanwhile, accountability campaign group the Good Law Project has threatened to bring action against the broadcaster over the rules, which it says could lead to discrimination against LGBT+ and BAME staff.

BBC Pride, the internal staff LGBT+ group, has remained silent on social media since July, when the broadcaster gutted an Action Line support page for trans people, removing all links to transgender support charities.

More: BBC, bbc pride, Pride, Tim Davie

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