Belfast Telegraph

No equivocation as rival UTV tells of its delight at taking part in event for third year

Mike Nesbitt
Mike Nesbitt
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

As BBC NI has floundered over whether or not it would be officially participating in Belfast Pride, broadcast rival UTV has said it remains "proud to be involved".

In contrast to Broadcasting House, the message coming from Ulster Television's HQ at Clarendon Dock has been clear in support of staff members taking part in the event.

"UTV is proud to be involved in Belfast Pride for a third year," a spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph.

"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.

"We are delighted to be taking part in the parade, which will include other big-name local companies, families and individuals."

UTV's stance comes as the director of BBC NI Peter Johnston issued an apology to LGBT members of staff for the confusion created over company employees taking part.

Mike Nesbitt, now an Ulster Unionist MLA, has worked for both broadcasting organisations.

"My challenge to the BBC is would it not be a good business decision to take part in Belfast's Pride parade?" he said.

"Last year Belfast Pride had over 50 businesses making that decision, both local and international firms working in the city.

"They all have diverse workforces and the BBC exists through licence payers' fee, so does it not agree it serves the diverse society we all work in?

"Having worked for both, I found the BBC conservative with a small 'c' when it came to issues like this, though that was some time ago when issues over LGBT were overshadowed by the Troubles.

"During my time at UTV, there was much more freedom. The company was much more relaxed over community issues. They didn't have the guidelines from a London HQ.

"As such, it was always easier for UTV to connect with the local community they were there to serve."

Asked about the issue of impartiality and public perception, Mr Nesbitt said: "One thing the BBC needs to be reminded of is that it must learn to understand and acknowledge the diversity of its workforce.

"Elsewhere in the UK, BBC staff members are free to express views and voice opposition. BBC NI could have been reasonably damaged had it allowed individual programme strands to do their own thing and pitted programme against programme.

"But I would ask BBC NI would they not see a more diverse outlook as a base for a more productive company?"

The BBC had come under pressure from those opposing any official participation in the event, and while Mr Johnston said his apology was a clarification rather than a U-turn, Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McIlveen told yesterday morning's Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster he would have been considering a boycott of the broadcaster had it been officially taking part in the parade.

"There is principle here. I'm obviously against what Belfast Pride represents, but I do feel very concerned that the BBC, if it had to participate in this parade, was going to compromise its position. That would have been a cause of deep regret," he said.

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