BBC finds Jeremy Vine broke its impartiality rules after complaint from Chiswick resident

Broadcaster should not have given his own views on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

The BBC has published its finding in a complaint against Jeremy Vine by a campaigner against the introduction of a low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) in Chiswick.

It found he breached the corporation’s impartiality guidelines by expressing his view. He campaigns on Twitter in favour of safe cycling and supports the introduction of cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhood schemes. His Twitter bio says: “If cycle lanes are wrong, I don’t wanna be right”.

The BBC’s complaints unit said his Twitter activity ‘appeared to endorse one viewpoint on that topic and controvert another’ which, they said was ‘inconsistent with the BBC’s editorial standards’ since he is a journalist who works in factual programming.

Image above: Jeremy Vin’es Twitter bio

BBC under attack over impartiality

Impartiality is a key tenet of BBC journalism and it has always been the case that presenters are not allowed to express their own personal views, especially in the realm of politics, but the development of social media created a grey area in which journalists often write “my views, not the BBC’s” in their personal social media accounts, regarding that as separate from their role at work.

In October 2020 the BBC, battered by accusations of bias over Brexit and many other issues, published new guidelines for presenters and journalists governing their use of social media.

Staff and presenters were told their personal ‘brand’ was secondary to their responsibility to the corporation and that their personal social media activity must comply with the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines as though it were BBC output. They should refrain from using their BBC status to ‘pursue personal campaigns’.

‘If your work requires you to maintain your impartiality, don’t express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or ‘controversial subjects’.’

Journalists in current affairs roles were urged to “think about what your likes, shares, retweets, use of hashtags and who you follow say about you, your personal prejudices and opinions” and told that using the phrase “my views, not the BBC’s” would no longer be considered a get out clause.

They were warned that breaching the social media guidance may lead to disciplinary action and even termination “in serious circumstances”.

Last year the BBC announced it would be appointing external investigators to assess the impartiality of its coverage of contentious topics and in January Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told parliament the BBC must fix its “impartiality and groupthink problems” as she announced she was freezing the licence fee for the next two years.

Image above: Jeremy Vine cycling to work; promoting Chiswick Flower Market

“I can speak truthfully and from my own point of view”

Jeremy Vine has not yet responded publicly to the ruling, but he gave an interview recently to the Guardian about his campaigning on Twitter for safe cycling in which he said:

“I think the general principle is, I can speak truthfully and from my own point of view about issues like cycling down this street, which I do every day, or road deaths. We’re not impartial about road death – it’s a bad thing, and cycle safety is a good thing, and it’s clear that the more segregated cycle lanes you have, the safer cyclists are.”

The statement from the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit says:

‘For the avoidance of misunderstanding, the ECU made clear to the complainant that the finding had no bearing on any social media activity in which Mr Vine simply expressed his personal enthusiasm for cycling or called attention to its potential benefits.’

On the specific issue of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods it says:

‘The introduction of an LTN was a source of sharp controversy in Chiswick at the time in question, (mirroring controversies in other localities where LTNs have been introduced) and was the kind of topic to which considerations of due impartiality applied for the BBC.’

Vine “entitled to object” to personal abuse

The complainant to the BBC, Margie Frew, said Jeremy Vine had conducted ‘a campaign of abuse’ on Twitter against ‘a legitimate local campaigning group’, referring to One Chiswick Facebook group.

The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit found:

‘Mr Vine had primarily been responding to posts from a Facebook group superintended by the complainant, which had been drawn to his attention by member of the group, wishing him harm and describing him in opprobrious terms.’

The BBC did not uphold this part of the complaint, saying the presenter was entitled to object to such personal abuse:

‘as he did so in terms which were not themselves abusive, his tweets were consistent with the relevant BBC Guidance in that respect.’

The BBC says it has ‘discussed’ the finding with Mr Vine.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Alex Belfield found guilty of stalking Jeremy Vine and three others

See also: Jeremy Vine back on his bike – six days after being knocked unconscious

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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