The BBC’s despicable balancing act

29 12 2010

We’ve all done it as journalists . . . Deadline’s approaching and we’re desperate for a balancing quote, so we reach for the phone and call for rent-a-quote. These are the sort of folk who’d sell their grandmother for a brief mention in the Gornal Grunt, or a 30-second sound-bite on Radio Witless.

You’d hope, though, that the person interviewed would have some valid input into the story and some vague relevance to it. Not that that sort of thing obviously bothers the BBC.

Last night’s TV news carried the story about Elton John and David Furnish adopting a child. It pretty much washed over me, as I have almost zero interest in celebrities’ private lives – until Stephen Green was trotted out as the ‘balancing’ quote.

For those of you lucky enough not to be familiar with this objectionable character, I’ll let you go and Google him on the grounds I don’t want to give him and his thoroughy unpleasant organisation any more hits than necessary. Suffice it to say, he’s a fundamentalist Christian whose views have included the execution of gays and also comparing them to mass murderers.

I don’t generally complain to media organisations, having seen too many of the green ink brigade myself from the other side. But in this case I made an exception, as the whole thing smacked very heavily of BBC homophobia. And this is the organisation that recently commissioned a study of how GLBT people are represented on its programmes. Answer: Badly. And it’s also the organisation that invited a religious leader who has turned a blind eye to child abuse and who has compared atheists and humanists to Nazis to deliver its Christmas message.

My first thought with the Elton John story was whether the BBC would have interviewed someone espousing similar views but transferred to race? And secondly, did the story need balance? I don’t recall the other side of the coin being sought when David Miliband and his wife adopted children.

The BBC might want to look again at its policies on bias and objectivity on the grounds that this is the sort of ‘balance’ any media outlet certainly doesn’t need.