24 March 2006

Victims hit out at BBC over equality duties

Daily Ireland

Jarlath Kearney
24/03/2006

The British government’s refusal to impose basic equality obligations on the BBC in the North has been criticised by victims of state violence.
The Belfast-based group Relatives for Justice, which represents scores of families affected by state violence, contrasted the British government’s treatment of the BBC with large-scale structural changes to other public-sector institutions in the North.
Earlier this week, secretary of state Peter Hain announced the latest stage of the Review of Public Administration.
However, the Northern Ireland Office has refused to apply basic equality provisions introduced under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to the BBC.
Relatives for Justice spokesman Mark Thompson said it was ironic that the BBC reported extensively on major changes to the public sector, when the broadcaster itself was not bound by basic public-sector equality duties.
“From our perspective, the BBC is the second largest public body in the North and, under equality legislation, it is our understanding that the BBC should have been designated under the Good Friday Agreement,” Mr Thompson said.
“We feel that there is a vested interest on the part of the NIO and British government in not designating the BBC.
“There has been a very close relationship down the years whereby the state broadcaster has largely reflected the views of the state itself.
“This is particularly concerning given that we are emerging from a conflict in which the state has been a central protagonist.
“Undoubtedly such a relationship must be challenged.”
Mr Thompson said the Northern Ireland Office’s failure to designate the BBC under equality legislation was “deeply concerning”.
“In terms of the experience of victims of state violence, it has been one in which the BBC has largely marginalised and isolated them. They are not afforded the same space or given the same attention as other actors in the conflict in terms of the presentation afforded by the BBC,” Mr Thompson said.
Mr Thompson complained that the BBC has failed to cover a range of events organised by RFJ and the anti-collusion group An Fhirinne over the last year.
He said this included a major conference launch which was attended by former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, as well as subsequent events.
“In contrast, we feel other victims of the conflict who espouse an agenda compatible with the British government and certain elements of the BBC find it much easier to air their concerns.
“It is notable that, despite a highly critical report by Abid Hussein, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression about partial BBC coverage in the North, the organisation is still not subject to basic equality laws which apply across the public sector.
“There are questions for the Equality Commission over their failure to insist such equality legislation is implemented by the NIO, as was intended under the agreement,” Mr Thompson said.
Responding to RFJ’s criticisms a BBC spokesperson issued the following statement to Daily Ireland: “The BBC is regulated by an agreement under its charter which upholds the BBC’s political and editorial independence.”
The Equality Commission declined to comment at this time.
The same space or given the same attention as other actors in the conflict in terms of the presentation afforded by the BBC,” Mr Thompson said.
He complained that the BBC had failed to cover a range of events organised by Relatives for Justice and the anti-collusion group An Fhírinne over the last year.
He said these included a major conference launch that was attended by former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, as well as subsequent events.
“In contrast, we feel other victims of the conflict who espouse an agenda compatible with the British government and certain elements of the BBC find it much easier to air their concerns.
“It is notable that, despite a highly critical report by Abid Hussein, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, about partial BBC coverage in the North, the organisation is still not subject to basic equality laws which apply across the public sector.
“There are questions for the Equality Commission over their failure to insist such equality legislation is implemented by the NIO, as was intended under the [Good Friday] Agreement,” Mr Thompson said.
Responding to these criticisms, a BBC spokesperson issued the following statement to Daily Ireland: “The BBC is regulated by an agreement under its charter, which upholds the BBC’s political and editorial independence.”
The Equality Commission declined to comment at this time.

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