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Andy a big loss to BBC, but he crossed the line by going public

By Martin O'Brien

Published 10/02/2016

Rules: Andy West
Rules: Andy West

What are the issues thrown up by the Andy West case and did he really have to leave BBC Northern Ireland and seek a job elsewhere? You'll recall Mr West, the former BBC reporter, publicly criticised the corporation for adding boxer Tyson Fury to the list of nominees for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

In his exclusive interview with Laurence White, my old Belfast Telegraph colleague, in this newspaper on Saturday, Mr West revealed that he was to leave the BBC and wisely decided not to go into any further details about the terms of his departure. In the run-up to the SPOTY ceremony in Belfast, Mr West, who is gay, wrote: "I am ashamed to work for the BBC when it lacks bravery to admit it is making a mistake." He was angry because the BBC had nominated Fury, who had made a series of outrageous and grossly offensive homophobic and misogynist comments.

BBC bosses in Belfast promptly suspended Mr West, who compounded his original transgression by posting a less-than-edifying YouTube video - thankfully quickly deleted - around the time of the SPOTY broadcast.

Andy West is an immensely talented reporter and his departure is a regrettable loss to broadcast journalism here.

As a former BBC journalist, producer and editor, I still keep an ear and an eye out for memorable broadcasts.

One morning in late 2014 I emailed the BBC to commend a Good Morning Ulster reporter whose feature had kept me in my car glued to the radio. That reporter was Andy West.

He had just conducted a memorable discussion with a group of young children, giving me a valuable and entertaining insight into the minds and values of youngsters today.

He had such a way with those children.

I can see why he is also a successful writer and illustrator of children's books.

He should have no difficulty finding a good job in London. But if he wants to return at some point as a journalist to the greatest broadcaster in the world, he will have to accept that along with that privilege comes an obligation.

That obligation goes beyond the legalese of the BBC staff contract, which he and everyone signs, in which they agree not to write or speak in public about the BBC or its affairs without prior written consent, and the editorial guidelines, which state that it is not normally appropriate for journalists to present personal views on controversial subjects.

It is part of the deal when you join the BBC, a great and unique public broadcasting service, funded by every licence payer in the land, that you keep your personal views on controversial subjects to yourself.

I am sure Mr West is wrong in thinking that an exception would have been made for as big a name as Clare Balding had she chosen to speak out against the Fury decision as her wife Alice Arnold did.

BBC bosses can never permit a breach of that deal because it would fatally undermine public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the BBC.

It is something that must be especially remembered this year as the BBC and the rest of us await a Government white paper on charter renewal.

Andy West is to be commended for being open about his sexuality, and he was understandably very angry with his employer, who had no option but to suspend him.

His decision to leave is probably the right one and there should be no reason why such a young and talented person cannot rejoin the BBC in the future - providing that he keeps the rules which he accepts he has broken.

Martin O'Brien is a journalist and communications consultant. He worked at the BBC from 1985 to 2013

Belfast Telegraph

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