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BBC announces new impartiality rules for social media

Posted on: October 30, 2020 by Mariella Brown

The BBC has announced new impartiality rules regarding the use of presenters and journalists’ social media in a bid to reduce accusations of perceived bias at the corporation.  

Inappropriate use of emojis and virtue signalling must be avoided according to the updated guidelines from newly-appointed Director General Tim Davie (pictured).

Amongst a focus on unique, high impact content Davie set out a renewed commitment to impartiality when he joined the corporation last month. The topic of the future of BBC News will be debated in an upcoming SoE In discussion with… conference session featuring the corporation’s editorial director Kamal Ahmed.

The guidelines state that staff in news and other factual journalism sectors as well as senior corporation leaders will be held to higher account; for such employees “personal social media activity must also comply with the BBC Editorial Guidelines as though it were BBC output”.

Additionally, social media networks should not be mistaken as accurate reflections of public opinion with the guidelines adding “your audience is overwhelmingly elsewhere”.

Journalists in current affairs roles are urged to “think about what your likes, shares, retweets, use of hashtags and who you follow say about you, your personal prejudices and opinions.”

The new rules will put an end to disclaimers in personal profiles that state “my views, not the BBC’s”, stating this will provide no defence and should not be used.

Breach of the social media guidance may lead to disciplinary action and even termination “in serious circumstances”, the BBC said.

BBC presenters appear to have reacted to the guidelines with expressions of emojis such as BBC News’ Huw Edwards and BBC newsdesk editor Neil Henderson who tweets the #TomorrowsPapersToday newspaper front pages.

In addition to the social media guidelines, news reporters should not take part in “public demonstrations or gatherings about controversial issues” adding that judgment is required as to whether the issue is controversial but “it should be assumed that most marches are contentious to some degree or other”.

A summary of the guidelines covers four rules and expectations for everyone working at the BBC:

  • 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

The BBC’s editorial director Kamal Ahmed will be in discussion with the Society of Editors on Thursday 12 November at noon. Free registration is available here.