For 10 years, between 2006 and 2016, my alarm clock went off at 3.30am.
I’d stagger into the shower before being whisked to Broadcasting House in the back of a cab. If I was lucky, I’d doze against the window of a warm and womb-like Toyota Prius.
If I was unlucky, Steve Allen would be on the radio.
Safely inside the revolving doors of BH, I’d take the lift to the third floor and head to the control room of the Today studio, glancing over my shoulder to see whether Humphrys was in.
If he was, it would be a morning of anxiety. Finding his headphones, hoping his breakfast bowl hadn’t gone missing again. We did our best to set everything up as he liked it, we wanted an easy life.
My job was to keep the show to time, which meant getting the presenters and guests to stop talking.
I wasn’t popular.
When the pips squeaked at 05:59’55 (more on the pips here), the Editor would saunter in with a latte, hoof an armful of broadsheets onto her desk and assume the ‘God’ position, directly behind me.
The Editor’s job was to direct the big ‘8.10’ interview, deal with breaking news and monitor incoming email.
If a similar number of emails accused us of rampant left wing bias as rampant right wing bias over the course of a morning, we’d call that a win.
Today, BBC impartiality remains in the spotlight.
It’s arguably the most important challenge the organisation faces as the charter comes up for renewal at the end of the decade.
It should be impossible for the public to work out the political leanings of a BBC programme or presenter.
One of Humphry’s predecessors, Brian Redhead, conducted a minute’s silence (or at least threatened to) when Nigel Lawson appeared on the programme and suggested he knew which way Redhead voted.
BBC journalists have to remain professionally neutral, but they get a vote in elections. They take part in the democratic process privately, just like everyone else.
But impartiality guidelines are now being rolled out to wider issues. Issues on which it’s difficult to find an equivalent ‘neutral’ position.
Tim Davie, the newly appointed Director-General, sent an email to staff this week entitled, ‘Renewing our commitment to impartiality.’
Davie reminded staff, particularly those working in news that, “Impartiality is one of the cornerstones of the BBC’s relationship with the audiences we serve. Thanks to everyone’s outstanding work we have a strong and hard-won reputation for fairness and balance. We want to ensure that we keep building the trust people have in us.”
He went on to link to fresh guidance on impartiality, including a section on ‘Participating in marches and protests.’
“People working in news and current affairs and factual journalism (across all Divisions), as set out in the Guidelines, should not participate in public demonstrations or gatherings about controversial issues.”
What are ‘controversial issues?’
“It should be assumed that most marches are contentious to some degree or other.”
Around 3,500 staff cannot now take part in marches, tweet, RT or like ‘controversial’ social media posts, or speak publicly on issues that might cause controversy.
The problem is that political and social neutrality are not the same. Political neutrality is not demonstrating allegiance to a political party. But every journalist gets a vote.
The equivalent of a vote for contentious issues is turning up at a protest. If a staff member wants to attend but is not allowed to, their vote is placed on the other side by their non-attendance.
I’m not sure the BBC can make that decision for staff members.
The guidelines were ‘clarified’ on Friday morning.
Staff are allowed to attend LGBT+ events, so long as they are ‘commemorative or celebratory.’
“Staff need to ensure that they are not seen to be taking a stand on politicised or contested issues.”
Pride is never just ‘commemorative or celebratory.’ Pride events are fun. That doesn’t mean they’re not protests.
The LGBT+ community has been fighting for change, equality and acceptance at Pride related events since 1969. And there is still a mountain to climb. The idea that all we want to do is to celebrate how far we’ve come is patronising and ignorant of the myriad issues faced by LGBT+ communities.
If it’s about not being seen to take a stand, it’s important to realise that banning staff from participating in marches is a stand.
Keeping away is a decision. And it’s a decision for the individual, not the Corporation.