BBC U-turns on CBI membership suspension

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  By G.A.Ponsonby

The BBC will not suspend its membership of the CBI, despite having pledged to do so last month, it has been confirmed.

In a surprise announcement yesterday evening, the broadcaster said that it would maintain its membership, but instead transfer it to its commercial arm.

In a statement, the BBC explained the reasoning behind the U-turn saying as the CBI was no longer technically a member of an organisation that was a formal supporter of the No campaign, it did not have to suspend its membership

The statement read: “As the CBI is no longer registered with the Electoral Commission as part of the Scottish Referendum Act, the BBC believes that it is no longer necessary to suspend its membership.

“We recognise that the CBI plays a significant role in supporting the creative industries, and the BBC along with Sky, ITV, and Channel 4 are members in this capacity.

“However the BBC has moved its membership to BBC Worldwide, recognising that in practice it is our commercial arm that generally leads on these matters.”

The CBI recently had its registration as an official backer of the No campaign nullified after its Chief Executive claimed the initial registration had been made in error.

John Cridland claimed the registration form which had been sent to the Electoral Commission had been signed by a junior official in London without his knowledge.  Claims of the error came over a week after Mr Cridland himself had defended his organisation’s initial registration.

The U-turn is sure to reignite questions over the impartiality of the BBC after it emerged it had been a secret member of the CBI for decades – handing hundreds of thousands of pounds of public cash to the lobbying group.  Critics of the BBC’s initial decision to maintain its membership include the National Union of Journalists, whose Scottish members at the BBC argued that the membership compromised their own impartiality.

The decision to maintain its CBI membership will now be seen as a snub to many of its own reporters.  The NUJ in Scotland has yet to issue a response to the snub.

Despite having cancelled its own registration with the Electoral Commission, the CBI is still an active supporter of the anti-independence campaign.  The lobbying group has repeatedly issued statements attacking the Scottish Government’s stance on the constitutional debate and has published a wide range of opinion pieces criticising independence.

The BBC now finds itself endorsing an organisation which is both right of centre and vehemently pro-Union.  In contrast, STV has given no indication that it will reverse its own decision to cancel its membership of the CBI.