BBC NI has defended its decision to take part in the Belfast Pride parade for the first time, amid claims that it could jeopardise its impartiality.
The parade, which will be held next Saturday, attracted around 55,000 people last year.
Members of staff group BBC Pride are set to join the event, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with its name.
BBC NI has also offered staff the opportunity to discuss having individual programmes branded in Belfast Pride.
Management sent a note asking staff to have a discussion with them if they want their shows to be represented.
The decision has prompted criticism from some quarters, as Belfast Pride is also billed as a “weekend of protest” by organisers. They want to see equal rights on issues including same-sex marriage.
Among those who condemned the announcement are DUP MLA Jim Wells and Jim Allister, the TUV leader.
Mr Wells, who has had the party whip withdrawn, said the parade is a protest “which is calling for changes in the law on both same-sex marriage and the killing of the unborn child”.
He said: “If you are meant to be a public broadcaster paid for by the taxpayer you have to retain an impartial approach.
“Staff will be going out with branding, so how are they going to be seen as impartial? It is totally wrong.”
The South Down representative also criticised the decision of the BBC not to appear on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show to defend their decision.
“They will not answer if staff are getting paid to be present at the parade or if they are getting travel expenses,” he said.
“And what does this mean for staff who are Christians?
“Will they be entitled to stand peacefully in the counter-demonstration? The BBC should be open and transparent.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said the move by the BBC is “not appropriate”, as the organisation would be taking part in a “political demonstration”.
He added: “That, therefore, totally pulls the rug from under them when they come to say ‘we’re going to have an objective, impartial debate’.”
On Twitter, Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney questioned if BBC NI will now have a corporate presence on a protest parade calling for the introduction of an Irish Language Act. The Belfast Telegraph tabled a series of questions to the BBC, including how taking part in Pride fits with BBC’s editorial guidelines.
However, the BBC declined to answer in detail.
A spokesperson said: “BBC Pride is a staff-led initiative that seeks to reflect and support all aspects of workforce diversity.
“None of this affects our decision making about BBC output.
“We are committed to serving all audiences and do this within the context of our editorial guidelines.”
However, the news has been welcomed by some councillors and LGBT groups.
SDLP Belfast City Councillor Seamas de Faoite said there are “clear benefits that come with organisations and companies building open and inclusive workplaces where LGBT+ members of staff can truly be themselves, without fear of repercussion or discrimination”.
Alliance Councillor Andrew Muir, party leader on Ards and North Down Council, said the debate was a “non-issue” for him.
“Society has moved on. The BBC in other parts of the UK already take part in Pride parades,” he said. “ITV took part in the parade last year and it also has obligations in terms of broadcasting regulations.”
A UTV spokesperson said: “UTV is proud to be involved in Belfast Pride for a third year. Pride events take place all over the UK and our ITV colleagues, both on and off screen, take part and support the events.
“As an organisation we celebrate diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in society in general.”
The spokesperson added: “We are delighted to be taking part in the parade which will include other big name local companies, families and individuals.”
Cara-Friend, a charity which supports the LGBT community in Northern Ireland, said it was “very glad” that BBC NI employees will have their chance to represent their workplace.
Adam Murray, the group’s community development officer, said: “For many Pride is an act of political protest, for others it is a day to celebrate diversity.
“It is appropriate that a massive public body such as BBC NI are there to show that they also take the issues of the LGBT community seriously.”