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Davie, Davie, give us some answers do

Why the BBC keeps obscuring the truth of sex and gender

Thanks to the final straining filaments of the public remit, we now know that BBC News has an Editor-in-Chief who believes his duty is to be nice to middle-aged men who imagine themselves to be women. 

It’s not to tell the truth about them — that they’re men. Heaven forfend anyone tries to tell certain people what they do not want to hear. “We have to be kind, and caring, and nice,” says Tim. His emphasis. 

This was the Director General’s evidence to the Culture and Media Select Committee yesterday morning: part of his duty as DG, which means he’d actually prepared for an answer for the inevitable question about impartiality on sex and gender, making it all the more depressing.  

“I don’t think we suffer from bias”, he insisted, immediately before confirming that Today presenter Justin Webb breached BBC rules by telling the truth, in describing a trans-identified man as male. “This is all being whipped up in a way that’s deeply damaging to civilised debate.” 

This was served with the claim that the BBC doesn’t have editorial “no go areas”. Yet it is out of bounds to call men “male”? The lack of critical thinking here is stunning.  

The BBC’s job is first, to tell us the truth, and then to add evidence and context

Tim’s problem is that he’s being played. He’s not an activist — and neither is David Jordan, Head of Editorial Policy, who was sitting next to him — but they obviously swim in a sea of activism, and do not possess the acuity to understand the game. The BBC’s job is first, to tell us the truth, and then to add evidence and context. That’s pretty much it. Tim has fallen victim to a narrative that the truth is hurtful, so it’s better to disguise it, or leave it out altogether.  

He referred repeatedly to the Editorial Guidelines. Well, they do bang on about accuracy rather a lot. He should read them some time. Perhaps he meant the News Style Guide, which tells its journalists to lie about sex according to the preference of the subject, be they angel or demon. Of course there’s a caveat of “unless there are good editorial reasons”. But as being a murderer and cat liquidiser — in the case of Scarlet Blake — didn’t reach that bar, it’s hard to see what would.  

Citing your own guidelines as an authority is deeply circular. They aren’t conclusive neutral sources. They aren’t Moses’ tablets. They can be wrong, and they can be changed. 

I met Tim a couple of years ago to discuss this, and to ask that the Style Guide be updated to remove self-identification. Self-ID was installed in the Guide in 2013 after friendly meetings with trans activists, and is the root and source of most of the BBC’s biased reporting.   

The ink was barely dry on the Equality Act before the BBC helped fund a group that became All About Trans, which subsequently had multiple meetings with BBC journalists, editorial policy executives and — crucially — the then Head of Online. The phrasing inserted into the Style Guide in late 2013 was almost word for word a quote from activist Leng Montgomery — “use the pronouns they prefer” — and it’s survived a number of updates, the latest in December last year. 

It was suggested to Tim that it would be quite straightforward to initially just take this out, rather than replace it with anything that might trigger squeals of protest. His response was frustrating.  He made it clear that even this would be too much — that the ensuing ructions would be too difficult to deal with.

And of course it wasn’t done.  There were some thoughts that an ongoing  major review of the guidance might see off Self-ID, but its publication in December dashed those hopes.  

once you have decided that it’s not harmful to pretend that men are women, you have already picked a side

Tim really needs to start meeting groups of women again who might be able to enhance his understanding of impartiality and activism. He doesn’t understand, for example, that once you have decided that it’s not harmful to pretend that men are women, you have already picked a side. He doesn’t understand what a breach of journalistic principle it is to describe a lie as impartial, and the truth as biased.  

He also doesn’t understand — and would probably scoff at — the level of linguistic activism to which the BBC is relentlessly subject. It’s invisible to him.  

The BBC had already handed over the words “woman” and “man” to trans activists. Now it has gifted them the words “male” and “female”. We are reduced to “biological male” and “biological female”.   I’m sure Tim thinks he’s found a nice middle ground, where everyone will be content.

Not so. Activists will certainly come for “biological”. Some already are. Activists like India Willoughby say they are “biological females”, and some BBC journalists have been warned in conversations that the use of the phrase is itself transphobic.

Davie ought also to think that perhaps the reason he received only a handful of internal complaints about Justin Webb’s reprimand is that he runs a cowed organisation, where women are afraid to raise the issue for fear of bullying or career repercussions. 

It’s clear now, however, that gender theory capture has crept up to the top of the BBC.  We have an Editor-in-Chief who thinks that telling the truth isn’t nice. There’s no greater failure.

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