Entertainment & Arts

Iain Lee's 'bigotry' remark breached BBC rules

Iain Lee
Image caption Iain Lee left the BBC two weeks after the controversial interview on his breakfast show

The BBC Trust's editorial standards committee (ESC) has upheld complaints about comments made by former radio host Iain Lee on his Three Counties breakfast show.

The ESC ruled Lee was in breach of the editorial guidelines on impartiality after calling a Christian lawyer a bigot in a debate on homophobia.

Lee and the BBC later apologised, saying the interview was at "several points inappropriate".

Lee then left the BBC in November 2015.

The presenter responded to the ruling on Twitter, saying: "Genuinely, I'm flabbergasted. The report contains examples of where I was wrong. Apart from one line, I kept replying 'what's wrong with that?'"

Lee's departure came two weeks after the 3 November interview with Libby Powell, a lawyer for Christian Concern, a conservative Christian group that opposes LGBT rights.

She appeared on the show to defend a minister who was disciplined for reading out passages from the Bible condemning homosexuality during a recent service at a prison.

Lee stated: "Homophobia is bigotry. Do you support bigotry?" to which Powell replied: "This isn't homophobia, this is God's word."

He went on to accuse Powell of not understanding what bigotry was.

The preacher and former prison worker, who was claiming constructive dismissal, was also on the show and was told by Lee: "I find the view that being gay is sinful, I find that view completely repugnant and disgraceful."

'Personal attacks'

Following the show, the BBC issued a statement to LGBT website Pink News apologising for any offence that may have been caused.

In its ruling issued on Tuesday, the ESC said it had received complaints about impartiality following the 3 November interview and, after consideration, had ruled the interview was a "serious breach of editorial guidelines for impartiality".

The ESC said they understood the "editorial justification for addressing the subject [of the interview] and for robustly challenging the interviewees".

However, they agreed that Lee "did not show due impartiality in the conduct of two of the interviews and that their tone was unduly confrontational".

Training programme

They noted the interview "included personal attacks on the interviewee and on her beliefs", and concluded the "language used was inappropriate and the interviewee was not given appropriate opportunity to air her views".

The committee added: "This breach of impartiality followed occasions when other local radio presenters, while endeavouring to engage with audiences, had voiced personal opinions, in breach of the Editorial Guidelines."

They noted that these included the broadcast of comments by a presenter that were "potentially offensive and which exceeded the expectations of the audience".

They acknowledged the "critical role" BBC local radio output had to play in "enabling the widest possible public debate".

"However, they considered that where presenters appeared to defend a particular stand on an issue in an inappropriately combative manner, the effect was not to broaden debate but was likely to the be the opposite."

Finally, the committee said the BBC executive had made a commitment to starting a programme of new training across local radio "to increase understanding of the subject by production teams and presenters".

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