BBC responds to my badger!

I waste copious amounts of time on Facebook, but some of it is put to good use by using Tearfund’s Superbadger application to email the powers that be to do good in the world. I recently used it to email the BBC about their insistence that George Alagiah step down as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation. Here is their response and the original email.

Original email:

“Regarding the forced resignation of George Alagiah as Patron of the Fairtrade Foundation, the BBC is concerned that Fairtrade causes a ‘potential conflict of interest’ and ‘could undermine [his] impartiality’.

But Fairtrade is not controversial. The Fairtrade mark has become mainstream – more than 70 per cent of the UK population recognise it, and Fairtrade goods are on every high street. Worldwide, consumers spent over £1.6 billion on Fairtrade products in 2007 – that’s over 1.5 million producers and workers in 58 developing countries now benefiting. Who can say this is controversial?

Surely criteria could be agreed that will serve to ensure that both the integrity of the BBC and Mr Alagiah’s enduring service to the Fairtrade Foundation are effectively safeguarded.
Please reconsider Mr Alagiah’s forced resignation from the Fairtrade Foundation and allow him to continue acting as Patron.”

Their response:

“I understand that you are disappointed that George Alagiah had to step down from his role with the Fairtrade Foundation.

On its website the Fairtrade Foundation asks its supporters to help fund its “lobbying and influencing key players across society in commerce, government and campaigning groups” and that the organisation will “continue to push the Government to ensure that all aspects of the global trade system are fair and supportive of development”. Other leading charities have said that The Fairtrade Foundation seeks to “transform trading in favour of the poor and disadvantaged”. Such an ambition is the prerogative of the charities. Many may find it admirable though others may take a different view of global economic priorities.

It is not the business of BBC journalism to take a view on this or to be perceived to take a view. We are committed to due impartiality which means we don’t take sides on issues of controversy. Our job is to represent all sides in an argument accurately and fairly and test them as rigorously as we can to allow our audiences to reach their own judgements. And it’s not enough for our journalism to be impartial. We must also be seen to be impartial. That’s why it’s inappropriate for a BBC journalist to take a high profile, public role representing an organisation which, as the charity makes clear, takes a very particular view of the controversial issue of global trade.

Of course we know that giving up his public role was hugely disappointing for the Fairtrade Foundation and for George who has always been open about his involvement. But we have to stick to our principles on impartiality.

I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thank you once again for taking the trouble to share your views with us.”

Feel free to make your voice heard

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4 Thoughts to “BBC responds to my badger!”

  1. Dave K

    I suppose I'm one of those annoying people who think is controversial. I tend to think that Fairtrade is a bad thing for almost everyone, and will actually increase poverty rather than reduce it.

    So we do exist 🙂 and I'm pleased with the BBC's decision.

    But, hey, I know I'm in the minority.

  2. Phil

    Hi Dave
    Thanks for your comment and for stopping by the blog. I'd be genuinely interested in hearing your reasons why you think 'Fairtrade is a bad thing for almost everyone' – happy to have that debate here on this blog. Best regards from someone who thinks you're wrong!

  3. Dave K

    Hi Phil,

    Well I'll keep it brief because I should be going to bed.

    > It impoverishes poor countries because it subsidises production of a product so distorting the market and preventing them branching out into production of goods which produce a real profit. I.e. it hinders development.
    > It impoverishes farmers who are not in the scheme because by creating an 'artificially' high price for those in the scheme it encourages more growers than the market price demands and so supply is too high and the market price is pushed down for all those outside the scheme.
    > It is a sop to the rich west enabling them to feel they are doing something to help the two-thirds world and so don't need to engage with the more serious issues.
    > As a way to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor world it is very inefficient. Rather than going towards carefully chosen projects it just goes to a select few producers (who are often far from the poorest anyway). Meanwhile everyone along the supply-chain enjoys from more comfortable margins because the consumer is paying extra for feeling good about themselves.

    However, I wouldn't stop at telling people not to buy fair-trade. Too often people look at the ineffectiveness of certain initiatives or running costs of charity and use it as an excuse to do nothing. Instead I would then want to say that instead we should:
    > Engage with the big issues and the politics of it all.
    > Give the extra money that we would otherwise pay to buy fair-trade products over non-fair-trade products to charity.

    So I hope that helps. In summary, I think the only people who benefit are the tiny number fair-trade growers. But they benefit at the expense of their fellow growers, their countries, and the rich world (who, granted, can probably cope with the loss).

  4. Ian Matthews

    Hi Dave

    Interesting points. I tend to view Fairtrade as a 'best worst option' when it comes to global consumerism. It doesn't really address the core problem of the dominance of western corporations in third-world area. One of the major pluses for me is the guarantee of no trafficked people and no bonded labour – to know that is, in itself, a worthwhile reason to buy Fairtrade.


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