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BBC apologises for multiple homophobic broadcasts on BBC Arabic as Peter Tatchell calls for 'full investigation'

BBC Arabic has come under fire for repeatedly airing homophobic comments from viewers without criticism or challenge.

2021-07-07

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Wiki

The BBC has apologised for repeatedly broadcasting homophobic comments without challenge or criticism on BBC Arabic .

Peter Tatchell, the veteran LGBTQ campaigner, has called on the broadcasting regulator Ofcom to launch a "full investigation" following reports that homophobic comments and slurs were broadcast on BBC Arabic, part of the BBC World Service.

It's been revealed that on at least six occasions, homophobic comments were broadcast on the programme BBC Trending, which has 42 million viewers worldwide and can be seen in the UK.

“Nothing changes”

The original report by The Daily Mail says that viewers were able to suggest on air that coronavirus had been caused by homosexuality and that the rainbow flag was a sign of “moral decline”, among other horrendous comments. All went without challenge or criticism, according to The Mail.

Speaking to Attitude, Peter Tatchell blasted the BBC for platforming such views and accused them of, “fuelling anti-LGBT+ prejudice across the Arab world and contributing to the toxic hate that leads to LGBTs living in fear of discrimination and violent attack.”

Mr Tatchell has also called on the internal BBC LGBT staff network to help effect change from within the organisation.

In a statement to Attitude, a BBC spokesperson said: “These broadcasts did not meet our editorial standards and we apologise to our viewers. The format of BBC Trending is to reflect debate across the Arab world and examine opposing views on social media.

“While it is appropriate that we reflect a range of views and debate in our coverage, we should have challenged some of them robustly or provided context around them. On these occasions we failed to do this and should not have broadcast the tweets in full.

"We will be implementing further staff training with a focus on LGBTQ+ coverage.”

Peter Tatchell says the response is not good enough, telling Attitude: “[The BBC] always makes similar statements when it has been repeatedly caught out promoting homophobia. But nothing changes. No staff are sanctioned or sacked. The homophobia continues.”

He’s also calling for Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting and media regulator, to investigate and that if it fails to do so it would be “ignoring its statutory obligations.”

“The BBC is not maintaining scrutiny over its output”

It’s not the first part of the BBC World Service has been caught out broadcasting this type of content: In January, the broadcaster’s Persian Service blog shared a post containing the word “f****t” in Farsi (the Persian language).

At the time Mr. Tatchell said the BBC had promised an investigation into that incident, and the human rights campaigner says he's disappointed that similar incidents have occurred elsewhere in the organisation. 

“At the time, the BBC promised to review its World Service coverage of LGBT+ issues to ensure that such homophobia was not promoted in the future. But it still keeps happening.

“There needs to be a full investigation into the BBC World Service Radio and TV. Both have been repeatedly accused of promoting homophobia. The BBC is not maintaining scrutiny over its output. It has failed to train its overseas service staff in LGBT+ awareness and their obligations under BBC guidelines and UK equality law.

"I was given an assurance earlier this year by the then head of the BBC World Service, Jamie Angus, that changes would be made to ensure that there were no repeats of the BBC Persian service's collusion with homophobia. Clearly these changes did not happen in the Arabic service or, I suspect, in most other BBC services."

Following up on what should happen if “nothing changes”, Mr Tatchell said: “The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of Parliament ought to hold hearings where the BBC Director General can be publicly grilled and held to account.

“I hope the BBC LGBT+ staff network will lobby the top brass, with the active support of the [former] BBC LGBT+ correspondent Ben Hunte. Together, from the inside, they could help secure change.”

The BBC had no further comment in regard to Mr Tatchell’s comments. 

A spokesperson for Ofcom said: “BBC Arabic is part of the BBC World Service which is not regulated by Ofcom. Complaints about content on BBC Arabic should be directed to the BBC, we would expect the BBC to give any such complaint serious consideration.”