Impartiality concern as BBC NI considers gay pride participation

Participants in the 2017 Belfast Pride parade
Participants in the 2017 Belfast Pride parade
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The BBC has been urged to consider the impact on its ability to report the news impartially if it allows individual programmes to be represented at the Belfast Pride event.

South Down MLA Jim Wells has questioned whether the broadcaster can provide unbiased coverage to “serious political issues” if it decides to allow BBC NI staff to partake in the event on behalf of the broadcaster.

That prospect was raised on BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan Show yesterday morning, when it was revealed staff in Northern Ireland are being offered the opportunity to “discuss individual programmes being branded at Belfast Pride”.

Pride describes itself a celebration of the city’s LGBT community and a protest calling for equality.

But Jim Wells believes there is a “fundamental difference” between a private corporation taking part and endorsing the Pride event, and the BBC.

“They are a public service broadcaster,” he said. “They will be dealing in the next month with two serious, controversial political issues which is the introduction of same-sex marriage and the killing of the unborn child.

“Both issues are coming up because of these amendments in parliament to the Northern Ireland Bill. How on earth can they (BBC NI) ensure their impartiality if they are taking part in a parade which is endorsing both gay marriage and what they call ‘women’s reproductive rights’.”

He continued: “These issues are political and highly contentious — regardless of where you stand on this issue, everyone accepts that they are highly contentious.”

Mr Wells added: “If you have a situation where employees are taking part in a private capacity is one thing that you can’t do anything about, but what is being proposed here is a full endorsement by individual programmes.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “The BBC is emphatically, unequivocally, unapologetically, on the side of the political debate represented by the LGBT community.

“The BBC is very clearly declaring what its values are on this issue.”

A spokesperson for the BBC said: “We’re proud to be a diverse and inclusive organisation.

“BBC Pride is a UK-wide initiative run independently by staff which brings together people of all sexualities working with the BBC, offering friendship, support, advice and a range of events.

“A number of staff have now established the network in BBC Northern Ireland, where LGBT+ employees, their friends, families and colleagues will join staff in taking part in their local Pride parade, as BBC colleagues have with other Pride events around the UK.

“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.”

Sinn Féin chairman Declan Kearney welcomed the BBC decision and said he hoped the BBC would now march in other events promoting “equality” for the Irish language.