Monday, May 9, 2016

Define freedom

From the files of the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit

The Alan Davies Show, Radio 5 Live, 18 December 2010

Complaint John Whittingdale MP complained about remarks by David Baddiel and Alan Davies concerning the Freedom Association (of which he is a Council-member) and its founder Norris McWhirter.

Outcome Talking about a short film he had made about a visit to his school by Mr McWhirter in 1978, Mr Baddiel described the Freedom Association as “a very, very right wing, kind of sub BNP, slightly posher version of the BNP, organisation”, and Mr Davies asked (with reference to Mr McWhirter) “Was he a Brown Shirt with Mosley or whatever they were called?”. In his complaint, Mr Whittingdale made the point that the Freedom Association is “a libertarian organisation, which promotes individual freedom and a smaller state”, and described the comments in question as “deeply offensive to the Freedom Association and to Mr McWhirter’s familty”.

While recognising the potential for offence, the ECU took the view that Mr Baddiel’s remarks were more in the nature of an expression of opinion (relating to an impression he had formed as a schoolboy) than a factual claim about the Freedom Association’s policies or stance, and, although contentious, fell within the boundaries of legitimate political debate. However, the guidelines on impartiality require that contentious views be “rigorously tested”. In this instance, the view expressed was neither tested nor identified as contentious, and Mr Davies’ subsequent question aggravated the fault.

Further action The Controller of Radio 5 Live has discussed the finding with the production team, emphasising the need to ensure that presenters are fully briefed and contentious statements are appropriately challenged.

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