A climate of fear at the Corporation

The BBC has internal networks of inquisitors.

It has that statue of Orwell with the now too familiar admonition: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Yes and no: people don’t want to hear “You’re ugly” and it’s not an important kind of liberty to say it. But that’s a quibble.

I’ve always felt that particular line stands for something important about the way journalism should be done.

I thought of it again last week, when a senior figure told me about ‘a climate of fear’ at the Corporation, surrounding stories on race and on transgender issues. A small but significant number of the BBC’s staff had appointed themselves would-be censors, he said.

But here at our national broadcaster I’ve been told about unacceptable demands to change or drop stories – demands made by members of two ‘internal staff networks’ which serve as support and discussion groups.

These are BBC Embrace, which represents Black, Asian and other ethnic minority staff, and BBC Pride, for LGBTQ staff. Delegates from these groups are accused of flinging around charges of ‘racism’ and ‘transphobia’. There are claims of ‘bullying, piling on and [using] threats of being cancelled’.

Note no mention of charges of homophobia or lesbophobia or misogyny. That’s all so last century.

Last week, BBC Online ran a brave and important story about lesbians feeling coerced into accepting trans women as sexual partners – feeling, in other words, that they had to have sex with someone who is biologically a man but identifies as a woman. The coverage included an interview with a lesbian named Jeannie who said she was attracted only to biological females. As a result, she had been labelled transphobic, a genital fetishist, a pervert and a ‘terf’ – a trans exclusionary radical feminist – for expressing this preference.

The piece repeated the claim, a contentious one of course, that lesbians are being pressured to ‘accept the idea that a penis can be a female sex organ’.

Thousands of people contacted the BBC to say they were glad to read about this difficult issue.

Yet I’m told the journalists behind the story had to ‘fight like hell’ to get it published. And that it was held up for several months because of internal opposition, with the campaign to censor it going all the way up to the BBC director-general.

Another investigation, about the influence of pro-trans lobby group Stonewall on publicly funded institutions, was also broadcast. Yet the journalist, Stephen Nolan, says he had been warned the subject of Stonewall was ‘untouchable’.

But he touched it.

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