Belfast Telegraph

Former BBC NI boss insists corporation should not be taking part in Belfast Pride event

Participants during last year’s Pride parade in Belfast city centre
Participants during last year’s Pride parade in Belfast city centre
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A retired BBC executive has said he does not support the broadcaster’s decision to take part in this Saturday’s Belfast Pride parade.

Ian Kennedy, a former chief of BBC Radio Ulster, said that while he “wholeheartedly supports” the pursuit of equal rights by the LGBT+ community, he believes the BBC must be seen to be impartial on the subject.

Writing in the letters page of today’s Belfast Telegraph, Mr Kennedy also expressed his disappointment that BBC NI’s senior management team failed to answer journalists’ questions on its decision to join the parade.

Members of staff group BBC Pride are set to join this weekend’s 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.

Mr Kennedy, from Belfast, who was also a manager of BBC Radio Foyle, head of BBC NI Television and head of broadcasting for the south and east of England, also believes the BBC should be responsive to all sections of the community it serves.

Outlining his disagreement with BBC NI, Mr Kennedy wrote: “The question of equal marriage is unfortunately unresolved in Northern Ireland. Whilst this remains the case, the BBC must be seen to be impartial on this subject and indeed on any contentious political issue, especially because it is in receipt of licence fee income from all sections of the community, including those who (wrongly in my view) oppose the introduction of such legislation.

“Secondly, I find it very disappointing that the senior management of BBC NI has failed to face up to journalists’ questions on its stance, again because it should be seen to be responsive to all sections of the community it seeks to serve.

“In my time in BBC management I was proud to debate openly with critics a number of controversial editorial decisions I was involved in, from the commissioning of ‘The Show from the Joker Club’ in the late 80s to a night of ‘gay-themed’ programming on BBC2 in the early 90s.”

Mr Kennedy added that it is a privilege to enjoy income from licence fee payers but it brings a huge responsibility as the BBC must be seen to be held accountable.

“Bland written statements simply will not do, especially when sections of the viewing public clearly wish to challenge one of your decisions,” he continued.

“I firmly believe that the BBC is the best broadcasting organisation in the world and it should be particularly proud of its work over many decades in the challenging circumstances of Northern Ireland.

“But on this occasion I believe it has made a mistake in allowing its staff to participate in the Pride festival as BBC representatives.”

A BBC spokesperson defended its decision, saying: “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.”

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