Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

1.Memorandum submitted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

  The BBC Producers' Guidelines set out the BBC's editorial values and standards. The relevant sections relating to minority groups are as follows:


  It is narrow-minded to identify people only by ethnic origin or colour when they have a host of other characteristics. Colour should be mentioned only when it is relevant. Ask yourself each time: would you say "white" in similar circumstances?


  The phrase "ethnic minority" is not a universal shorthand for "black". White people can also be ethnic minorities.

  Geographic or ethnic origin is often more relevant than colour of skin . . . "Bangladeshi", "Jamaican", "West Indian", "Nigerian" and so on.

  "Black" should not normally be used to include Asians. Refer to "black and Asian people" or "Asian, African and Caribbean people". Just as we do not say "Non-blacks" we avoid "Non-whites".

  Many people in Britain of African and Caribbean origin prefer to be called "black British". Use the term "black people" rather than "blacks".

  A good rule of thumb is to ask how people describe themselves: there have to be good reasons for calling them something different.

Misleading images

  Most ethnic minority people living in Britain are British nationals. A large and growing proportion was born here. They are an integral part of British society.

  Black and Asian people suffer considerably from negative stereotyping. Programmes must not allow offensive assumptions or generalisations in scripted material, and interviewees who express them need to be challenged wherever possible.


  People and countries should not be defined by their religions unless it is strictly relevant. Particular religious groups or factions should not be portrayed as speaking for their faith as a whole. Thoughtless portrayal can be offensive, especially if it implies that a particular faith is hostile or alien to all outside it. For example, footage of chanting crowds of Islamic activists should not be used to illustrate the whole Muslim world.

  Words such as "fundamentalist", and "militant" should be used with great care. What may be a fair description of one group may not be true of all similar groups. Use of a term such as "Islamic Fundamentalist" has to pass the test of whether we would talk about Christian or Hindu Fundamentalism.

  Programme makers dealing with religious themes should be aware of what may cause offence. Programme makers and schedulers of international services should consider carefully the varying sensitivities of audiences in different parts of the world. What may be unexceptional in a UK programme may raise strong feelings elsewhere. Advice can often be given by the departments dealing with religious programmes in both domestic and international services, or by the relevant World Service language sections.


  Deep offence will also be caused by profane references or disrespect, whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals which are at the heart of various religions—for example, the Crucifixion, the Gospels, the Koran and the Jewish Sabbath. It is against the Muslim religion to represent the Prophet Mohammed in any shape or form. Language must be used sensitively and accurately and be consistent in our description of different religions. Use of a term such as "Islamic Fundamentalist" has to pass the test of whether we would talk about Christian or Hindu Fundamentalism.

  Particular care should be taken with programmes to be broadcast on the principal holy days of the main religions to ensure that unnecessary offence is not caused by material that might be more acceptable at other times.

  In addition, monthly Editorial Policy Meetings are held which bring together editors and senior producers from across the BBC to discuss issues of current editorial concern. Since September 2001, the coverage of Islam has featured three times. Some of the points disseminated afterwards were:

    —  We need to report and reflect the many different dimensions of Islam: as a religion, as a political movement, as a whole bundle of social issues and attitudes. Context is essential to understanding those elements.

    —  Care is still needed with language especially in headlines. Stories can be sub-edited to give a misleading impression. Take care with phrases like "Islamic" militants".

    —  We are getting better at finding the right spokespeople and representatives, but still need to work harder at this. Who are the significant voices? No one can speak for the whole Muslim community and all of them have agendas, which need to be challenged.

    —  It is important to be accurate, informed and balanced in the coverage of Islam. These are values the BBC applies to all its programmes so there is no requirement for special treatment. However, Islam is many things at the same time: its complexities require us to take care to ensure they are fully informed and up to date in their knowledge, ensuring consideration is given to all relevant facets. As always, it is important to think not just about how a story is being told, and the language being used, but also about how it will be received.

    —  It is important to take care and remain consistent in the use of language. When reporting acts of violence we should stick to the facts of what has occurred and avoid rushing into applying labels that may appear judgemental or inappropriate ideological descriptions of the perpetrators. Neutral language is key.

    —  Programme makers are urged to seek advice and make use of the expertise that exists within the BBC—in the World Service, Newsgathering, the Asian Network and News Analysis and Research.

  Lastly, the BBC's statement on Charter Review, Building Public Value makes the following commitment:

    Social and Community Value: by enabling the UK's many communities to see what they hold in common and how they differ, the BBC seeks to build social cohesion and tolerance through greater understanding.

6 January 2005

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Prepared 6 April 2005