13th February 2021.
Following our constructive meeting with Ofcom, the regulator has confirmed in writing that Dame Melanie Dawes, Chief Executive, had never intended to suggest that LGB Alliance should be excluded from debate in the media.
The slant put on her comments (made at a recent DCMS Select Committee meeting) had been misused to try to prevent people meeting or quoting us. In its letter, Ofcom clearly confirms: “Ofcom has never stated or otherwise implied that ‘it is appropriate to talk to Stonewall and inappropriate to talk to LGB Alliance’.”
Ofcom plays a critical role in the success of the British media and it would be extraordinary if they acted to prevent an organisation like ours, which promotes lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, from participating in onscreen discussions or interviews. We look forward to continuing our discussions with Ofcom. Our dialogue should act as encouragement for robust debate on issues relating to sex and gender on TV, radio and online.
The PDF of the letter from Ofcom is below, along with the full text version for those using screen reader or other accessibility software.
You can also see the full DCMS Select Committee meeting from 15 December 2020 here: https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/5bf35281-2f79-4872-9ba7-6e368116e93d
TEXT OF LETTER FROM OFCOM
Dear Kate and Bev,
Thank you for your letter to Ofcom dated 19 January 2021 to Dame Melanie Dawes and your subsequent email of 5 February 2021. Melanie has asked me to respond to both on her behalf.
DCMS Select Committee
You have raised Melanie’s appearance at the DCMS Select Committee on Tuesday 15 December 2020, and have asked Ofcom to make a public statement “refuting what was said on 15 December”. We can only restate what we have said previously, which is that later in the Committee hearing Melanie provided clarification in response to questions on the topic of trans identity from Damian Green MP. As the entirety of this hearing is a matter of public record, we will not be making a public statement with regard to the earlier statements made.
As we explained when we met, the broadcasters make their own editorial decisions about the content they broadcast, including which organisations to invite to appear on their programmes. In doing so they have to comply with Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code1 in which we set out rules based on the standards objectives set by Parliament.
We recognise that people can hold very strong views on trans issues, which might cause considerable offence to people who think differently. The Broadcasting Code does not prohibit the broadcast of highly offensive views. Broadcasters need to make their own editorial decisions on how they cover issues such as trans identity, and importantly which views they reflect on such issues, as long as they comply with the Code. Consistent with the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression and the audience’s right to receive information and ideas, broadcasters are free to air such views, as long as these are justified by the context. This could include broadcasting viewpoints that counter or rebut potentially offensive statements. It is an editorial matter for broadcasters as to how they provide context.
It may be helpful to briefly explain the different capacities in which Ofcom engages with Stonewall:
- In the context of our responsibilities as an employer, we engage with Stonewall on our internal diversity and inclusion work, for example through our participation in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.
- In the context of our regulatory role in relation to diversity in the broadcasting sector, we have some contact with Stonewall, as well as a variety of other organisations, as part of our work with broadcasting stakeholders to improve the diversity of workforces in that sector.
- In the context of our role as the UK’s broadcasting content regulator. Ofcom is an independent regulator. No third party directs, or otherwise advises, Ofcom on how it exercises its statutory functions relating to broadcast standards. However, as an open regulator, Ofcom does engage with a range of different organisations to gather input and perspectives on all aspects of diversity in broadcasting, including issues that broadcasters may seek to make programmes about.
On the issue of Ofcom’s interactions with Stonewall and the LGB Alliance, Ofcom has never stated or otherwise implied that “it is appropriate to talk to Stonewall and inappropriate to talk to LGB Alliance”. As an open regulator, Ofcom does engage with a range of different organisations to gather input and perspectives on all aspects of diversity in broadcasting, including issues that broadcasters may seek to make programmes about. Therefore, as you know, as part of our ongoing stakeholder engagement our CEO recently had an introductory meeting with the CEO of Stonewall on 24 November 2020. At this meeting one of the topics raised by the CEO of Stonewall was the coverage of trans issues by broadcasters. As part of our ongoing stakeholder engagement, there are likely to be future discussions with Stonewall about this and other issues. We also continue to talk to a range of other organisations and broadcasters to gather input and perspectives on all aspects of diversity in broadcasting. In this context, we therefore welcomed the opportunity to meet with the LGB Alliance on 12 January 2021, and we have made clear in our replies to letters and FOI requests that we are talking to the LGB Alliance among others.
You raise a number of concerns about content broadcast or published by the BBC.
Complaints about services provided by the BBC should normally be made to the BBC in the first instance, using one of the following methods:
- Online, at: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/how-to-report-a-complaint
- Phone, on: 037 0010 0222 or 037 0010 0212 (textphone)
- Post, to: BBC Complaints, PO Box 1922, Darlington DL3 0UR
The BBC website outlines the BBC’s complaints framework and procedures (https://www.bbc.co.uk/contact/sites/default/files/2020-06/BBC_Complaints_Framework.pdf). Pages 13 to 16 of the BBC complaints framework and procedures outline the steps to take if you are not satisfied with a reply from the BBC. The final stage within the BBC complaints process is consideration of your complaint by the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). It is only after the completion of the BBC’s complaints process, and having escalated a complaint to the ECU, that you can ask Ofcom to consider it. More information is available about how Ofcom assesses complaints and conducts investigations about BBC programmes (https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0002/100100/Procedures-for-investigatingbreaches-of-content-standards-on-BBC-broadcasting-services-and-BBC-on-demand-programmeservices.pdf).
Ofcom’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy
As you are aware, we have recently published our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for 2021 (https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/210900/diversity-and-inclusion-strategyreport-2019-20.pdf).
In our strategy we commit to measuring, monitoring and reporting on many different aspects of our diversity, including all characteristics protected by law and more. As well as the protected characteristics covered by law, our strategy also covers gender identity, caring responsibilities, and socio-economic status.
We have always referred to ‘gender’ as opposed to ‘sex’ in our internal diversity reporting. The data we looked at when considering our gender targets in this 2021 strategy are based on the diversity questions we ask in our internal people management system. Our internal systems refer to legal gender, by which we mean the sex assigned to a person at birth or the sex a person has legally transitioned to. In September 2020, we also introduced a question on gender identity which asks if a person’s current gender is different to, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex based on anatomy they were assigned at birth. This gives us an indication of gender identity, including non-binary identity.
I hope the above clarifies Ofcom’s position regarding these important issues.
1 If you would like to learn more about Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code and published guidance for broadcasters, please visit: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code
PDF OF LETTER FROM OFCOMOfcom response 9 Feb 2021