Allegations of institutional sectarianism at the BBC have resurfaced after it aired a clip during its primetime Newsline TV news programme which included the obscene sectarian slogan ‘F*ck the Pope’.
It appeared in a report on a soccer match at Windsor Park in south Belfast between English Premier League side Chelsea and Spain’s Villareal.
The piece was broadcast ahead of the 8pm kick-off featuring fans in the loyalist Sandy Row area, close to the stadium. Chelsea fans, who have links to loyalists and English nationalists, were later led to the match by a loyalist flute band.
Among scenes of Chelsea fans drinking, there was a shot of football fans singing ‘Sweet Caroline’, the Neil Diamond song adopted as an anthem by loyalists who shout “F*ck the Pope” between lines of the song.
It is understood the clip, presented in a segment by reporter Mark Simpson, would have undergone several edits and editorial approval before being broadcast on the flagship show. Incredibly, the broadcaster then attempted to deny there was sectarian chanting in the clip, which is still available on the BBC iPlayer.
Long viewed by nationalists as pro-British, anti-Irish and anti-republican, the incident has renewed a focus on allegations of sectarianism within the British state-run broadcaster.
Every year, it controversially broadcasts live coverage of parades by the anti-Catholic Orange Order, which it bills as ‘the Twelfth Celebrations’ to mark the anniversary of a Protestant battle victory.
Regardless of the provocation to nationalists, the coverage of the parades is accompanied by uncritical commentary on the marching orders and their ‘blood and thunder’ loyalist bands.
The content of the BBC’s current affairs shows, including their choice of panellists and commentators, also come in for routine criticism. Earlier this summer, top BBC radio and TV host Stephen Nolan took legal action after a petition accusing him of sectarian bias received tens of thousands of signatures. Nolan credited BBC execs for helping him to challenge the petition, which was subsequently withdrawn.
Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey has called on the north’s other Westminster MPs to join calls for the BBC to apologise for the latest incident, which he said had caused “considerable offence”.
Mr Maskey said he was “shocked at what appeared to be blatant and naked sectarianism in a clip broadcast as part of a package on the UEFA Super Cup Final in Belfast”.
“The broadcast of this offensive chanting and abusive language has caused widespread anger and offence throughout the community,” he said.
“There can be no place for such sectarianism in our society.”
Mr Maskey said that while the BBC had confirmed it did not intend to broadcast the clip again “it should also now act to remove it from the iPlayer to avoid causing further offence”.
“I have written to all MPs representing the north asking them to join me in calling on the BBC to apologise for this incident and have also written directly to the BBC asking for clarity on what happened and a full apology,” he said.
West Belfast film-maker Sean Murray said he believed the BBC “have a critical role in fighting the scourge of sectarianism”.
“Wednesday night’s news report was one of many instances where this type of sectarian behaviour is sanitised,” he said.
“The public deserve so much more. We won’t allow sectarianism to contaminate our children’s future, the BBC should have the foresight to make sure this never happens again.”