During Pride month this year a banner has been emblazoned across the BBC’s internal staff website used by every single employee. It features the following text: ‘BBC Pride 2022: Bringing together LGBTQ+ people of all genders, sexualities and identities at the BBC.’
Most people who work at the BBC aren’t concerned about this. But the slogan really should ring alarm bells, because behind its seemingly benign message of inclusivity is a latent political message about trans rights that is undermining the corporation’s impartiality.
As a BBC employee I am proud and delighted that the corporation is striving to be a welcoming employer for people from all walks of life, whatever their colour, creed or whoever they choose to sleep with. But the problem is that ‘Pride’ is no longer a movement that is simply fighting for the rights and liberties of people who have faced prejudice and discrimination because they don’t happen to be straight. It has morphed into something altogether more controversial and political – it is promoting a trans agenda that undermines longstanding concepts of sex and gender. Rather than treading carefully, however, the BBC is once again becoming an unthinking conduit for the dominant ‘progressive’ theology bouncing around the social media echo chambers of its Guardian reading bosses.
Part of the problem is the fevered obsession of senior figures at the BBC who are convinced the broadcaster must do more to attract younger audiences and reach ‘underserved communities’. As a result, the BBC has become caught in the swamp of identity politics. News coverage is contaminated with editorialising and a disproportionate amount of the BBC’s output is being devoted to an issue the average ‘cisgender’ licence-fee payer doesn’t give a fig about. On the BBC Newsround section alone, there are currently 22 stories about Pride featured on the site’s homepage.
Last year a BBC ‘educational’ film had to be quietly ‘retired’ from the Corporation’s Teach website. The film, which has survived on YouTube, features a pupil asking: ‘What are the different gender identities?’ A teacher responds: ‘That is a really, really exciting question to ask.’ A woman is then shown telling a couple of baffled youngsters who look about ten years old: ‘There are over 100 if not more gender identities now.’ The poor kids look rather incredulous, which is at least encouraging.
Another egregious example was reported earlier this year when it emerged the BBC had changed the pronouns of a male-born transgender rapist to ‘they’ or ‘them’, despite the accuser using male pronouns to describe her assailant. The victim’s feelings, and the fundamental duty of a journalist to quote her correctly, were somehow deemed less valuable than the perpetrator’s wellbeing. In a shamelessly disingenuous statement, a spokesperson for the BBC told the Mail: ‘Our only intention when deciding on language is to make things as clear as possible for audiences.’ But giving a plural pronoun to a male rapist is the very opposite of making things clear for readers. In this instance, it was also brutally insensitive.
The article was presumably following the BBC’s style guide, which now states: ‘Where possible, use the term/s and pronoun/s preferred by people themselves, when they have made their preferences clear.’ A tiny but vocal group of people have decided that traditional English grammar doesn’t apply to them and the BBC has simply caved in.
Elsewhere the BBC has struggled to act as an impartial arbiter of debate. Take its treatment of JK Rowling, who has been at the forefront of highlighting the unintended consequences, and very real dangers for women and young people, of an unquestioning acceptance of self-ID. But has the BBC treated Rowling in a balanced way? After a broadcast of Front Row on Radio 4 in March, the BBC had to admit it had misled listeners by allowing the author’s views to be described by presenter Tom Sutcliffe as ‘very unpopular opinions’. Unpopular where, exactly? Doncaster? Hull? Birmingham? Or the counter of Café Nero outside New Broadcasting House?
Sutcliffe’s perspective is, regrettably, not an outlier at the Corporation. Among some of my co-workers, Rowling’s name elicits a similar reaction to hearing about a notorious war criminal. Yet I’d be willing to wager my youngest child’s substantial collection of Harry Potter merchandise that most BBC journalists haven’t bothered to read Rowling’s detailed and well-argued essay setting out her position on trans rights.
Often the BBC’s output is characterised by a willingness to tolerate guests because their views are fashionable inside the corporation. In April, for example, Woman’s Hour listeners were treated to a tortuous 20 minute transmission from an academic who seems to believe that women’s rights should not be sex-based. Grace Lavery sounds exactly like you’d expect an Associate Professor of English, Critical Theory, and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Berkley to sound: pretentious, self-satisfied and totally out-of-touch with reality.
After perplexing listeners with a stream of sophistry, Lavery breezily said that she had no regrets about saying on Twitter that she hoped the Queen would die, days after the monarch had contracted Covid. And Woman’s Hour was happy for her to expand on this spiteful invective. Lavery suggested the royal family was ‘a grotesque and disgusting relic of privilege that makes a mockery of British democratic procedure’. She went on: ‘If we were living through the French Revolution, regicide was very much on the table.’
There is little doubt that if the BBC was not in thrall to the trans activist lobby, Lavery wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a Radio 4 microphone. But it now appears that all it takes for an opinionated narcissist to preach to the largely female audience of Woman’s Hour about womanhood is to ‘identify’ as a woman. As a Two Ronnies sketch, this would be funny. Somehow, it has become reality.
The BBC says that, ‘Impartiality is the bedrock of the BBC. As we have said many times before, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines are sacrosanct, our staff know this and they understand their responsibilities.’ But listeners can’t escape the BBC’s identity fixation. Shuffling bleary-eyed across my kitchen to make a coffee, I switched on the Today programme recently to hear a trailer for a 6Music show ahead of the news headlines. A cheery voice invited me and other listeners to ‘take a deep dive into queer country’ and hear about the new music acts who were ‘continuing the legacy of past queer and trans country artists.’
What is particularly strange about the BBC’s alignment with the ‘sex is not immutable; gender is a choice’ brigade is that it undermines one of the Corporation’s key goals: to put female employees on an equal footing with their male counterparts. The BBC Diversity and Inclusion Plan 2020-23 says a staff diversity census will for the first time ‘capture non-binary or non-conforming identities’. The results will make for interesting reading.
I observed my fellow journalists collectively lose the plot during the Covid pandemic, when once questioning colleagues abandoned all scepticism and acted as propagandists for lockdown, promoting measures that were ineffective, cruel and predictably damaging in the longer-term. They would endlessly bang on about ‘following the science’ during this period. Many of these same colleagues are now staying stubbornly silent when it comes to the science regarding sex and gender and the realities of biology.
The key lesson from the BBC’s slanted coverage of the pandemic should have been that we betray the public when we present assumptions as truths and take sides. We should be guided as best we can by facts, and the facts are that the human species is largely made up of two distinct sexes: male and female.
Sure, there are other individuals who feel more comfortable living as the opposite sex to the one they were born into for a range of complex reasons. Some decide they wish to live as the opposite sex and subsequently change their minds. All should be viewed with compassion but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the facts of life or forget scientific realities to suit our sensibilities.
Increasingly, I find myself wondering: am I the only BBC journalist who still believes in two genders? Am I the only BBC journalist who thinks that when it comes to sexuality people are straight, gay or bisexual, and those options really should suffice? Am I the only BBC journalist who thinks there are far more urgent problems facing our country and the world than the supposedly terrible plight of a vanishingly small number of people who aren’t happy with their sex, gender or identity generally?
I fear I may be. But in a small sign of hope that other organisations aren’t as supine when it comes to noisy pressure groups and political correctness as the BBC, Fina, swimming’s world governing body, voted in June to stop most transgender athletes from competing in women’s elite races. The ex-GB swimmer Karen Pickering pointed out that ‘inclusivity and fairness cannot be compatible’.
With this remark, Pickering cut right to the heart of the issue. There is a trade-off to be made and a line has to be drawn somewhere. Just as inclusivity and fairness are not always compatible, scientific facts and liberal worldviews do not always match up. And while the swimming authorities have shown leadership on the vexed issue of trans rights, BBC management is once again finding itself way out of its depth and floundering badly.
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