BBC out of step with its own protocol

By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)

Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences and we should do all we can to treat controversial subjects with due accuracy and strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or unrepresented.

These words you will find on the BBC’s website. They are drawn from a mixture of ethical commitments in the BBC’s Charter and other BBC guidelines for making programmes.

I wonder did the management and journalists of BBC Ormeau Avenue consult these protocols when they were planning to turn their television and radio stations over live to the passing-out parade of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) at the start of this month.

I doubt it very much. Had they, these guidelines might well have rung alarm bells in their heads, unless they are completely indifferent to the feelings of the nationalist people about this notorious regiment. Then again perhaps they are.

Was it purely coincidental that the RIR’s last parade ground was at Balmoral, the birthplace in 1911 of the UVF, who were the backbone of the ‘B’ Specials, the forerunner of the UDR? Or was it their last act of defiance? It was certainly ironic.

I was incensed and I know many other people were that the BBC - an organisation funded by the licence-paying public - would provide an uncritical programme live glorifying this regiment. This is a clear case of a public body wasting public money without public accountability.

The acclaimed ‘impartiality’ in their protocols should have alerted the programme makers to reduce the status of their coverage of the disbandment of this regiment to a two-minute news item.

Here was a ‘controversial subject’ screaming out for the BBC to reflect, as their ethical code demands, a ‘wide range of opinion’, with ‘no significant strand of thought knowingly unreflected or unrepresented.’

Yet the BBC’s management and journalists did knowingly leave a significant strand of thought unreflected and unrepresented - the relatives of those killed and injured by members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, whose name was changed to the RIR in 1992 in an attempt to erase the UDR’s notoriety.

The organisations the BBC not only should have contacted but should have sought opinion, indeed permission, from before they decided to broadcast live the RIR’s welcome demise are those like the Relatives for Justice (RFJ).

RFJ represents families whose relatives were killed as a result of collusion and state violence, many of them by serving members of the UDR.

No-one from the BBC had the decency to contact RFJ or others to tell them of their broadcasting intentions before the television and radio programmes went out.

The thought seems not to have entered the insensitive heads of the programme makers that their guidelines compelled them to balance their coverage with the voices of relatives of people killed or injured by the UDR.

These voices were ignored, which is how the BBC routinely treat RFJ, according to its spokesman Mark Thompson.

He accused the BBC of bias against families and organisations campaigning for the truth about the state forces killing their loved ones.

Six years ago the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression also criticised the BBC for its bias against republicans and their viewpoint. Little seems to have changed.

A recent request by RFJ for a meeting with the head of the BBC received a negative response.

However, on the day of the live broadcast the BBC provided a platform for the relatives of UDR personnel killed by the IRA.

In a pathetic attempt at balance, BBC journalists apologetically asked insipid questions of the RIR’s commanding officer about those who brought shame on the ‘good name’ of the UDR/ RIR by breaking the law, to which he obligingly trotted out the ‘few bad apples’ line.

It is long past the time when the BBC should be designated under section 75 of the Equality Act.

Maybe then licence-paying nationalists would not have to endure the July 12 spectacle, poppy-wearing journalists, and perhaps it would not have taken the BBC 50 years to report the weather forecast for all of Ireland and not just the six counties.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News