BBC asks whether tougher bans for homophobic football fans are an ‘overreaction’

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A Twitter question from BBC Newsbeat has asked followers whether bans for football fans who use homophobic language is an “overreaction”, and questions whether homophobic chants constitute “abuse”, or whether it is just “banter”.

The tweet sent from the BBC Newsbeat Twitter account today, appeared to have been sent in response to the announcement from the Crown Prosecution Service that there will be tougher punishments for fans using homophobic slurs, both online and in the terraces.

Many followers on Twitter have questioned the motivation behind asking such a question, given that the new policy is intended to stop abuse and discrimination. Some went so far as to question whether the BBC would ask a similar question about racist abuse.

Despite outrage from many followers questioning the reason for asking the question, the account later tweeted saying that some fans had said “anything goes” when it comes to chants, and that abusive chants can just be put down to “banter”.

The new guidelines for dealing with football hooligans in England and Wales announced today by the Crown Prosecution Service, and the Association of Chief Police Officers address homophobic chanting for the first time, and warn that social media abuse of fellow fans or players will result in prosecution. It sets out a “robust prosecution policy”.

On announcing the policy, a spokesman noted that Brighton and Hove Albion FC was subjected to homophobic abuse at over 70% of away games in 2012, and described instances of homophobic abuse as “frighteningly often.”

The BBC has been criticised for its coverage of gay issues in the past.

In 2009, BBC News was widely condemned when its “Have Your Say” website asked: “Should homosexuals be executed?” The question was in relation to Uganda’s proposed Anti-Homosexuality law.

Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone wrote to the then director general Mark Thompson to demand action on the topic.

She said: “I would be the first person to stand up for open debate and free speech, but any conversation that starts ‘should homosexuals face execution’ is completely skewed and unacceptable in this forum.

The BBC later apologised for the incident, saying the headline “was too stark”.

In 2011, the BBC was criticised after it invited Christian preacher Stephen Green, the leader of Christian Voice, to comment about the birth of Sir Elton and David Furnish’s first surrogate child.

Mr Green, who has supported the death penalty for gay people with HIV and prison sentences for others, told BBC News: “This isn’t just a designer baby for Sir Elton John; this is a designer accessory…”

He added: “Now it seems like money can buy him anything and so he has entered into this peculiar arrangement… The baby is a product of it. A baby needs a mother and it seems an act of pure selfishness to deprive a baby of a mother.”

In response, the BBC said the decision to interview Mr Green reflected a genuine debate over the issue of surrogacy for same-sex couples.