Is the BBC promoting freedom in totalitarian ways? The right to chose whether or not you wear a poppy.

This is not a debate about whether or not you should wear the poppy.

Whether you believe it is a way of commemorating the fallen, believe it is a jingoistic tool to perpetuate war or, as Robert Fisk argues, that it has lost its symbolism; my personal view is that as members of a relatively free society, you should be able to make your own decision – be it well informed or not.

That is why I find it absolutely heinous and offensive that the BBC, a public body, allegedly does not even give its reporters or guests the option of deciding for themselves.

They, of course, deny that claim. Correspondence in 2010 from the then-director of the BBC, Mark Thompson, released by a Northern Ireland-based NGO named Relatives For Justice states: “The decision to wear a poppy in BBC television programmes is one for the individuals concerned to make, whether they are presenters or other members of staff.

“Internal advice is restricted solely to guidance on the dates on which poppies may be worn, should an individual chose to do so. When programme makers are advised of these dates it is made clear that wearing a poppy is a voluntary activity.”

The organisation, who provide support to family members affected by the Troubles, released this letter as part of their drive to see the broadcaster become “a neutral service where no contentious symbols are worn” as many who have experienced a loved one’s death at the hands of the British Army, yet pay the licence fee, find the issue divisive.

JJ Magee, the brother of Anne Magee killed by loyalists, said: “We support the right of individual citizens who choose to wear a poppy despite the challenges it brings within a divided society and not least the killing of our loved ones by state forces and through collusion.

“However, we strongly feel that when it comes to a publicly funded body such as the BBC there should be a duty to ensure that its services broadly reflects the community it serves and this is not the case.”

Not quite meeting the BBC guideline of fairness one could argue?

Clara Reilly, chairwoman of Relatives For Justice, said that in a study they have carried out of 30 years of BBC Northern Ireland television broadcasts, not one instance of a presenter not wearing the poppy in the lead up to Remembrance Day was found.

Despite the BBC’s claims that the decision is up to staff discretion, she said a whistle blower had confirmed to her the presenters are effectively forced into the decision.

“A BBC insider revealed that if a decision by a studio-based presenter not to wear a poppy were to arise they’d be asked to take annual leave,” Ms Reilly said. “This comment, along with the evidence that shows no presenters appearing without a poppy, would seemingly contradict the BBC’s official position.”

In a 2012 tweet, Green Party politician Jenny Jones also inadvertently revealed the BBC’s approach. After being criticised for wearing the red poppy as opposed to a white one, she said: “BBC kindly stuck a red poppy on me before I could think, as I had none.”

So, given that the poppy is supposedly a commemoration of those that lost their lives to secure our freedom, is it not then a little contradictory to impose such a commemoration in such totalitarian ways? Those that wish to decline from wearing one, should have the power to decide.


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