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Lord Hall’s legacy of bias and discrimination at the BBC


THE BBC parades its commitment to diversity and in 2016 even signed up to a monitoring scheme. Spearheaded by the Creative Diversity Network, to which all UK broadcasters belong, the Diamond (Diversity Analysis Monitoring Data) scheme has either deliberately or through incompetence airbrushed religion from the list of protected characteristics in both guidance notes and monitoring forms.

The protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. By signing up to the Diamond scheme, the BBC has chosen to omit religion from its diversity monitoring. This reveals the BBC’s priorities in which religion, with its commitment to the sanctity of human life, is considered of marginal importance.

The BBC’s support for euthanasia

Since 2003, when legislative reform was first mooted, the BBC has acted as the cheerleader for assisted suicide and euthanasia. It has consistently allowed the over-promotion of an agenda supporting a change in the law, for example in its news coverage last year of the Paul Lamb case and Geoff Whaley’s suicide. Details of these tragic cases are picked over in great detail, with extensive quotes from the individuals involved, their families or groups supporting a change in the law. Comments from those who do not support a change in the law are either absent or reduced to a couple of lines.

At the same time the BBC management has consistently failed to cover online or on air stories that do not fit its pro-death narrative: that if you are terminally ill or disabled, of course you want to be able to have help to kill yourself, or have your life ended. Stories not reported include the recent decision by the Royal College of GPs, which represents the UK’s 53,000 family doctors, to remain firmly opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, or the alarming report from two Scottish academics saying the NHS could save cash and increase organ donation if assisted dying were introduced. There are nearly 20 other examples of programmes and news coverage which could be cited.

Over the last ten years, concerns have been raised about the BBC’s ongoing and persistent bias in its coverage of this issue. Concerns were first raised in an Early Day Motion by Ann Winterton in 2010. [Aitken R, The Noble Liar, Biteback Publishing Ltd, 2018, p 139]  In 2013, shortly after Lord Hall’s appointment as BBC director general, the campaign group Care Not Killing wrote to him to complain about the BBC’s pro-euthanasia agenda. Last year, they wrote again. In response, the BBC claimed that it could consider only programmes which were aired in the 30 working days before the complaint. How can a pattern of institutional bias be established if the BBC corporately wipes the slate clean every 30 working days?

In 2016, the BBC did briefly engage with this issue, on Radio 4’s Media Show. Sent in to bat was its former head of factual programming, Patrick Holland, who accepted that there had been a disparity in the number of programmes on assisted suicide compared with those on palliative care. He could not cite a single example of the latter, but gave a commitment that there were such programmes in the pipeline. Just one such programme was aired in 2019, while many more examples of partial broadcasting continue to flood our screens.

So it was with a wry smile that I watched Lord Hall’s final select committee performance in which he stressed the need for diversity, because his real legacy, in my opinion, is one of discrimination and partiality – discrimination by perpetuating a view that the lives of the terminally ill and disabled people are worthless and by the constant over-promotion of an issue which has been reviewed by judges, parliamentarians, prosecutors and policymakers more than 30 times since 2003. 

I hope the new director general will reverse this appalling legacy where ‘due impartiality’ is a meaningless term when faced with the system-think of the BBC. If the BBC won’t take action to ensure genuine impartiality in its output, it may require Government intervention in the form of a stronger legal duty of impartiality and a beefed-up system of scrutiny and accountability.

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Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson is a political campaigner and director of Team Britannia PR.

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