A new investigation by the BBC has revealed the extent of the influence of LGBTQ charity Stonewall on the national broadcaster and media regulator Ofcom.
The probe by the Nolan Investigates show questioned the impartiality of the BBC and Ofcom because of their involvement in Stonewall’s diversity schemes.
Stonewall, which says it “stands for lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) people everywhere,” operates two schemes which have come under scrutiny in recent months – the “Diversity Champions” programme which advises workplaces on diversity and inclusion, and The Workplace Equality Index which publicly ranks organisations.
Nolan Investigates said concerns have been raised for some time from senior BBC editorial figures about the risks of the relationship with Stonewall because of the broadcaster’s strict rules on impartiality.
In January 2020 the BBC told staff they would “be working closely with Stonewall over the coming months in preparation for next year’s [Stonewall] index.” And Nolan Investigates said Stonewall had a role in the drafting of the latest BBC News style guide around issues of sexuality and gender.
In a statement, the BBC said it “acts independently in all our aspects of our operations, from HR policy to editorial guidelines and content. We are not a member of Stonewall, we do not take legal advice from Stonewall and we do not subscribe to Stonewall’s campaigning. The charity simply provides advice that we are able to consider.
“As a broadcaster, we have our own values and editorial standards – these are clearly set out and published in our editorial guidelines. We are also governed by the Royal Charter and the Ofcom broadcasting code.”
Documents unearthed by Nolan Investigates also revealed that Ofcom submitted rulings it had made against broadcasters to Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index.
Ofcom left the Diversity Champions Scheme in August but continues to submit information to the Workplace Equality Index.
Ofcom said: “Broadcast standards decisions are made by the Broadcast Standards team within Ofcom, wholly independently from any third parties. Our participation in the Stonewall Equality Index has no bearing whatsoever on any of our broadcasting standards decisions.”
In a statement, Stonewall told the Nolan Investigates podcast: “It is completely normal and appropriate for charities to engage with public sector organisations to advocate for their beneficiaries to improve public policy. It is also completely normal and appropriate for charities to support public sector organisations through service provision.
“We are proud of work to support public sector organisations to create an inclusive workplace for their LGBTQ+ employees. Our guidance to employers supports them to understand the needs of their LGBTQ+ employees and create an inclusive workplace culture through their policies and wider activity.”