Dear Today programme team,
On 31 January at about 7:30 pm, I was ejected from the BBC for reasons that I find disturbing.
I had tickets to attend the Brexit debate as part of the audience in the radio theatre. We had been queuing for an hour, but by about 7:15 pm our tickets were validated. (I was with a guest, Peter Harbour). There was no pre-qualification of the audience regarding political views in the way that happens, for example, for BBC Question Time.
I had a placard with me, because of an event I had attended earlier in the day. I had asked on entry to the building if there was anywhere that I could leave it, and had been told that this was not possible, so had left it outside in full compliance with BBC requirements, knowing that it might not be there when I later left the building. The placard publicised some statistics from Britain.unherd and included messages such as “MP’s Are You Listening?”, and “Join us on the Road to Rejoin”.
A few minutes later a security officer who later identified himself as Mr Thomas asked to have a word with me. He asked me if my attendance was part of some sort of protest. I assured him it was not, and that I had been in the audience of BBC Question Time once and BBC Radio 4 Any Questions three times and had behaved perfectly properly on each occasion. He was satisfied and allowed me to return to my place in the queue.
I could have added that I have been on air as a caller on Any Answers several times, and indeed have been commended by Anita Anand and Chris Mason on occasion for my contributions.
A few minutes later Mr Thomas returned. He led me out of the building and then said that the BBC could not admit me because I had been to “a demonstration”. I clarified that it was not a demonstration – members of the National Rejoin March had gathered outside Parliament to unveil a new banner.
I said that this appeared to be discriminating against me because I had an opinion on the subject under debate. I asked whose decision this was and he said it was his decision. He gave his name and said that he had given his reasons in front of witnesses.
The rights and wrongs?
I had fully read the BBC terms and conditions, and I appreciated that I might well not be able to take the placard into the building and had fully complied with this BBC condition.
I see that the BBC can refuse admission:
“5. To make sure everyone has a great time we’ll ask people to leave if they interrupt or disrupt the show or behave in a way likely to cause damage, injury, nuisance or annoyance. The BBC reserves the right to refuse admission.”
So it’s clear that if I interrupted or disrupted the show or behaved in a way likely to cause damage, injury, nuisance or annoyance, I would be asked to leave. I had done none of those things at the time I was ejected, and had given assurances that I would not.
The last sentence of the condition is admittedly unrestricted as written, but presumably in law this is not an unrestricted right, because this sentence would not, for example, legalise any illegal discrimination. The condition does not state ‘To make sure everyone has a great time we’ll ask people to leave if we, the BBC, in our sole discretion, decide that they might interrupt or disrupt the show.’
So why was I ejected?
- It was not because of carrying the placard – I had left it outside as requested.
- I had already satisfied Mr Thomas that I was not intending to disrupt – he had heard my response and allowed me back into the queue.
- He later specified that my ejection was his decision.
- I must conclude I was seen as someone who had expressed a view on the subject under debate, in public, earlier that day.
- Therefore, it appears to me that this was a case of anti-protester discrimination.
A specific condition was applied at 7.30 pm on 31 January which was not evident from any of the BBC Terms and Conditions, other than the general right to refuse admission, and I had no idea in advance that I would be singled out in this way. If you discriminate against people who have protested then you discriminate in favour of the state.
This seems to me inappropriate, particularly at a time when there is debate about whether the BBC represents the public, and when the Chair of the BBC Richard Sharp, is under investigation, given that his appointment by the then prime minister followed the undertaking of favours by Richard Sharp for that prime minister. Is the relationship between the BBC and State too cosy? Is the BBC a public broadcaster or a state broadcaster?
I also have a nagging feeling that my integrity has been challenged by the BBC, because I had given assurances of good conduct and the BBC action may be construed as doubting my assurances.
I spoke (by video) at the National Rejoin March on 22 October 2022 and near the end of my three minute speech I argued against abusing or patronising those whom we disagree with on this subject. I wrote for Central Bylines in December 2022 on the subject of fairness of the BBC in shows such as Question Time, writing broadly in support of the BBC when there were others whose headline was critical.
As I hope this demonstrates I have been publicly airing views calling for reasoned and reasonable debate, and yet the BBC chose to throw me out of the building for what appears to be ‘thoughtcrime’.
I have to say that I feel pretty sick about all this right now after feeling that the BBC has challenged my integrity, in the light of my previous good relations with the BBC and indeed support of the BBC’s fairness. I briefly considered asking Central Bylines to take down my article supporting the BBC, but it was based on my experiences at the time and I think the right thing to do is to let it stand.
National Rejoin March and Central Bylines have been copied in on this letter so that each can be fully informed about this matter.
I hope for the following:
- A response that my ejection was NOT in line with BBC Policy, and was an error of judgement
- An assurance, given that I have identified myself in this email, that there will not be any victimisation or blacklisting of me for future BBC events
- A statement on air to clarify for others’ benefit that the BBC would not act in this way again; I am happy to discuss this or to speak on air about the matter.