Is our media free?


It is a government’s duty to keep the dichotomy between the media and impartiality. But in contested times, it’s a hard line to draw. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding many of the UK’s public bodies recently. Ofcom, the BBC and even the government themselves have had their impartiality questioned surrounding the discourse of the LGBTQ+ charity, Stonewall, and their influence on regulation.

Altering and censoring certain TV programmes

A new BBC investigation has assessed the impact that Stonewall, a charity that campaigns on issues such as sex and gender identity, has over public bodies. The most major finding from this investigation was that Ofcom, the British media regulator, has been accused of ‘scoring points’ in order to appeal to Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index, which awards points to firms based on how well they champion LGBTQ+ inclusivity. Ofcom did this by showing its rulings on broadcaster’s content by altering and censoring certain TV programmes.

Whilst this may seem like a harmless, bureaucratic act, this has very serious implications. This suggests that Ofcom has the power to alter the media we consume not in accordance with the government guidelines, rather with the interest of a third party with their own agendas. This goes against the democratic formation of public policies and organisations. Ofcom retains power over what we view in the media as we, the electorate, have voted for a government and parliament that allows them to do this. Thus, Ofcom can only act on behalf of the government and elected officials. The BBC themselves have been more hesitant to release information for this investigation. Regardless, many concerns have been raised by senior staff about the close working relationship between Stonewall and the BBC. Stonewall play a predominant role in diversity training and internal staffing.

Bereft of alternative viewpoints

Staff were shown contested infographics such as the ‘genderbread person’ which focuses on encompassing all gender expressions and sexual orientations, however, this concept only provides a normative concept of gender identity which is inherently problematic for certain communities. In addition, the BBC’s definition of other terms like ‘homosexual’ now mirrors Stonewall’s definition, which defines someone as ‘attracted to people of their own gender’ instead of sex. Many feel the training they receive by Stonewall is too myopic and bereft of alternate viewpoints, especially around such disputed subjects as defining sex and gender identity.

Forcing their way into legislation

Once again, this goes against the BBC’s commitment to “impartiality in all its output”. As the public is obliged to fund the BBC, they must do their best to remain objective and not take sides in such heated controversies. This media scrutiny is only one facet of Stonewall’s reputation. Many high-profile organisations have recently left their schemes such as The Equality and Human Rights Commission. Many accuse Stonewall of forcing their way into legislation, for example, branches of the civil service, as well as the Scottish and Welsh governments, have been promoting Stonewall’s views and agenda of removing gendered terms (such as “mother”) in legislation and policymaking. It is completely fair for Stonewall to campaign for this change, but these policy changes must go through democratically elected MPs, not through underground persuasion.

It would be easy to villainies Stonewall, as many commentators feel they are starting to have a ‘tyrannical’ reign over public bodies. Stonewall is trying to act in the best interest of a historically marginalised group that still have inadequate protection in the UK. However, this does not mean that people can’t question their agenda and debate alternative views. It should be considered a failure that Ofcom and the BBC would not host such contests of ideas. The biggest issue here is not Stonewall itself, rather the ease that public institutions can be influenced by a third party’s agenda. In this battlefield of ideology and impartiality, it is hard to see where governing interests stands.

Image: Michael Dziedzic via Unsplash

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