The BBC has announced it will suspend its membership of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) almost a week after the lobbying group announced it had registered as an official backer of the anti-independence campaign.
In a statement issued this evening, the BBC said the move was made in order to protect the broadcaster’s neutrality and had been taken in agreement with the CBI.
The statement said: “In order to protect the BBC’s neutrality, the CBI and the BBC have agreed to suspend the BBC’s membership during the business group’s registration period under the terms of the Scottish Referendums Act 2013.”
John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said: “In order to protect the BBC’s neutrality, the CBI and BBC have agreed to suspend its membership during the business group’s registration period (30 May to 18 September) under the terms of the Scottish Referendum Act 2013.”
However the suspension will not come into force until May 30th, meaning the broadcaster remains a full member. The BBC stopped short of outright resignation and will resume its membership once the independence referendum is over.
The surprise announcement was prompted after pro-Yes business group Business for Scotland questioned why the BBC had maintained its membership of the CBI despite the organisation registering with the Electoral Commission as an official No campaigner. One day after the CBI confirmed its intention to campaign against independence, Scottish broadcaster STV announced it had no option but to quit the group.
Despite the BBC’s belated announcement many will now question why it took almost a full week before the broadcaster decided to take action. There will also be questions as to why the BBC did not reveal its own membership of the CBI until it was revealed by Business for Scotland and why it remains a member until May 30th.
The broadcaster, which compels householders across Scotland to pay £145.50 under threat of imprisonment, now finds itself a paid member of an organisation which is openly campaigning against independence. The CBI’s official website contains materials and information aimed at persuading Scots to vote No.
The CBI has been hit with a string of resignations from Scottish based organisations with many Universities amongst those unhappy that their own neutrality had been compromised. Although STV has ended its links to the CBI, ITV has refused to resign.
Business for Scotland’s chief executive, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, said the CBI’s decision to back the No campaign raised questions for all broadcasters who were members of it.
He said there was “clearly a danger” that any broadcaster remaining a member of the CBI would leave “an impression that their impartiality was damaged”.
Earlier today Business for Scotland Chairman Tony Banks said:
“It is now clearly not sustainable for any neutral public or private sector member with a Scottish interest to remain in the CBI by the end of this week. The legal position is clear. The CBI has behaved disingenuously and been exposed. They are now facing the consequences.
“The CBI is nothing more than a wing of the No Campaign and membership fees have been spent on No vote campaigning against the interests of Scottish democracy. All members of the CBI, anywhere in the UK and particularly if they receive public funding, should now, at the very least, be seen to ask serious questions even if we already know the answers.”