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BBC withdrew from LGBT diversity scheme due to ‘risk of perception of bias’

Rhodri Talfan Davies said public trust that the broadcaster can approach ‘very complex areas’ with complete impartiality is essential.

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The BBC’s decision to withdraw from a diversity scheme run by an LGBT charity was due to the ‘risk of a perception of bias’, the corporation’s Director of Nations, Rhodri Talfan Davies, said (Ian West/PA)

The BBC’s decision to withdraw from a diversity scheme run by an LGBT charity was due to the ‘risk of a perception of bias’, the corporation’s Director of Nations, Rhodri Talfan Davies, said (Ian West/PA)

The BBC’s decision to withdraw from a diversity scheme run by an LGBT charity was due to the ‘risk of a perception of bias’, the corporation’s Director of Nations, Rhodri Talfan Davies, said (Ian West/PA)

The BBC’s decision to withdraw from a diversity scheme run by an LGBT charity was due to the “risk of a perception of bias”, one of the corporation’s bosses has said.

Director of Nations Rhodri Talfan Davies said public trust that the BBC can approach “very complex areas” with complete impartiality is “the absolute bedrock” of its decision-making.

The organisation said in a statement on Wednesday that it would not be renewing its participation in the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme but will continue to work with a range of organisations to support its LGBT staff.

Mr Talfan Davies told Women’s Hour on Thursday that the BBC is trying to create an inclusive working environment, while ensuring it remains balanced with its output.

He said the issues of transgender and women’s rights are “highly polarised debates”.

“The key thing for the BBC, as a broadcaster utterly committed to impartiality, is to ensure that audiences have trust in us to come into these very complex areas dispassionately and fairly,” he said.

“In the case of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme, it had led to questions about whether the BBC could be truly impartial when reporting on public policy debates like this, given that Stonewall has an active campaigning role in this space.

“For that reason we believe it’s the right time to step back from that programme.”

He added: “Since coming in as director, Tim Davie has been focusing on the impartiality of the organisation really as the foundation stone of everything that we do… that that audience trust is the absolute bedrock.”

Asked if he believes involvement with Stonewall has influenced the BBC’s operations, Mr Talfan Davies, who sits on the corporation’s executive committee, said: “We do not believe our relationship with Stonewall has compromised our journalism.

“We are taking a step, given the risk of a perception of bias, to step away from the Diversity Champions Programme, we think it’s the right time to do it.”

Mr Talfan Davies acknowledged that the withdrawal from the scheme may have caused “tension and discomfort” for some LGBT employees but said work will be done with certain groups to explain the reasoning behind the decision.

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“For some staff this will have been an uncomfortable moment… we are utterly committed to creating a working environment that is inclusive, where people feel valued and respected,” he said.

“The key thing is to engage with those staff groups to discuss our thinking and our reasoning and to listen to their responses.”

Part of the BBC statement on its decision said: “The BBC is fully committed to being an industry-leading employer on LGBTQ+ inclusion.

“We are proud of our lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans colleagues and we support them to have fulfilling careers at the BBC.

“Along with many other UK employers, the BBC has participated in Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme to support our objective to create a fully inclusive workplace.

“However, over time, our participation in the programme has led some to question whether the BBC can be impartial when reporting on public policy debates where Stonewall is taking an active role.”

More than 900 organisations in the UK have signed up to the scheme, which aims to promote inclusion in the workplace.

It is described by Stonewall as “the leading employers’ programme for ensuring all LGBTQ+ staff are free to be themselves in the workplace”.

Following the announcement, Stonewall said the BBC’s decision was “a shame”.

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