Active political involvement and commitments may give rise to conflicts of interest for people who are involved in programme making or have any editorial responsibilities in any BBC service, particularly if they deal with political or public policy issues. But there is no blanket prohibition on individuals becoming involved in political activity, neither is there a single approach which applies to all activity or to all roles in the BBC. Each instance of political activity will require a judgement to be made by the relevant manager in consultation with the Chief Adviser, Politics, to whom there is a mandatory reference at an early stage if there is any possibility of a risk to the BBC's impartiality. (See also BBC Editorial Guidelines 15.4.20)
Staff must declare any active political involvement on the Declaration of Personal Interest form. In some cases it will also be appropriate to declare the political activities of family members or other close personal contacts.
The Chief Adviser, Politics is responsible for providing advice to individuals and to Divisions in order to ensure fairness and consistency in dealing with these matters.
Membership and Activity
Anyone is entitled to be a non-active member of a political party or organisation. However, there are a small number of roles where public disclosure even of dormant membership may risk compromising perceptions of the BBC's impartiality. Managers or individuals should seek the advice of the Chief Adviser, Politics, where appropriate, to discuss individual circumstances in confidence.
Active political involvement can give rise to questions about the impartiality of the individual, the impartiality of the area in which they work and the impartiality of the BBC as a whole.Individuals should inform their manager about any political involvement so that it can be fully considered in the light of the guidance below.
There are three general considerations in each individual case:
the level of political involvement
the nature and level of the individual's job
the extent of involvement in editorial decisions, programme making and/or BBC policy
The Level of Political Activity
Considerations about the level of the individual's political involvement - nationally or locally - may include, for instance:
being publicly identified as a candidate or prospective candidate for a parliamentary, assembly or local authority election; no matter that the date of the election is not confirmed;
holding any office in a party political organisation at a national or local level.
speaking in public on matters of political controversy or public policy;
expressing views on matters of political controversy or public policy in books, articles, leaflets, letters in the press, social networking sites, blogs, etc. See BBC Editorial Guidelines Section 15.4.8
canvassing for a political party or candidate for election.
demonstrating practical support in the public domain for a political party or candidate, for instance, distributing leaflets, arranging transport etc.
promoting a partisan view on an issue put to local or national referendum.
The Nature of the BBC Role
Scrutiny of those working in journalism, in other sensitive editorial positions or in more senior roles throughout the BBC will clearly be the most rigorous.
In some cases, if they wish to maintain their level of political activity, it may be necessary to move them to a less sensitive position, either temporarily or substantively, or to amend some of their job responsibilities.
For those in less sensitive roles, the risk to the BBC's impartiality may be lower, but should still be considered and agreed with their manager, in consultation with the Chief Adviser, Politics.
Questions concerning risk to the BBC's impartiality may seem to be more immediate and obvious for those individuals who appear on air or whose contribution is acknowledged on-air or on-line during the course of a programme or through credits. However, the risk may be just as great for others whose contribution is "behind the scenes" or not generally known to the public, especially in editorially sensitive areas. Judgements on these issues must stand up to a scrutiny which assumes an individual's role may become publicly known.
The Type of Programme
News and current affairs programmes for international, national, regional and local output are subject to the most stringent tests of impartiality. For other types of output, including lifestyle, factual and entertainment, considerations may be less stringent, but the managers will consider the implications for those in more senior editorial roles and those who appear on air.
Seeking Nominations or Declaring Independent Candidacy
Anyone who intends to seek nomination as a candidate for election at national or local level - or intends declaring publicly their independent candidacy - should notify their manager at the earliest opportunity, so that the implications can be discussed with the Chief Adviser, Politics. It is unlikely that they will be able to undertake high level or high profile programme responsibilities from then until the election, unless they fail to be selected or withdraw their proposed candidacy.
Individuals seeking nomination need to consider from the outset whether an elected position is compatible with their substantive role and the possible consequences. It may be necessary prior to the election campaign to transfer them immediately to a less sensitive role. In these circumstances, the individual must be placed in gainful employment and not sent home on paid leave.
It will be the responsibility of the Director of the relevant Division or their nominee to ensure a suitable temporary alternative job is found at the earliest opportunity and, if appropriate and possible, to help the individual secure a new substantive job as soon as possible. The Director's primary responsibility, however, is to ensure impartiality and they will, therefore, have discretion to place the individual in whatever temporary role they deem suitable, retaining grade and salary.
If individuals are unsuccessful in seeking nomination or decide not to pursue their candidacy, they may return to their original substantive job. However if an individual's actions in pursuing nomination as a candidate have been such that the BBC's reputation for impartiality could be undermined should they return to their original job, they would continue - or be placed by the Director - in a suitable alternative job.
Once an individual has been selected as a prospective candidate, at national or local government level, he or she may not engage in programme work which could be linked to political issues, even if the date for the election has not been confirmed. Prospective candidates campaign actively to obtain support, and as such become the focus of public attention. This also applies to any individual making a public declaration of their intention to stand as an independent candidate.
An individual who has been selected as a candidate must notify their manager, who will inform the Chief Political Adviser. A list of BBC prospective candidates will be maintained. Any individuals who hold an elected position in Local Government at any level must ensure that their manager is notified and aware. The manager must inform the Chief Political Adviser.
When BBC employees stand for election for the European Parliament, the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly unpaid leave of up to six weeks is granted for the period to the election date. The leave is unpaid in order to avoid any suggestion that the BBC is subsidising the individuals' election campaign. If a candidate continues to work during the election period, it is imperative that they are employed in a role where there can be no perception of a conflict of interest and that they could not be seen as campaigning during BBC time.
Individuals may stand for local government elections provided there is not a conflict of interest with their BBC duties. They will be expected to conduct their campaign activity in their own time and ensure that nothing they say in public could be perceived as compromising the BBC's impartiality. Polling day itself should be taken as unpaid leave.
Presenters and regular contributors who are candidates for elections should not appear in any programmes in their normal roles during election campaigns or, in some circumstances, even before the formal election period, if that caused any actual unfairness to other candidates. They may, of course, contribute as candidates according to the relevant election guidelines regarding candidates' appearances.
If a family member or close personal contact is standing for election, it is acceptable for an individual to express personal support, but there should be no use of the BBC's name and where support extends to political support the considerations outlined above apply.
After Elections - Successful and Unsuccessful Candidates
If an individual is elected to the European Parliament, UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly he / she will be required to resign from the BBC immediately.
If an individual is not elected he/she may return to work immediately but there may have to be an appropriate gap in time before resuming the original substantive job. However, if the actions of the individual in seeking election have been such that the BBC's reputation for impartiality could be undermined should they return to their original substantive job, the person may be placed by the Director in a less sensitive job, temporary or substantive, retaining their grade and salary. In the event of such a decision becoming necessary there will be full discussion of the issues with the individual concerned and the advice of the Chief Political Adviser will be sought to ensure consistency.
If an individual is elected to a position in local government, they may continue to work for the BBC. However, (with the possible exception of those elected as independents at the level of parish councils) they are unlikely to be able to fulfil a journalistic or editorial role in news and current affairs involving international, national, regional or local output.
Non-Political Voluntary Public Office
This may be acceptable even for editorial people in news programmes. This includes school governorships and being a magistrate. However, content producers should be careful in fulfilling these roles about involving themselves in controversial matters of public policy related to organisations which campaign on political or public policy issues and should seek advice from the Chief Adviser, Politics.