My eye was drawn last week to a small news story that the producers of the Graham Norton show had been rebuked by the BBC for allowing the host to wear a red ribbon to mark World Aids Day as it was in breach of the broadcaster’s rules.
Specifically, the editorial guidelines state: "The BBC must remain independent and distanced from government initiatives, campaigners, charities and their agendas, no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial."
The BBC has rightly made an exemption for the poppy campaign in support of our veterans and their families. That campaign has been so successful that it is now noticeable when you see anyone from a quiz show guest to a weather reader not wearing a poppy on television. The poppy campaign achieves great results both as a fundraising as well as remembrance campaign from the British Legion and one that no sensible person would object to.
This does also raise the question of BBC journalists and others taking part in Movember which would appear to be in breach of the same guidelines that were quoted in the Graham Norton case.
In the case of the red ribbon campaign the aim is simply to raise awareness. It cannot be argued that it’s primary aim is fundraising or commercial, something which might give the BBC more of a case. And incidentally it is somewhat ironic that the BBC would object to raising awareness of this crucial issue on a programme that is a highly entertaining but essentially license fee funded extended advert for folks to come and promote their latest book, movie or whatever.
To turn a blind eye to such explicit commercial marketing and yet object to an awareness campaign designed to improve public health seems to turn the very principles of public service broadcasting on its head.
I can understand if the BBC is worried that their news readers, for example, were to become a pin board for various different issues whilst supposedly impartially reading the news, but this is a blanket ban that catches far too much within it’s scope. The fact is the World Aids Day ribbon has a universality and apolitical nature to it that others campaigns don’t.
That’s why its time for the BBC to rethink these rules and recognise the importance of the red ribbon campaign. If you agree, then please sign the National AIDS Trust petition and write to the Director General, Tony Hall so that we can tackle the scourge of HIV and ensure common sense prevails at the BBC.
Matthew Doyle is a former Head of Press and Broadcasting for the Labour Party