The BBC has changed its editorial guidelines to ensure that subjects such as religion and science are treated with due impartiality.
The change has come about as a result of a review of the BBC's editorial guidelines by governing body, the BBC Trust.
The 2005 guidelines stated that controversial subjects which must be treated with due impartiality were solely matters of public policy or political/industrial controversy. The new guidelines extend the definition of controversial
subjects to include religion, science, culture and ethics.
The trust said: In practice, this means that when BBC content deals with controversy within these subjects, it must be treated with a level of impartiality adequate and appropriate to the content, taking account of the nature of the content
and the likely audience expectation.
The BBC has further beefed up its guidelines on religion by stating that any content dealing with matters of religion and likely to cause offence to those with religious views must be editorially justified and must be referred to a senior
editorial figure .
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said the new religion rules go to far: Although we are not suggesting that contributors should go out of their way to be needlessly offensive, this is an entirely retrograde step that
will put severe restrictions on comedians, documentary makers, satirists and commentators who want to be critical of religion. Almost anything that isn't wholly reverential towards religious beliefs can be perceived as offensive by some
believers. The idea that any comment that could be offensive to a religious person must be editorially approved shows that the BBC has become ridiculously timid and fearful of religious controversy.
Other changes include a new guideline on protecting international contributors to the BBC from repercussions in their own countries.
BBC stars will not be allowed to make unduly humiliating or derogatory remarks to entertain audiences under new guidelines published yesterday.
The changes are aimed at protecting people from intrusive, aggressive or derogatory remarks for the purposes of entertainment . The guidelines state: This does not mean preventing comedy or jokes about people in the public eye, but
simply that such comments and their tone are proportionate to their target.
Following upheld complaints about BBC coverage of the launch of a U2 album in 2009, and a Radio One Harry Potter Day the same year, the new guidelines now require BBC staff to take account the cumulative effect that repeated
mentions of a particular brand or product over a short period may have in providing undue prominence.
The new rules take effect from midnight on Monday, 18 October.
The former BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland has joined the criticism of the BBC trust, the corporation's governing body, and hinted it should be replaced. The structure, the BBC trust, never made sense, it was wrong when it was set up, Bland said.
The system has been undermined.
The trust's chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, announced last week he would not seek reappointment when his current term expires in April next year. He said he had decided over the summer to step down from the role. Industry insiders claim he stepped
down because he suspected he was unlikely to be reappointed to the role by the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
Bland said it is unclear if the trust is designed to regulate the BBC or act as a guarantor of the corporation's independence, protecting it from government interference. Although I think [outgoing trust chairman] Sir Michael Lyons has done as
well as he possibly could, it's very difficult, being an advocate, regulator and admonisher, he said.
The BBC Trust has rejected a complaint about a headline on the World Service website that asked, Should homosexuals face execution?
The question was linked to a Have Your Say debate page based on a radio programme broadcast on December 16 after the Ugandan government said it was considering legislation which would impose the death penalty for some homosexual acts.
The BBC Trust said a complaint was received in January by a woman who said she considered it outrageous that the question was posed.
She also criticised subsequent apologies from BBC executives David Stead and Peter Horrocks as flimsy and half-hearted and said the decision to generate a debate on the topic would invite comments that could easily be criminal
incitement to hatred .
A BBC Trust report said the committee agreed with the director of World Service, Peter Horrocks, who wrote in his blog that the headline was too stark .
The report concluded: The committee would request that the BBC Executive review its online editorial guideline on audience expectations to ensure that content writers are reminded that all content is available globally, and that any
contentious issues should be suitably contextualised in order to prevent the general reader from misunderstanding its purpose.
The BBC Trust, has approved the BBC set top box Project Canvas with certain conditions.
UK broadcasters are collaborating on a common set top box, with IPTV and web built-in.
The Canvas project copyrights vital parts of the technical specification, which can't be seen except under NDA. Effectively this hardwires the content into the silicon: like buying an FM radio in Singapore and finding it only plays
Singapore-approved content when you get home.
The Trust makes four conditions for the BBC's continuing supports - and demands that these be enshrined in the objects and shareholders' agreement . The conditions are:
The joint venture may develop ways in which to recover operational costs but, for the avoidance of doubt, any such activity will be charged to third parties on a cost recovery basis only.
Entry controls in terms of technical and content standards will be minimal.
Access will not be bundled with other products or services.
Listing on the electronic programme guide and UI will be awarded in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory manner.
OpenIPTV specs are by contrast, well, open and global. But basing a Canvas box on truly open standards may have opened up the market much wider. We can't be having that - UK viewers must be protected by having a UK-only device serving up nice,
UK-approved content in a UK-approved manner. If it stays a UK-only platform and means fewer devices get made, so there's less competition and higher prices, well, that's too bad.
The presenter who divided industry over his Prince of Wales Camilla interview criticises UK libel laws and the role of the BBC Trust.
The Any Questions host identifies a greater culture of compliance in direct response to the Ross/Brand saga – which in itself was extremely damaging for the BBC. And he is worried.
Everyone is in the same boat. To me it is peculiar that I do a live radio programme every week but six months ago the BBC decided I have to have the live trail on Friday's Today programme cleared because it is prepared in
advance. But I can give this interview and say what I like. It seems a consequence of the Brand/Ross scandal but one wonders whether it was intentional or a result of drift. It risks creating a climate of caution. People are in danger of not
thinking for themselves.
The safety-first culture inhibits personal response or judgment. People think something will be referred and they wonder how it will be interpreted if it goes to the very top, to the trust. The risk of that is an
infantilisation of very serious, very talented people. I wonder whether such a detailed process of compliance is a useful way of spending time.
Comedian Frankie Boyle has written an open letter slamming the BBC governing body's cowardly rebuke of his jokes about Palestine.
The BBC Trust's editorial standards committee apologised earlier this week over comments made by Boyle two years ago, comparing Palestine to a cake being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew .
In his letter, the former Mock The Week star said he had been moved to tears after watching a documentary about life in Palestine and had promised himself he would do something.
He said that the BBC wished to deliver the flavour of political comedy with none of the content , and also slammed the BBC's decision not to air a charity appeal for aid to Gaza last year. He said: It's tragic for such a great
institution, but it is now cravenly afraid of giving offence and vulnerable to any kind of well-drilled lobbying.
Boyle made the remarks on Radio 4 show Political Animal. He said: I've been studying Israeli Army martial arts. I now know 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back.
Obviously, it feels strange to be on the moral high ground but I feel a response is required to the BBC Trust's cowardly rebuke of my jokes about Palestine.
As always, I heard nothing from the BBC but read in a newspaper that editorial procedures would be tightened further to stop jokes with anything at all to say getting past the censors.
In case you missed it, the jokes in question are: I've been studying Israeli Army Martial Arts. I now know 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back. People think that the Middle East is very complex but I have an
analogy that sums it up quite well. If you imagine that Palestine is a big cake, well…that cake is being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew.
I think the problem here is that the show's producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal was an appropriate target for satire. The Trust's ruling is essentially a note from
their line managers. It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.
The BBC refused to broadcast a humanitarian appeal in 2009 to help residents of Gaza rebuild their homes. It's tragic for such a great institution but it is now cravenly afraid of giving offence and vulnerable to any kind of
well drilled lobbying.
I told the jokes on a Radio 4 show called Political Animal. That title seems to promise provocative comedy with a point of view. In practice the BBC wish to deliver the flavour of political comedy with none of the content.
The most recent offering I saw was BBC Two's The Bubble. It looked exactly like a show where funny people sat around and did jokes about the news. Except the thrust of the format was that nobody had read the papers. I can only imagine how the
head of the BBC Trust must have looked watching that, grinning like Gordon Brown having his prostrate examined.
The situation in Palestine seems to be, in essence, apartheid. I grew up with the anti apartheid thing being a huge focus of debate. It really seemed to matter to everybody that other human beings were being treated in that
way. We didn't just talk about it, we did things, I remember boycotts and marches and demos all being held because we couldn't bear that people were being treated like that.
A few years ago I watched a documentary about life in Palestine. There's a section where a UN dignitary of some kind comes to do a photo opportunity outside a new hospital. The staff know that it communicates nothing of the
real desperation of their position, so they trick her into a side ward on her way out. She ends up in a room with a child who the doctors explain is in a critical condition because they don't have the supplies to keep treating him. She flounders,
awkwardly caught in the bleak reality of the room, mouthing platitudes over a dying boy.
The filmmaker asks one of the doctors what they think the stunt will have achieved. He is suddenly angry, perhaps having just felt at first hand something he knew in the abstract. The indifference of the world. She will
do nothing, he says to the filmmaker. Then he looks into the camera and says, Neither will you .
I cried at that and promised myself that I would do something. Other than write a few stupid jokes I have not done anything. Neither have you.
The BBC Trust's editorial standards committee has issued an apology over a joke made by Frankie Boyle which compared Palestine with a cake being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew .
The committee, which acts as a final arbiter of appeals if complainants are unhappy with the response from BBC management, upheld a previous finding that the comment was inappropriate and offensive.
But it said that no further action is needed in the case.
Boyle made the remark on Radio 4 comedy sketch show Political Animal , broadcast almost two years ago in June 2008.
The Scottish comedian said: I'm quite interested in the Middle East, I'm actually studying that Israeli army martial arts. And I know 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back. It's a difficult question to understand. I've got an analogy
which explains the whole thing quite well: If you imagine that Palestine is a cake - well, that cake is being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew.
A complainant wrote to the BBC Executive branding the comment disgusting and anti-Semitic.
Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, the complainant went to the editorial complaints unit, which is the next stage of the BBC's complaints process. But the complainant then went to the editorial standards committee as he felt that the
remark had gone through the editorial process without ringing any alarm bells.
Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary, has announced that Richard Ayre has been appointed as a member of the BBC Trust for four years commencing on 1 August 2010.
The BBC Trust is responsible for representing the interests of licence fee payers. The Trust also ensures that the BBC's activities are not anti-competitive.
Richard Ayre is currently the Ofcom Content Board member for England and Chairman of Ofcom's Broadcasting Review Committee. He will step down from this role in advance of becoming a BBC Trustee. He conducted Ofcom's 2007 enquiry into the misuse
of premium rate telephone calls in TV programming. Ayre was formerly the BBC's Controller of Editorial Policy and Deputy Chief Executive of BBC News. After leaving the BBC he worked for seven years on the board of the Food Standards Agency and
has been the Law Society's Freedom of Information Adjudicator since 2001. He is a former Chairman of Article 19, the International Campaign for Freedom of Expression, and also of the African Caribbean Reporters' Trust. He lives in east London
with his partner, the artist Guy Burch.
Richard Ayre said: I'm keen to play a part in ensuring a BBC that delivers what licence fee payers have a right to expect of the world's leading public service broadcaster. But I'm also determined to help protect the BBC's editorial
independence as we enter a time of severest pressures on the public sector.