Letter by one of RFJ

As a person affected by state violence in the north I take offence at the BBC’s compulsory poppy wearing policy/directive to its presenters. As do the overwhelming majority of nationalists and republicans within the north.
In a politically divided society, in which symbolism can often be at the heart of, the BBC has failed to display any sense of impartiality concerning both its role as a public body, and as a public broadcaster, and thus has effectively taken a political stand on this hugely divisive matter.

Of course promoting union interests is nothing new within the BBC and they will undoubtedly seek to defend this compulsory policy despite both internal and external objections being frequently raised. However, they are the largest broadcasting body, they are a public funded body, and as such they have a wider responsibility to society that they continually fail to take cognisance of which must be publicly challenged.
In exercising their policy/directive, and taking this to its logical conclusion within a deeply divided society, should the BBC therefore also commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising by directing that all presenters wear an Easter Lilly? Now I would not suggest that this be the case as it would not have widespread support amongst journalists and the public much in the same way that the poppy fails to draw similar required support.
Unionists predominantly use the occasion to remember regiments of the British army such as the B Specials, UDR, RIR, including the RUC and the Prison Service, the initial two being disbanded.

In light of this and more recent revelations concerning collusion, the arming of loyalist paramilitaries, the directing of political assassinations and sectarian murders by agents working for both the British army and RUC Special Branch makes the BBC policy directive especially crass.

These organisations, including other associations, are remembered in all the official ceremonies despite them not playing any role in the stated reasons for wearing poppies – both world wars – of which historians and global opinion about celebrating and commemorating is itself varied. The roles of most of these organisations were confined to the political conflict in the north post-war. This exposes the pretence that in the main poppy wearing is about remembering these wars. It is clearly not the case in the north.
Are the political predominance’s of these organisations by unionists around November 11th not reasons enough for the BBC to abandon their policy around poppies?
Herein is the problem as from a wider perspective people rightly see the BBC as legitimising British forces and by extension their actions concerning serious human rights violations during the course of the conflict stemming from its policy on poppies. This further marginalises the experiences and viewpoints of victims of state violence reinforcing that for them, and most citizens of a non-unionist persuasion in the north, that the BBC is a cold-house.

The very fact that there exists contention that significantly divides society on this issue is evidence enough for the BBC to instruct its presenters not to wear poppies rather than the case being a policy of ensuring that they do.

We have commentators that when criticism is raised make the point that the poppy symbol is somehow ‘hijacked’ and that it is the symbol of all. This is a totally false assertion which deliberately ignores the people within this statelet killed, injured and affected by the actions of those very same forces being ‘officially’ commemorated. Similarly the view that because Catholics served in British army then it is somehow alright belies the fact that religion is irrelevant given that anyone who joined the British forces were first and foremost loyal to and defenders of the British political system, its empire and monarch.

Similarly the equation of the poppy with the wearing of the Shamrock on St Patrick’s Day is nonsense and an insult to our intelligence.

The reality is that excuses like these are more often the pretext of convenience to hide behind rather than to face the realities that it is unacceptable for a public broadcast body to enforce the wearing of the poppy within the jurisdiction of the north given our history.

I have no objection to unionists and loyalists commemorating and wearing poppies. Rather my objection is to the fact that the wearing of the poppy has become more ingrained in a systemic and institutionalised way into the very fabric of public bodies post the GFA where it is not a matter of free choice or even representative of the public view in which the BBC policy has played a central role in this advancement. This too must be challenged if we are to have equality.

That the wearing of the poppy on air now has a three-week lifespan is indicative of the wider agenda within the BBC overall in establishing public sympathy for British military fatalities and causalities including support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan against the populace anti-war movement that has increasingly failed to get air coverage. Conveniently this three-week performance finds suitable accommodation within Ormeau Avenue.

As a license payee I feel that my rights are not afforded equality of treatment and that they are a secondary matter of little to no consideration.

Surely there must be a moral imperative on the part of the BBC as a publicly funded institution and the largest broadcaster to withdraw its policy/directive in the interests of wider society and in ensuring that impartiality first and foremost is re-established.
After the signing of GFA and the introduction of equality legislation society felt that the days of triumphalism and domination would somehow be eradicated and an era in which equality of treatment and fairness would emerge. If large public institutions such as the BBC persist with its policy/directive on poppies unchallenged then they simply provide a legitimacy to pro-union forces that extends to legitimising the countless human rights violations these same forces committed here rather than providing a leadership role in embracing positive change and equality.

It is now the case that once the sashes and collarettes are off the poppies are on.
J Magee
North Belfast