BBC staff can’t criticise colleagues or express personal opinions online

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by Stephen Chapman
BBC

The BBC has issued new guidance on impartiality, covering social media use and exernal engagements.

The “comprehensive” measures mean that senior staff, presenters and on-screen journalists will have to disclose earnings outside of the BBC.

Social Media Guidance

The social media guidance sets out the following “rules and expectations” for all employees, contractors and freelancers:

  • Always behave professionally, treating others with respect and courtesy at all times: follow the BBC’s Values.
  • Don’t bring the BBC into disrepute.
  • If your work requires you to maintain your impartiality, don’t express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or ‘controversial subjects’.
  • Don’t criticise your colleagues in public. Respect the privacy of the workplace and the confidentiality of internal announcements.

There is also a list of dos and don’ts about how the rules will be interpreted. It says staff should always treats others with respect “even in the face of abuse.”

They should assume that anything you say or post will be viewed critically and that “there is no difference between how a personal and an ‘official’ account is perceived on social media: disclaimers do not offer protection.”

Staff are also reminded that their “personal brand on social media is always secondary to your responsibility to the BBC.”

The BBC advises against posting when “your judgement may be impaired” and using “your BBC status to seek personal gain or pursue personal campaigns.”

It states that employees can’t reveal how they vote, or express support for any political party, or express a view on any policy which is a matter of “current political debate .”

They can’t support campaigns, by using hashtags, “no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial.”

In addition, journalists have been told not to break news on a personal account: “BBC platforms are your priority, even if it takes slightly longer.”

When it comes to expressing a personal opinion, there is even more detail about what employees can and can’t do, this ranges from ensuring that they don’t just follow social media accounts which reflect only one point of view; to using emojis, which can “accidentally, or deliberately – undercut an otherwise impartial post.”

Staff have also to avoid ‘virtue signalling’ – retweets, likes or joining online campaigns to indicate a personal view, no matter how apparently worthy the cause.

Breaching the rules may lead to disciplinary action.

Reports have stated that the new regulations would mean that staff would be banned from attending Pride events. Today, Tim Davie has said that there is "no ban", but that staff working in news and current affairs "should be mindful of ensuring that they do not get inolved in matters which could be deemed political or controversial."

The National Union of Journalists, meanwhile, has called for an "urgent meeting" with the BBC over the guidelines:

“Following the publication of the guidelines yesterday, the NUJ sought an urgent meeting with the BBC to address our members’ concerns about the changes which could constrain individuals’ ability to meaningfully participate and engage in issues that matter to them – whether that’s in their trade union, their communities or in events such as Pride," said Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary.

"The director general’s confirmation this morning that attendance at Pride would not be a breach is obviously welcome – that the clarification proved necessary shows that further clarity is needed. It’s disappointing that there was no consultation with staff unions on these changes ahead of them being announced, and we’ll be raising all the concerns NUJ members and reps have shared with us when we meet the BBC.”

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Corporate Work

The BBC has also introduced a register of external engagements, which will be published quarterly.

Davie stated that presenters and journalists “risked their impartiality” by earning money through corporate work. Previously they had to seek permission before undertaking jobs outside of the corporation, but now they will have to disclose where they’ve worked and whether there was a fee and if it was above or below £5k.

You can view the updates in full here.