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Shock, Horror: BBC Staff Have Political Opinions!

28/05/2014 15:52 BST | Updated 27/07/2014 10:59 BST

Recently, there have been some elections. I say this just in case you've been living under a rock or have - like those people who hate their own birthdays - been on a long holiday to a closed monastery. These elections have made some people very upset. And that includes staff at the BBC.

Over the last few weeks, all sorts of usually mild-mannered TV news people have broken cover and ably demonstrated that they have opinions. This has not gone down well. In the UK, the home of the stiff upper lip and death-defying impartiality, we do not like our TV news journalists to have opinions. Oh no. We tolerate it on Sky News, ITV and Channel 4. And we're quite happy for newspaper journalists, editors and commentators to shout their opinions from the rooftops. But when it comes to the BBC, we insist they channel the facts without bias or emotion, like Mr Spock.

The BBC is the home of the stiff upper lip. So it was quite a surprise to find that they were so worried about staff demonstrating their hither-to unknown ability to have an opinion that the Management resorted to reading them the riot act. Well, they told them not to do 'anything stupid', which in BBC terms is pretty much as serious as it gets.

But why do we expect this Spock-like lack of emotion from the BBC when covering elections? Yes, it's not the BBC's job to tell us who to vote for but to think that someone tweeting a one-line opinion when they're not at work would mean millions of people changing their vote is faintly ridiculous. BBC news people are human too, they have opinions and to assume that we're all going to follow their lead, sheep-like, is rather patronising.

In my view there's a certain amount of BBC-bashing going on here. In this country we like to believe that BBC is just like the civil service and because of this we expect no emotion, just logic and facts in their news coverage. Now I can understand the need for Whitehall civil servants to be impartial, after all, every five years there's a chance they might get a different flavour of boss, so cheerleading for Left or Right at work, or outside of work, might be a bit tricky. But even there I know that it's quite possible to hold strong political views, you just have to ensure they don't cloud your judgement.

With the BBC however, we expect not one hint of an opinion, in work or outside of it. We put these poor broadcasting staff on a pedestal and throw copies of the BBC Charter at them. (Well, actually, the BBC Agreement, which is the document that covers impartiality).

We've now reached the point where it's all getting a very silly. Yes, the BBC is publically funded - but so is the government - and last time I looked most of them had an opinion; well, some of them had a personal opinion, but we like to call these guys 'rebels'. The rest had a collective opinion - which is different because it's not what they really think. And that's the whole issue.

Over the last few weeks it's been made pretty clear that we don't trust politicians any more. They talk in sound bites and don't tell us what they, personally, think. They just recite their lines to take even when those lines answer a different question from the one that has been asked. We hate this. We really hate it. We want a human being, warts and all. We want personality and spontaneity.

But with the BBC, we expect Mr Spock. And if we get anything that isn't Spock in our news coverage we get all outraged. If a backroom member of staff expresses an opinion on Twitter we scream: "BBC bias!" - I mean, how sensible is that?! On the one hand we want real people with real opinions to be in our government and at the same time we want robots built with machine-learning technology to be in the BBC.

The people in the news teams at the BBC walk an incredibly difficult and long tightrope. Think about it, some of the senior broadcasters have been in post for more than half their lives. Over decades, in public and in private, they've kept their personal political opinions to themselves; never once voicing a genuine opinion on anything. I defy all the BBC-bias screamers to do that for more than a couple of hours. Try it; it's a lot harder than you think.

Now and again, some broadcasters and BBC staff crack. Very occasionally, someone says something they shouldn't. When that happens the last thing we should do is lambast the BBC, cry foul and write to Points Of View. We should, instead, marvel at the fact that one BBC person, making one Tweet, actually makes headline news. It's that rare.