BBC chairman demands action on “explicit and aggressive” abuse of its journalists

David Clementi calls on politicians as well as social media platforms Facebook and Twitter to stamp out attacks

Laura Kuenssberg

The chairman of the BBC has urged politicians and social media companies to help stamp out the “explicit and aggressive” abuse of BBC News journalists.

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In an address in Cambridge on Wednesday 13 September, David Clementi said urgent action was needed to address the abuse both online and at political gatherings, which he said was getting worse.

“Speaking to our journalists, I have become increasingly aware of the abuse that some of them – particularly female journalists – are subject to, on an almost daily basis,” Clementi said.

“These days, there is much more abuse.  It is increasingly explicit and aggressive.  And much of it occurs online.”

He said that while he appreciated the government’s efforts to tackle this abuse, he believed that technology companies Facebook and Twitter must do “even more”.

“I welcome the work the Government is doing to tackle this, and I’m following closely the efforts of Twitter and Facebook, amongst others, to clamp down on the perpetrators. I hope the social media platforms do even more.

“But some of it also occurs in plain sight, at press conferences and political gatherings on all sides. Politicians cannot stand by and watch – they must confront any abuse, and make it clear that it is intolerable.

“The journalists of the BBC, when abused simply for doing their job, should know they have the determined support of the Board to stamp it out.”

Clementi said that the House of Commons committee on Standards in Public Life was engaging in a review to help to protect MPs, but said that politicians must also act to protect journalists “and call out the abuse they are receiving”.

In recent months a number of BBC journalists have come under fire, with accusations of bias or personal attacks aimed at Today presenter Nick Robinson and BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg among others.

Last year campaign group 38 Degrees took down a petition calling for Kuenssberg to be sacked, saying it had become a focal point for misogynist abuse.

Former Telegraph editor Charles Moore also reported in the Spectator that Kuenssberg had been given a bodyguard during the General Election this summer after she was the target of online trolls. This has not been confirmed officially, but Moore claims it had been verified by senior BBC sources.

Robinson has been the target of abuse from political activists on both sides of the divide for a number of years. Earlier this year supporters of Jeremy Corbyn targeted him after he accused Labour’s leader of being “long on passion and short on details”.

“No-one should be surprised that @jeremycorbyn is running v the “Establishment” & is long on passion & short on details. Story of his life,” Mr Robinson wrote in a tweet.

In his speech, at the Royal Television Society’s biannual convention, Clementi also called for an end to harassment of BBC World Service staff, especially those working for the BBC’s Persian Service.

“Worryingly, the Iranian courts have in recent weeks stepped up their Government’s harassment of Persian Service staff based in the UK, by freezing the assets they still hold in Iran,” he said. “We call on this harassment to stop.

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“In many of these countries the notion of political impartiality has little meaning: there is only one ruling party and no official opposition.”