Belfast Telegraph

BBC NI director says sorry for 'confusion' over U-turn on Pride parade

Flotilla of ships bringing Rainbow flags into Belfast
Flotilla of ships bringing Rainbow flags into Belfast
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

The director of BBC Northern Ireland has apologised over the “confusion” surrounding the broadcaster’s apparent U-turn over participation in today’s Belfast Pride parade.

Peter Johnston announced in a weekly staff newsletter yesterday that BBC NI will not take part in the parade in a corporate capacity and also dismissed any suggestion that individual programmes would be branded at the carnival.

The statement came after Mr Johnston returned from annual leave.

He said that he wished to clarify staff involvement in the parade.

Despite the BBC stating last week that staff would march in Belfast Pride parade, Mr Johnston confirmed that only BBC Pride staff network will be taking part.

BBC Pride is a staff-led initiative which operates across the UK.

He added that given the legislative issues surrounding same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland there is a requirement on the BBC to remain impartial on the subject.

However, while BBC Pride network is entitled to take part in the festivities, BBC NI must not create an impression that it has a position on matters of political contention or controversy.

Mr Johnston declined an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Mr Johnston denied that the broadcaster was making a “U-turn” on their involvement in the parade.

“I’m apologising for the confusion we created previously and I think we could have probably, could have been clearer in some of our communication and then restated it properly, quickly,” he said.

Responding to Mr Johnston’s statement, TUV leader Jim Allister welcomed the “climb down” and said that BBC NI had left itself in an untenable position after announcing that it would take part in Pride.

The north Antrim MLA added that they had “surrendered” all objectivity regarding live debates on same-sex marriage.

“I also want to know if members of the BBC Pride staff network includes producers?” he asked. “Will those producers, if they come to invite me for example, to get involved in a debate about whether we should have same-sex marriage, declare their vested interest as a member of that group?”

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell expressed his severe disappointment in Mr Johnston’s announcement as members of the LGBT+ community will see BBC NI as taking sides.

“If the BBC had participated in Pride it would have been simply a statement that the BBC believes in LGBT+ inclusion,” he said. “I fear that LGBT+ members of the BBC will feel let down by their directors and no longer feel confident that the BBC gives their whole hearted support.”

LGBT community campaigner and Belfast City councillor Seamas de Faoite, believes that regardless of yesterday’s furore, BBC staff will take part in the parade through the company’s Pride network and that must be welcomed.

The SDLP representative did warn however, that the BBC must “get their house in order.” “We obviously have something to celebrate in that legislative action at Westminster, should the Assembly not get back up and running by October 21, will deliver legislation for marriage equality,” he argued. “More groups have joined this year, in particular Ulster Rugby. I don’t think this has cast a cloud over the parade at all.”

The Belfast Telegraph had asked BBC NI a series of questions, including if Mr Johnston had been informed of last week’s announcement while he was on leave.

However, the BBC did not answer in detail. BBC NI also refused to send the original staff communication announcing their participation in Pride.

A spokesperson for BBC NI did clarify that the £250 fee paid to take part in the parade was covered by a small discretionary budget for staff-based initiatives, adding that Mr Johnston’s note provided some context. 

“The director’s note described the important role played by the BBC Pride network, but also the editorial considerations relating to impartiality within the BBC’s output,” the spokesperson continued. “Involvement in Pride events, both locally and elsewhere, is a matter for individual BBC Pride network groups.

“We keep everything that we do under review and within the context of our Editorial Guidelines and changing circumstance.”

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