Belfast Pride row: BBC NI chief says broadcaster ‘will not be involved corporately’

Crowds in the Belfast Pride parade in the city centre in 2017
Crowds in the Belfast Pride parade in the city centre in 2017

The director of BBC NI has intervened in the row over staff taking part in the Belfast Pride parade tomorrow, saying that the organisation “will not be involved corporately” in the event.

An internal BBC NI memo last week citing the term “BBC Northern Ireland” said some staff would be participating in the annual parade wearing BBC-branded T-shirts.

The news prompted heated debate, given that Belfast Pride also bills itself a protest movement campaigning for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland; some critics therefore called into question the broadcaster’s impartiality.

However, BBC NI Director Peter Johnston intervened yesterday after returning from annual leave.

He said that the participation was “a staff-led initiative that operates across the UK” known as the ‘BBC Pride staff network’ and that individual BBC NI programmes would not be represented in the parade.

He also acknowledged that the legal issues on same-sex marriage in NI “raise important considerations” for the BBC in the context of its requirement to maintain due impartiality.

“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,” he said.

“It is on this basis that BBC NI will not be involved corporately in the Belfast Pride parade and that individual programme brands will not be represented.”

TUV leader Jim Allister told the Nolan Show: “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.”

Meanwhile, Raymond Stewart of Reformation Ireland will protest against the flying of the Pride Flag at council offices in Newtownabbey tomorrow.

He says the move is “putting salt into the wound” of Christians, given that Ashers Bakery – at the centre of the ‘gay cake’ row – is only a quarter of a mile away.

However, Alliance councillor Glen Finlay, who sponsored the flying of the flag, said it is about “tolerance” and “does not seek to make homosexuality compulsory”.