Community radio station does a U-turn after 11 voluntary presenters leave over ban on discussing Black Lives Matter

PUBLISHED: 19:16 10 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:55 16 June 2020

In 2018 presenter of the Year at the HCR awards night was Alex Parnell (right). With him is station manager Bill Hensley, a former mayor of Huntingdon. Picture; ARCHIVE

In 2018 presenter of the Year at the HCR awards night was Alex Parnell (right). With him is station manager Bill Hensley, a former mayor of Huntingdon. Picture; ARCHIVE

Archant

Eleven volunteer presenters on a Cambridgeshire community radio station say they stood down or were sacked after managers banned any discussion on air of Black Lives Matter.

HCR station manager Bill HensleyHCR station manager Bill Hensley

Volunteers say they were angered by a statement by station bosses at the weekend “explicitly stating that we are not to mention Black Lives Matter”.

Huntingdon-based HCR104 said yesterday (Tuesday) that they feared discussing the topic could put them in breach of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

But after initially defending their decision, within 24 hours the station had backed down, provided a platform for Black Lives Matter issues, and offered a welcome return for the volunteers.

The station had also stated that “some volunteers have decided to leave us, before the matter had been fully discussed.

“Those people have made a decision and are free to make it. “They have not been dismissed.”

One of those presenters, Alex Parnell, took to Twitter to protest that he had been sacked after four years as a voluntary presenter for challenging the station’s position.

“A handful of presenters (including myself) spoke up against the censorship and expressed that we should be actively opposing racism,” he tweeted.

“We asked for clarification/reasoning and stated that we would not be prepared to present until this position had been changed.”

He said the following morning “ I along with at least three of the other presenters who spoke up have had our email accounts and system access deleted/revoked.

“My understanding is that all our positions have been terminated because we refused the censorship of Black Lives Matter”.

He also posted a statement on behalf of the “11 presenters who have effectively been sacked or compelled to resign”.

They said the station’s position “gives credence to racists and prevents a debate which is as important for the people of Huntingdon as it is for any other community.

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“In short, we believe Huntingdon Community Radio has breached its own commitment to impartiality.”

HCR104 said on Tuesday that “Ofcom rules surrounding due impartiality and balance are however somewhat lengthy and legally complex.

“They can, of course, be interpreted in many ways and because of this, the senior management team made a decision to ask presenters to refrain from any discussion on the subject of the BLM issue as a temporary measure”/

However, following a social media backlash – that included one band banning them from playing their music – the station has had a change of heart.

A new statement tonight (Wednesday) said the station wanted to “welcome back the volunteers who have left”.

The statement said: “We have also decided that, as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) is becoming a frequent discussion point on media platforms, that we will form a BAME committee and invite the chairman of that committee to become an active member of the senior management team”.

The radio station said it would be for the BAME committee “to identify and recommend tangible actions that HCR104fm could take in the future”.

HCR104 also promised to set aside airtime for a BAME committee member to air their views on their flagship Sunday show.

The station said it hoped this was “an acceptable positive way forward”.

Among many hostile tweets was this which said that “my band Honeywitch hereby refuse permission for HCR to broadcast our music because of their effective sacking of 11 volunteers who were not allowed to support or mention Black Lives Matter”. In Tuesday’s statement, station bosses said: “HCR104fm is for the most part, a music and entertainment station.

“Political or other opinion has never had a place on any of our music shows and that will not change. We are not LBC or Talk Radio – they have their commitments, and we have ours.

“It is the management’s firm view that any local, national (and sometimes, global) political or other discussion may only be within the already excellent platform afforded by our Sunday show County Matters.

“On that show, due impartiality and balance are rigorously applied – and this will continue to be the case. Indeed, this issue was reported on in last week’s County Matters and it will be further reported on in future County Matters.”

The statement added: “Finally, we would ask all of you to abide by the decision made unanimously and democratically by the senior management team and to understand our reasons for that decision.”

An ethnic minority committee has been set up at the station and anyone interested in joining should email: getinvolved@hcrfm.co.uk.


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