BBC’s bizarre Christmas Day message

BBC's bizarre Christmas Day message
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Last week Mr S reported that – following months of deliberation – the BBC had (finally) decided to uphold a complaint about a controversial blog post written by its LGBT correspondent Ben Hunte. The case in question concerned a court verdict in December in which senior judges ruled against children being given access to drugs that would allow them to transition genders.

A lengthy piece by Hunte claimed that the High Court Keira Bell verdict on puberty-blocking drugs could cause young people considering transition to take their own lives. The BBC has now admitted that this piece was one-sided, risked endangering vulnerable people and did not meet the Corporation's guidelines on reporting suicides. 

Its own Executive Complaints Unit concluded that 'the repeated references to suicide went beyond what was editorially justified in the context' and that ‘when suicide is presented as a reasonable reaction to a situation, people in a similar situation may identify with the individual concerned and consider taking the same action.’ Swathes of the article have now been excised online.

Quite the damning verdict. But now it transpires that the BBC's initial response to complaints about the article was far less contrite than its more recent admission of failure would suggest. Hunte's piece was published on 22 December. Two days later a reader saw the article and wrote that evening to Richard Burgess, the then head of news at the BBC, to express their concerns about the article's lack of impartiality and its potential impact on vulnerable children. 

The curt reply of Burgess – who was promoted in June to being the executive editor of UK news content – was sent the following afternoon at 3:31 p.m. on Christmas Day and said haughtily:

Dear James, I have to say I think this is a rather inconsiderate, not to say curious, time to send an email of this nature. If you want to resend after Christmas, we'll reconsider. Richard

As the reader pointed out to Mr S: 'I simply wrote as soon as this matter had been brought to my attention, on the evening of what had been an ordinary working day.' They added that: 'To have a senior BBC executive dismiss our reasonably-stated concerns like that was disappointing to say the least.'

Steerpike wonders how the inconvenience of such an email for the Corporation's managers compares to those parents with children at risk of self-harm. Unsurprisingly, the BBC declined to comment on this email when asked by Mr S. The next time a similar event occurs, let's hope that it doesn't take six months for the Beeb to address the matter properly.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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