In early July the BBC Trust finally conceded that the Corporation cannot ignore or underserve particular audience groups. After years of Newsround Blog telling the BBC where they'd got things wrong with children's services, it looked like the Trust had finally seen sense. (blog 6 July 2010)
The decision of their Editorial Standards Committee, published yesterday, not to uphold a complaint about the Have Your Say debate: Should homosexuals face execution? was made in June this year. It was one of the last decisions of the ESC as chaired by Richard Tait, who has now stepped down as a member of the BBC Governors/BBC Trust. In December 2009 there was widespread outrage at the BBC. One piece in The Telegraph headlined: How dare the BBC run a debate on whether murdering homosexuals is acceptable?
Professor Tait used to be chairman of the Governors' Programme Complaints Committee. In 2006 the GPCC, having noted that 'gay' was often used by young people to mean 'lame' or 'rubbish,' failed to uphold a complaint about Chris Moyles who had used the word in a pejorative way on his radio show.
In June 2008 I wrote to Richard Tait to ask about From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century - a report for which Professor Tait took responsibility. I wanted to know "the empirical evidence upon which a suggestion that the BBC institutionally supports equal rights for women and gay people was based." I asked if he could advise me as to sources for the claim, and whether any contrary evidence had been taken into account.
A reply by the Trust's Head of Editorial Standards on behalf of Professor Tait clarified the position. It seems that "the reference is to the BBC's stated commitment to equal opportunities; it was not within the remit of the Review to assess whether the BBC has fulfilled this policy."
I responded with (excerpt) -
"A person reading the report might reasonably come to the conclusion that the BBC institutionally supports women and gay people, do you not agree? The phrase 'institutional support' surely contains no connotation of policy as opposed to behaviour. The phrase 'spill over' also lends strong credence to this interpretation.
"In view of your reply, does Professor Tait or the BBC Trust agree that the Report could be misleading, or at least readily misconstrued?"
A few days after my response, I discovered strong evidence that the BBC had been discriminating on its CBBC Bullying message board. This evidence was put to Richard Tait on 31 July 2008.
The Trust's reply came on 21 August 2008 and, in short, re-stated the BBC's commitment to equal opportunities. The reply also said that the Trust is not involved in day to day decisions relating to the BBC's output, so is therefore not in a position to comment on the CBBC message board. The email ended by suggesting that further correspondence on the issue would be futile.
One of the BBC Trust responsibilities is to uphold the general law. In the instance mentioned above the Trust failed to comply with that duty.
Now, with new memberships in the offing, hopefully the BBC Trust will take things forward sensibly, making decisions fair to all audience groups.