BBC Trust rejects complaints about ‘should gays be executed?’ online debate

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The BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee has rejected complaints made by significant numbers of people about a BBC World Service Online debate entitled ‘Should homosexuals face execution?’ saying that while the language was “stark”, the apologies made by the BBC World Service resolved the issue.

The debate was on Uganda’s proposed anti-gay bill, which could see gays and lesbians executed. A number of BBC online readers said the bill should be passed, but thanks to Twitter and publications including, the debate received global attention and condemnation by politicians and equality campaigners.

Chris Bryant, the then Foreign Office minister told that he was “flabbergasted” to hear of the debate question on the Foreign Office funded-BBC World Service website , adding: “How insensitive could the BBC possibly be? If they want to stoke homophobic hatred, this would be the right way.”

The then director of the BBC World Service Peter Horrocks apologised for the debate’s title but added that it was a “legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion”.

He wrote: “The original headline on our website was, in hindsight, too stark. We apologise for any offence it caused. But it’s important that this does not detract from what is a crucial debate for Africans and the international community.”

The chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Philips, reportedly wrote to the BBC Trust warning them that the corporation may face sanctions for holding the debate in the first place.

But today, the BBC Trust said “because there had not been clear signposting, offence had been caused notwithstanding the clear editorial purpose of the material”.

It claimed that Twitter users had incorrectly stated that the debate’s title was “Should homosexuals be executed?”, which it said exacerbated the problem.

It added: “However, the committee also noted that Mr Horrocks had apologised for any offence caused. The committee therefore concluded, with regard to the phrasing of the headline that, while it was agreed that the initial headline was an error – not only for its starkness but also because it did not make clear that the headline referred specifically to Uganda – it recognised that BBC management had apologised promptly and this had resolved the issue. The committee agreed no further action was required.

“The committee noted that, given the global availability of the BBC website, online content producers would now have to be more aware that all material they produce is universally available via the internet. Hence, headlines that might cause offence to certain audiences needed greater contextualisation than previously.”

Last week, Stonewall named the BBC the worst broadcaster for on-screen portrayals of gay people. Over the past two years, the BBC has been repeatedly criticised for its approach to LGBT issues.