Northern Ireland

Belfast Pride: BBC NI chief apologises to staff over 'confusion'

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Media captionBelfast Pride: 'I'm happy to apologise'

The head of BBC Northern Ireland has apologised to staff over "confusion" around participation in Belfast Pride.

In an email on Friday, Peter Johnston said the organisation would not be "involved corporately" in the event.

The email added that "individual programme brands will not be represented" at Pride.

In July, a memo to staff said BBC NI would, for the first time, be taking part in the parade, wearing branded T-shirts.

But in an interview on Friday with BBC News NI, Mr Johnston added that communication "probably could have been clearer".

BBC NI had previously defended its decision to take part in Pride on Saturday.

BBC Pride is a staff-led initiative which operates across the UK.

A £250 fee was paid by BBC Northern Ireland to allow its BBC Pride network members and colleagues to take part in the Belfast event.

The corporation said it came from "a small discretionary budget for a range of staff-based initiatives".

Belfast Pride

Belfast Pride is billed as both a celebration of the city's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and as a protest calling for equality.

About 100 people took part in the city's first Pride parade in 1991.

Organisers of this year's Pride festival say that its aim is to highlight rights denied to their community.

Image caption Thousands turn out each year for the Belfast Pride parade

On Friday, Mr Johnston's email stated: "The BBC Pride staff network (a staff-led initiative that operates across the UK) will be taking part in the Belfast Pride Parade along with colleagues, family and friends.

"BBC Pride provides encouragement, friendship, advice and support to staff of all sexualities.

"It does important work in helping to make the BBC an inclusive and diverse organisation."

'Impartiality within output'

The email added: "We know that there are legislative issues specific to Northern Ireland in relation to same-sex marriage.

"These raise important considerations for the BBC in the context of its Editorial Guidelines, including the requirement to maintain due impartiality within our output.

"None of this means that members of the BBC Pride network cannot be involved in Pride festivities in Belfast, but it does require BBC Northern Ireland to avoid creating the impression that it has a position on matters of political contention or controversy."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Organisers of this year's Pride festival say that its aim is to highlight rights denied to their community

Clarifying the corporation's position, a spokesperson said BBC Northern Ireland "will not be represented as an organisation, or by individual programmes because of Editorial Guideline considerations".

They added: "Staff attending the event will wear BBC Pride t-shirts (as they have done at Pride events throughout the UK)".

Analysis by BBC News NI Arts and Education Correspondent Robbie Meredith

In his message to staff at BBC Northern Ireland today the Director Peter Johnston said there had been "confusion" over the basis for involvement in the Belfast Pride Parade 2019.

But that confusion seems to have been entirely self-generated by the corporation.

An e-mail to all Northern Ireland staff on 24 July announced that "BBC Northern Ireland will, for the first time, be taking part in Belfast Pride on 3 August alongside many organisations and members of the public."

Yet Peter Johnston has now said that "BBC NI will not be involved corporately in the Belfast Pride parade and that individual programme brands will not be represented."

Instead he said that members of the BBC Pride network, a UK wide LGBT organisation for BBC staff, would be taking part in Saturday's parade.

A further statement issued by BBC Northern Ireland said the position was "consistent with the position that we set out last week".

However that may not be a view shared by both supporters and critics of the corporation's stance.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, TUV leader Jim Allister said he welcomed Mr Johnson's comments.

"Having stood back and observed what they had done, I welcome the fact that BBC came to its senses on this and recognised they were totally surrendering their impartiality on the issues so entwined in this parade," said Mr Allister.

He added that the BBC had "backed off and climbed down from something they should never have put themselves in to".

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