Comment: BBC’s Gay execution debate was murderous breach of impartiality

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

By inviting a discussion on whether gays should be executed, the BBC surrenders to mob rule and fans the flames of homophobic hatred at a time when the safety of lesbians and gays is under threat as never before, Adrian Tippetts argues.

The BBC’s commitment to impartiality is, it claims, “central to its contract with the audience”. To highlight this, a noble and high-minded statement of intent on the Corporation’s editorial guidelines reads thus:

“We strive to be fair and open minded and reflect all significant strands of opinion by exploring the range and conflict of views. We will be objective and even handed in our approach to a subject. We will provide professional judgments where appropriate, but we will never promote a particular view on controversial matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy.”

If that wasn’t clear enough, reporter Evan Davies cheerfully explains the principles of impartiality in a ten-minute video on the website of the BBC Academy’s School of Journalism. Even though the journalist must not favour one view over another, he reminds us that judgments still have to be made about what stories should be reported and how.

To get into the right mindset and make impartial judgments, a journalist must ask himself: Is that judgment consistent with the experts? Are they drawing conclusions from their judgments? Does the audience know what they are getting? The manner, style and words employed by the journalist should tell the readers whether they are getting a fact, a probable fact, a generally recognised view, or the professional judgment of the journalist.

Being impartial is like being prosecutor and defender, arming the jury with the information they need to make up their own mind. Whether there are differing views or not, there is no need for any journalist to stay neutral between sense and nonsense.

So, anyone holding a discussion on homosexuality has a moral obligation to inform readers that there is no ground for controversy in the first place. All medical, psychological, sociological and psychiatric experts are crystal clear that homosexuality is a natural, neutral, harmless way by which a small proportion of the population expresses love. Any ‘controversy’ about homosexuality was buried by the experts 40 years ago.

The American Psychological Association’s position on sexual orientation can be read here. And, as revealed on earlier this month, there is overwhelming evidence that sexual orientation is determined by genes and hormones.

Armed with this information, almost all readers can see that even a debate on whether homosexuality is ‘wrong’, is inappropriate. But by posing such a murderously stupid question on its Have Your Say website asking whether gays should be executed, timidly juxtaposed with another non-question, ‘has Uganda gone too far?’ the BBC breaks its impartiality code utterly. For the reader is not merely instructed to debate whether a discussion should be had about homosexuality. The question treats the immorality of homosexuality as a foregone conclusion, and invites a discussion on the extent to which homosexuality is immoral or criminal. Incredibly, it even implies that a debate about the execution of gay people had two equal, legitimate sides.

This emphasises why the BBC’s pathetic explanation is an unacceptable shirking of responsibility. David Stead, responsible for World Service Have Your Say, wrote: “We have sought to moderate [comments] rigorously while at the same time trying to reflect the varied and hugely diverse views about homosexuality in Africa.”

The moderators even broke the BBC’s standards on homophobic content, as evidenced by the volume of comments which gleefully looked forward to the prospect of state-mandated murder in Uganda.

Could anyone in their right mind imagine reflecting the “hugely diverse views” about topics such as: ‘Should Jews be sent to gas chambers?’ or ‘Should unveiled girls have acid thrown in their faces in Karachi?’; ‘Should disabled people be euthanised?’; ‘Should slavery be reintroduced?’

The BBC is just as guilty of racism as it is of homophobia, for the executive was at pains to stress the debate appeared on the BBC’s Have Your Say Africa webpage, as if geography should somehow exonerate those responsible. Do Stead and the corporation think that people from this continent are too savage to grasp the universal concept of human rights?

The BBC has a moral duty to enlighten its audiences, especially in countries where, due to poor education and rising religious fundamentalism, violence against sexual minorities is on the rise in frequency and brutality. Instead, by endorsing such a debate, and treating incitement to murder as valid opinion, the BBC surrenders to ignorance and mob rule. How ironic for a corporation whose motto is Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation.

Well, perhaps we can have a balanced discussion on the following topics: ‘Is the BBC, by fanning the flames of hatred, liable for corporate manslaughter?’ ‘Should LGBT people and anyone who thinks dignity and justice is important, consider boycotting the BBC and refuse to pay their TV licences?’ Why not ‘Have Your Say’, indeed?