The BBC has admitted it was “inadvisable” for former director of television Danny Cohen to add his name to a letter opposing a cultural boycott of Israel.
In a December email responding to a complaint, the corporation said it accepted that senior individuals “should avoid making their views known on issues of current political controversy” and it regretted the “impression” created by Cohen’s name appearing on the letter.
Cohen announced he was leaving the BBC on 13 October, little more than a week before the letter was published in the Guardian. He stopped working at the corporation the following month.
In its response the BBC said that Cohen’s personal opinions on Israel had no impact on the BBC’s output, and while he was told of the corporation’s official stance, no further action was necessary given he had left.
A further email from BBC chief complaints adviser Dominic Groves sent in January said: “The BBC agrees that it was inadvisable for him to add his signature given his then seniority within the BBC as director of television but in practice it had no bearing on his ability to do his day to day job; a role which does not involve direct control over BBC news.”
The letter, which was also signed by public figures including JK Rowling and Melvyn Bragg, was in response to an announcement last February by more than 100 artists of their intention to boycott Israel.
The signatories said that a cultural boycott would be “divisive and discriminatory”, and would “not further peace”.
They added: “Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.”
Sara Apps, interim director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the views in the letter opposing the boycott were “those of the Israeli state” and called on the BBC to provide reassurance that staff “are impartial and seen to be impartial, in their work at the BBC” .
She said: “By failing to take any action against Cohen, the BBC sent a message to licence fee payers that it only pays lip service to the concept of impartiality when it comes to the subject of Palestine and Israel, and that BBC executives are free to publicly express their views on this subject with no regard for the code of impartiality written into the royal charter.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Danny Cohen was expressing his view about his belief in the importance of creative freedom of expression.”
Source The Guardian