Crackdown on 'opinions'

BBC chief Davie orders end to social media posturing

BBC Scotland

New rules for corporation staff (pic: Terry Murden)

BBC staff have been ordered to restrict their output on social media under new rules aimed at stamping out personal comments on politics and public policy.

New director general, Tim Davie has demanded the change to stop employees passing opinions on controversial topics and to tackle accusations that the BBC is biased.

Calling an end to so-called “virtue signalling “– defined as publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character – will see a sea-change in content distributed on social media channels, principally Twitter.

Mr Davie said he wanted to change how some BBC journalists use their personal accounts on platforms such as Twitter. A new guideline will require news to be broken on official BBC channels rather than on personal Twitter accounts.

Staff have been warned that building their “personal brand” on social media is secondary to their responsibility as an employee of the BBC.

Tim Davie

Tim Davie: crackdown on personal Twitter accounts

“If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media, then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC,” he said.

The rules were drawn up by Richard Sambrook, a former director of global news at the BBC and now a professor of journalism at Cardiff University.

While the rules relate essentially to BBC staff, some of its high profile “celebrity” presenters, such as Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, will also be targeted. He has a reputation for commenting on a wide range of issues, particularly Brexit.

There will also be a quarterly “register of external engagements”, designed to crack down on perceived conflicts of interest.

This list will show whether a fee was above or below £5,000 and follows further criticism about BBC employees seemingly endorsing brands and viewpoints

Kamal Ahmed

Kamal Ahmed: apologised for speaking fee

North America editor, Jon Sopel gave a paid speech to the tobacco company Philip Morris International, while Kamal Ahmed, the BBC’s £200,000 a year news editorial director, earned £12,000 for a speech to an investment company.

Mr Ahmed, a former Scotland on Sunday journalist, who was previously the BBCs economics editor, was paid for a 40-minute appearance at Aberdeen Standard Investments’ Investing for the Future event.

In an email to staff he admitted he “did not think things through” and said he would not be taking the payment.

Daily Business comment: The main intention of this crackdown is to restore the BBC’s reputation for impartiality but it should also have one other significant benefit.

Daily Business has called for BBC journalists to be barred from using Twitter to break news based on access to privileged information (press releases, press conferences, etc) without the item referencing the BBC website.

Effectively, they are operating personal news services and in competition with commercial news services that use social media to drive traffic to their websites.

If Mr Davie’s new rules put a stop to this, as indicated, it will be another victory for those of us trying to make a living against an organisation that has for too long used anti-competitive practices to rig the media market in its favour.

BBC director regrets briefing confusion

The new director of BBC Scotland said he regretted the confusion caused over its coverage of the First Minister’s daily coronavirus briefings.

BBC Scotland was criticised last month when it said it said it would no longer broadcast every announcement and that they would be televised based on “editorial merit”.

But Steve Carson today told MSPs there was never an intention to halt coverage.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee on the BBC’s annual report and accounts, he said: “I do regret, and I agree, that for a period of days people were incredibly confused as to what they thought the BBC were doing.”

He added: “Whether it’s unconscious or not, on days when people want trusted, accurate information – for example on Covid – they come to the BBC in droves.”

His comments coincide with some of BBC Scotland’s best known presenters leaving to meet £6.2 million of savings. Sixty staff, including Gordon Brewer and Isabel Fraser, are taking redundancy.

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