Words: Will Stroude
The BBC has warned all news staff they could face disciplinary action if they express views on "controversial" subjects in the wake of the row over LGBT-inclusive education.
BBC staff had joined others in criticising the broadcaster last week after it allowed a question asking whether it was "morally right" for primary school children to learn about the existence of LGBT people to be broadcast on Question Time.
Among them was BBC Breakfast's gay Business Correspondent, Ben Thompson, who asked whether the 'morality' of race, religion or disability would be put up for debate in the same way.
Responding to a tweet from Question Time bearing the question, the former Attitude cover star wrote: "LGBT ‘issues’? Like what? That we exist? One of them, RIGHT HERE, is on your TV every morning.
"I held back on this, hoping it was clumsy writing, done in haste. But it’s still online. Would you ask if it’s ‘morally right’ to learn about gender/race/religion/disability ‘issues’?"
LGBT ‘issues’? Like what? That we exist? One of them, RIGHT HERE, is on your TV every morning. I held back on this, hoping it was clumsy writing, done in haste. But it’s still online. Would you ask if it’s ‘morally right’ to learn about gender/race/religion/disability ‘issues’? https://t.co/V24tHo39w1— Ben Thompson (@BBCBenThompson) March 29, 2019
Now the BBC’s director of news, Fran Unsworth, has emailed staff warning them that they could face action if they express "political" views on social media, the Guardian reports.
In a message to staff on Thursday, Unsworth wrote: "We all have personal views, but it is part of our role with the BBC to keep those views private.
"Our editorial guidelines say BBC staff must not advocate any particular position on a matter of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or any other ‘controversial subject’.
"That applies to all comments in the public domain, including on social media. There is no real distinction between personal and official social media accounts."
The message continued: "We are living in a period of highly polarised opinions on a range of subjects and the BBC frequently faces criticism for the way we report and analyse events, with our impartiality called into question.
"Many of these criticisms are unfounded and we are prepared to defend ourselves robustly where necessary.
"We also need to make sure our own house is in order."
Despite coming just days after the Question Time controversy, the BBC had denied the email was related to criticism of its LGBT education coverage.
A BBC spokesperson said: "This was a general reminder to all BBC news staff about social media guidelines and made no mention of LGBT issues".
However, Ben Thompson pointedly thanked followers on Twitter for messages of support he'd received after the story broke on Thursday (4 April).
Thank you for all your messages.— Ben Thompson (@BBCBenThompson) April 4, 2019
"Thank you for all your messages," he wrote.
The warning comes just weeks after BBC News's first ever LGBT Correspondent, current Attitude cover star Ben Hunte, took up his groundbreaking positition reporting on issues that affect the community.