Teen health charity calls on BBC to review guidelines following Graham Norton AIDS ribbon row

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The CEO of young people’s sexual health charity Brook has criticised the BBC’s decision to discipline Graham Norton for wearing an HIV/AIDS awareness ribbon on his Friday night chat show.

On Wednesday, Brook Chief Executive Simon Blake told PinkNews.co.uk: “The red ribbon is the internationally recognised symbol which demonstrates the importance of care, compassion and an end to the stigma still associated with HIV. There is absolutely nothing partial about promoting and protecting the fundamental human rights of people living with HIV.

“The BBC must not stand behind their need to be impartial on this. As one of our finest institutions the BBC should be right up front challenging prejudice and stigma as part of World AIDS Day. I urge them to review their position in time for WAD 2014.”

Labour MP and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw revealed to PinkNews.co.uk on Monday that he had written to BBC Director General Lord Hall over the decision to reprimand Graham Norton.

Mr Bradshaw is a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and a former BBC reporter. “It is inconsistent for presenters to be allowed, even obliged to wear a British Legion poppy and to grow facial hair to draw attention to prostate cancer but forbidden and reprimanded for wearing a red ribbon”, he said to PinkNews.co.uk.

“The red ribbon does not even support or endorse any particular charity but is a symbol of the world wide battle against HIV/AIDS, which one would have thought was wholly uncontroversial.”

On the same day, the Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, Michael Fabricant, tabled a parliamentary question for Culture Secretary Maria Miller over the BBC’s “extraordinary” decision to discipline the presenter.

In previous years, Norton has worn a ribbon on his show for World AIDS Day and faced no action from the BBC.

Both Mr Bradshaw and Mr Fabricant say the corporation is not being consistent with its own guidelines. The BBC has sought to justify its decision to reprimand Norton by pointing to guideline 4.4.20, which states that the BBC “must remain independent and distanced from government initiatives, campaigners, charities and their agendas”.

Yet, in recent days, PinkNews has reported several cases of the corporation allowing its presenters to promote charitable campaigns – apparently in breach of 4.4.20.

‘National Christmas Jumper Day’ was promoted by presenters on the One Show on Friday 13 December. PinkNews asked the BBC why it allowed Chris Evans and Alex Jones to promote ‘National Christmas Jumper Day’ – by wearing jumpers solely aligned to the charity Save the Children.

The response from the BBC failed to answer this question.

In addition, over recent years, male BBC presenters have been allowed to grow moustaches during ‘Movember’ to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer. In 2011, the BBC’s political review programme, This Week, broadcast the corporation’s Deputy Political Editor James Landale having his ‘Movember’ moustache shaved off on 1 December – the same day as World AIDS Day.

The response from the BBC also failed to answer this question.

The BBC has sent emails to PinkNews readers claiming that the red ribbon is a “charitable symbol”. However, such claims are completely inaccurate as the ribbon, unlike poppies, is an internationally recognised symbol relating to HIV/AIDS.

Yesterday, the BBC declined a request by PinkNews to comment on criticism from Mr Bradshaw and Mr Fabricant – it also again refused to answer whether the decision to allow James Landale to promote ‘Movember’ broke its own guidelines.

Central to this story is the question of why the BBC treated Graham Norton’s support for World AIDS Day differently from other cases of presenters promoting singular causes such as Save the Children’s ‘National Christmas Jumper Day’.