Belfast Telegraph

BBC broke rules when May branded 'coward' over NI abortion laws

Criticism: Theresa May
Criticism: Theresa May
Comedian Susan Calman on Strictly Come Dancing

By Gillian Halliday

A popular BBC Radio 4 programme has been found guilty of breaching impartiality rules after it broadcast comments branding Theresa May a "coward" for not challenging the DUP over its anti-abortion stance.

Scottish comedian Susan Calman made the remark as a panellist during a broadcast of the News Quiz show.

During a discussion Calman, who was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing in 2017, criticised the Prime Minister for not repealing the abortion ban in Northern Ireland.

The episode was broadcast soon after the Republic's referendum to change its law on terminations.

Calman called on Mrs May, whose Conservative Government relies on DUP support in the House of Commons, to intervene on the issue.

Other contributors also remarked that the agreement between both parties would prevent her from bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.

"Unless she steps in, that is one part of the United Kingdom where not only gay people, but also women, don't have the same rights as other parts of the United Kingdom," said Calman. Addressing a discussion on whether Mrs May was a feminist, the comedian said the issue was essentially about women having "equal rights".

She added: "What she is, is a coward."

A complaint made to the BBC was subsequently upheld by its internal watchdog, the Executive Complaints Unit.

It said the programme had failed to meet the corporation's standards of impartiality given that the "tone and controversial context" of Calman's comments had been made with "no acknowledgement of an alternative view". This, it acknowledged, resulted in the News Quiz going "beyond the bounds of due impartiality as it applies to programmes of this kind".

The BBC said yesterday that a management review of the series had been since undertaken, overseen by the editor of editorial standards for Radio 4 and 4 Extra.

"Our comedy programmes have a long history of panellists making satirical comments aimed at politicians from across the political spectrum," it explained.

It added that the News Quiz programme features a range of panellists including Hugo Rifkind and Simon Evans, as well as Calman, and said the "perspectives of regular contributors are generally well-known".

Stressing that audiences "don't tend to turn to comedy programmes as a political guide", it added that political opinions were allowed to be expressed by individuals and contributors under current rules.

"Expression of a personal and political view is not a breach of the BBC's editorial guidelines, but they require all programmes to show due impartiality, especially when dealing with topical and controversial issues," it added.

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