Comment: How dare the presenter of a TV show that plugs films and albums promote HIV awareness

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PinkNews founder Benjamin Cohen says it was wrong of the BBC to discipline Graham Norton for wearing a red ribbon on his show, especially because guests are often invited on seemingly to promote films, music or other commercial products.

Yesterday the BBC’s Entertainment Controller Mark Linsey confirmed that he has reprimanded Graham Norton and his production company for the star having the audacity to wear a red ribbon to promote HIV and AIDS awareness as part of World AIDS Day.

Doing so, by Norton, was in breach of the BBC’s guidelines, which stipulates that with the exception of the Royal British Legion’s poppies for Armistice Day, presenters on its programmes cannot wear any charitable or political symbol on air. His guests, Jeremy Clarkson, Jo Brand, Colin Farrell and Sharon Osbourne were allowed to wear one, but as the presenter he was not.

When I was a correspondent on Channel 4 News, I basically had to wear a poppy, or face questions from viewers that were really only suited to someone like Jon Snow. However, I never wore another symbol, particularly the red ribbon, in part because I only felt that wearing it would be acceptable on 1 December, a day that I was never scheduled to be on-screen.

In some ways I appreciate the BBC’s point to Graham Norton, there are awareness days nearly every week for one cause or another and it would be slightly ridiculous if presenters had a constant merry-go-round of different ribbons, badges and paper flowers that they attached to themselves. Although I believe that in the case of Graham Norton, the situation should have been different.

The gay community, which Graham is a prominent member of, has been disproportionately affected by the HIV/ AIDS crisis. Wearing a red ribbon is very different from most other causes as they are sold by a variety of different charities, rather than just one. Wearing one, simply demonstrates the individual’s solidarity with those living with HIV not a particular charity or political cause.

What the BBC is keen to avoid, obviously, are the questions from particular charities about why its presenters, including Graham Norton, support one charitable cause over another. They are also, apparently, worried about the impact of a presenter supporting something that might have a political message, I assume that it is right to fight one of the biggest killers on the planet

What irks me the most about this issue is that Graham Norton’s show on BBC One seems almost designed to promote things. Not charities such as the National AIDS Trust or the Terry Higgins Trust that sell red ribbons. Instead, it promotes big budget Hollywood films, whose stars magically agree to be interviewed on one of the UK’s most watched TV shows, but almost only when they have a film to promote. Then there are of course the stars of the BBC’s own programmes and pop stars desperate to connect with and sell their albums to Norton’s large audience.

I think that if the BBC genuinely wants to clamp down on its presenters supporting things, such as the fight against HIV and AIDS, it should also clamp down on one of its most watched programmes, seeming to primarily exist to promote large corporate interests. Or perhaps, just like charitable causes, the BBC could worry that by promoting one film, it is unfairly discriminating against another.

Benjamin Cohen is the publisher of PinkNews. He Tweets @benjamincohen.