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Mary Kelly: I agree with new boss Tim Davie that impartiality is vital for the BBC

To be fair, locally BBC staff do adhere to the rules pretty strictly, but the same can't be said for the bigger stars across the water

Tim Davie, new director general of the BBC, has his work cut out for him. Picture by Andrew Milligan/PA
Mary Kelly

I KNOW Twitter can be a cess-pool of abuse at times with invariably anonymous keyboard warriors piling on anyone with a contrary opinion. But I've been taken aback at how much invective I get because my biog says I'm ex-BBC.

I try not to take it personally as I know the red mist is aimed at the Corporation itself, accused variously of being anti-Corbyn, anti-Brexit, and a nest of pinko “woke” liberals who are embarrassed by patriotism. That's even before we get to the excessive salaries for the privileged few.

You get the impression that the new director general, Tim Davie, has his work cut out for him. He has already come up with two good ideas – to reduce the number of meetings (or blame-sharing sessions as I prefer to see them) and a pledge to crack down on reporters and presenters expressing views on social media in breach of BBC impartiality.

“If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC,” he told a media conference shortly after his appointment.

I came a cropper myself on that front, though, in my defence, I had kept my opinions under wraps for nigh on a quarter of a century and it was only a fortnight before I left that I got a rush of blood to the head about President Trump.

To be fair, locally BBC staff do adhere to the rules pretty strictly, but the same can't be said for the bigger stars across the water.

Political editor Laura Kuenssberg has sailed pretty close to the wind more than once and got caught out before the last election after falsely claiming a Labour activist had punched Matt Hancock's advisor outside a Leeds hospital.

Footage later disproved the story. It had come from Tory sources, and had also been broadcast by ITV's Robert Peston. Both had to apologise.

You would wonder why they weren't suspicious enough of Tory sources to do further checking, but this is the problem with Twitter and journalism now. There is a race to be out there first and broadcasters have been encouraged to use social media to break news and to “connect” with the public.

Checking takes time. It used to be a BBC mantra that it was more important to be right than to be first. That seems like a different era now.

Gary Lineker has promised to lay off his overtly political tweeting and unless he gets a hernia from lifting his paypacket, I don't expect him to be removed from Match of the Day any time soon.

Personally, I think there is a difference between BBC “talent” in sport and entertainment and those involved in news and current affairs. That's why I was gobsmacked at Emily Maitlis's polemic on Newsnight about Dominic Cummings breaking the Covid rules for his infamous eye test at Barnard Castle. I agreed with every word but I didn't think it was smart for her to share her opinion with viewers.

Impartiality is vital at the BBC. But obviously a DJ on the BBC's Asian Network has yet to get the memo from Mr Davie. Bobby Friction posted an angry tweet after trying and failing to secure a Covid test for his sick son. “I swear, I grew up under Thatcher but this f***ing government is a festival of faeces compared to those dark days,” he wrote. Er, quite.

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ARLENE Foster seems to have nine lives as far as her leadership of the DUP goes. She withstood the RHI crisis which dented her reputation for competence, then she presided over the party's worst election which saw it lose two Westminster seats. She's said to be under pressure yet again with two MPs openly opposing her message on coronavirus restrictions. I'm not sure if the party has the equivalent of the Tories 'men in grey suits' – men in Orange sashes, perhaps?

I don't have an inside track on whether Edwin Poots is already polishing up his acceptance speech but I do wonder why Arlene's aim is so cock-eyed.

In the assembly on Monday, in answer to claims on Good Morning Ulster that she had prevented “technocrats” and other ministers from bringing in even stricter measures which would have harmed the Northern Ireland economy, Mrs Foster failed to notice that these words came from poke-eating, “don't muzzle me” Sammy Wilson, her own party colleague.

Instead she told baffled MLAs, “Everybody should wise up” and stop briefing against each other while there were huge issues to be tackled.

“We're supposed to be a five-party coalition dealing with all those issues,” she said in her best schoolmarm tones.

So everyone else was put on detention, while her rogue MP got off without a mention. She had no words either for the North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley, who said he was "completely dissatisfied” and “very disappointed” that Ballymena was subject to the latest Covid restrictions. What's going on, Arlene?

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