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Forest wins apology from the BBC

Last week my colleague Neil Rafferty took part in a phone-in on BBC Radio Northampton. Subject: Redbridge Council’s decision to ban smokers from fostering. As usual, it was a lively debate. Neil was taken aback, however, when presenter Bob Walmsley compared smokers to alcoholics and stated that smokers are unfit parents.

After the interview Neil asked the duty editor for an on-air apology. The BBC considered the request - and 48 hours later a rather chastened Walmsley told listeners: "I gave an opinion comparing alcoholics to smokers. This was an unfair comparison to make and if this has caused offence I am genuinely sorry about that. It was not my intention."

The significance of this apology cannot be understated. It says three things. One, broadcasters do NOT have the right to say anything they like about smokers. Two, smokers do NOT have to put up with any old abuse, just because national and local government is trying to "denormalise" their habit. Three, it demonstrates that smokers CAN fight back through official channels - and win.

Full story HERE.

Reader Comments (23)

Congratulations for pushing for and getting the apology. However, he says it was not his intention to compare smokers to alcoholics but he has not said sorry for saying that we are bad parents. He clearly only said sorry because he was told to and still believes smokers to be unfit to look after children.

Even if Mr Walmsley didn't mean his apology it shows he has not the courage to stand by his views but will do what he has to in order to keep his safe[and publicly funded]job. So again, well done as the apology must have nearly choked him.

November 17, 2008 at 9:42 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Peoples

I agree. This is a step forward.

What do we know about the Beebs internal processes? Will this apology, and the reason for it, be cascaded down to all the other broadcasting units? Will they ALL be careful what they say in future?

I sincerely hope so.

Well done Neil!

November 17, 2008 at 10:13 | Unregistered CommenterColin Grainger

In my view all tv and radio stations are guilty of biased and/or negligent reporting as the damage that the smoking ban has caused to businesses and individuals has not really been mentioned or reported on!

The BBC, in my view, specifically should be reporting this kind of news as their activities are paid for by us, the licence payer! We have a right to proper, honest, up front reporting from these people, not reports that cherry picked to be PC and gain them brownie points!

November 17, 2008 at 10:19 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

I live in BBC Radio Northampton area and this is not the first time he has made this type of remark about smokers.


November 17, 2008 at 10:29 | Unregistered CommenterNEIL

I must agree with Lyn I to have emailed the BBC and sky news about the biased coverage when it comes to smoking
pups closing at an alarming rate "must be the credit crunch"nothing about the smoker saying enough is enough let"s drink at home at least we can have a fag in peace now they are trying to stop your cheap booze from the supermarket these do gooders will ruin this country and this stupid goverment keeps on listening to them

November 17, 2008 at 11:20 | Unregistered Commenterron

I suspect the news reports what the government allows, or in any event,mustn't be seen to be going against the government trend!

November 17, 2008 at 11:40 | Unregistered Commentersuzipierre

Excellent news. Wish the Beeb would make more boobs of this nature, usually the propaganda is more subtle.

I remember watching one 'Newsnight' interview with David Hockney who began to complain about the smoking ban to a plainly horrified Kirsty Wark who interjected to steer him back on the 'right' topics of conversation.

November 17, 2008 at 11:47 | Unregistered Commenterjoyce

The BBC is a state controlled broadcaster and, in my opinion, lost it's independence following the 45 minute show-down with Govt.

November 17, 2008 at 12:15 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Well done Simon and Neil, I hope the rest of the establishment takes note. To be fair to the BBC if you do write a letter of complaint they do at least have the courtesy to reply and/or do something about it. Here is an example from myself on the 23/9/07 on the subject of compliance, on this link . Simon’s comments were not included at first and after my email they did appear. Whether it was my direct involvement, probably not, but this was their reply.

Dear Mr Atherton,

Many thanks for your message, and interest in the site.

I take your point, the story should have contained a quote from either Forest, or another organisation which takes a similar line.

We did ask Forest for a comment, but there has been a delay in obtaining a response. When we receive a comment it will be added to the story, but I accept that a comment should have been added from the outset, and can only apologise for the omission.

Kind regards,

Richard Warry
Health editor
BBC News website

November 17, 2008 at 12:25 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Pat Nurse: "The BBC is a state controlled broadcaster and, in my opinion, lost it's independence following the 45 minute show-down with Govt."

There are many that fully agree with you. A lot are refusing to pay the licence fee because of it (link below)

November 17, 2008 at 12:39 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Cullip

Can't even non smokers see that this is the thin end of the wedge.Already we have the anti cheap booze brigade.[All must suffer because of a few idiots],talk of drug testing teachers[the logistics make the eyes boggle] the list goes on and on. When will the real people of England say enough is enough.Leave the police state to other countries.
What ever happened to tolerance ?

November 17, 2008 at 13:01 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Spooner

I can't get my comment on the Grauniad.

This is what I wanted to say:

"Unlike drinking alcohol"

I see you defend drinking. Is this a vice of yours? Drinking, or rather, the effects of drinking, cost the Scottish Executive (read: Taxpayer) in excess of £2.5 BILLION in 2007. The smokers cost a piddling £250 million. We MORE than pay our way. In fact, for every medical procedure we (allegedly) need, we pay for six others. You are as poorly researched as the rest of the non-thinking, cut&paste press. Bob Walmsley was wrong, and so are you.

November 17, 2008 at 13:32 | Unregistered CommenterColin Grainger

Personally I would encourage all smokers and tolerant non-smokers to contact OFCOM straight away if they witness such discrimination and malpractice. I have always believed that BBC impartiality is a myth and believe that the government controls the BBC's content and use them as a propaganda tool. The government hates smokers and so does the BBC, strange that. You just have to read all the anti-smoking reports on their website over the last few years to realise that they are not impartial. ASH gets an aweful lot of airtime while pro-smoking groups do not.

November 17, 2008 at 14:18 | Unregistered CommenterMike Smith

I notice that a lot of these anti smokers like Bob Walmsley have become very couragous since the attempt by the smoking nazis to deem smoking unsociable. It shows the standard of integrity and intelligence of some of these broadcasters. Brave men indeed when their pontifications are being backed by massive advertising. Jumping on the populist band wagon is the provence of the coward.
Personally I have found that most of these anti smokers are less than perfect themselves and are usually trying to cloak their own inadequacies. I have yet to meet an ardent anti smoker who is mentally balanced, its a bit like the school dunce (intellectually chalenged to be pc) who lives in hope of competing with another dunce to take the pressure off himself and his own inadequacies or the bully when he has someone at his back.

November 17, 2008 at 15:06 | Unregistered Commenterann

I am so grateful to Forest for giving smokers and libertarians a voice. I agree with all the comments on here. I did write, as you suggested, in support of Jon Gaunt. Bob Walmsley is a dangerous man. If he thinks smoking makes adults bad parents, he obviously has no experience whatsoever of bad parenting or abused, neglected and unwanted children.Shame on him for depriving this already deprived group of the love they desperately need. To think he's in a position of influence and power is very scary. He has no first hand experience of those who have genuinely suffered in life. He just wants to feel good about himself. That's about as selfish as it gets. You're a puppet of the system, Bob Walmsley, and I wouldn't want to be you.

November 17, 2008 at 16:01 | Unregistered CommenterValerie

(Copy of my posting on the Greenslade blog)

Both Bob Walmsley and yourself must have bought into the anti-smoking hysteria lock, stock and barrel by having the temerity to compare smokers with drinkers.
This tenuous connection has only been created by the smoking ban in drinking places, removing any choice from publicans and patrons alike, effectively lumping the two groups together in the unthinking mind. Meanwhile, he and his ilk are happy to humiliate all smokers wearing their 'yellow stars' in public, simply because they have the courage not to be bullied by fanatics like him.
Has he never heard of passive drinking?
When was the last time he heard of death being caused by driving whilst under the influence of nicotine? Not to mention hooliganism, domestic and street violence - occasionally leading to murder, - liver damage and death.
Does smoking do all this?

November 17, 2008 at 17:04 | Unregistered CommenterTony Collins

Bob Walmsley
Find out more about your favourite BBC Radio Leeds presenter.

First job: Washing dishes
My Favourite Things
Food: Chips

Drink: Lager

Is this the same person favouring chips and a lager lout. He should go back to washing dishes.

November 17, 2008 at 18:41 | Unregistered Commenterchas

Tony Collins' point about the unthinking mind is a good one, as most people in my experience don't like to think, but I feel Neil Armstrong did the right thing, in taking advantage of the chance to speak for smokers. There are so few ways for smokers to be heard.Perhaps we need a class action; for all smokers to jointly sue the BBC, for the right to receive balanced reporting. To have a pro for every con. I met an 88 year old gentleman last week outside a cafe having a cig with his coffee, as was I. He said he had friends who lived into their 90's who smoked.I fear for the dear man's health, not due to smoking, but to being forced into the freezing cold in winter, to smoke. Shame on this ghastly government.

November 17, 2008 at 19:04 | Unregistered CommenterValerie

There is no proof whatsoever about smoking being bad for children, it has just been made up by the anti smoking brigade, as have a lot of things that are reported as fact nowadays. If it was that bad for children the children that were born in the 50's and 60's when most people smoked would not be here. I am one of them and I can assure everybody being around smokers never did me any harm and guess what - I am still here

November 18, 2008 at 0:08 | Unregistered CommenterCleone

I am also sick of my non-smoking colleague having days off work to look after his sickly children. They catch everything going. They have been wrapped in cotton-wool since they were born (as the puritans tell them to) and they are never away from the doctors - Big Pharma influence, I believe.
My kids are allowed to play like children should and how I used to - they get dirty, they breathe in smoke, and they're happy.
Guess what - they're never at the doctors, so I suppose I am a failure in the eyes of the government, as I am not propping up the controlling force of Big Pharma!

November 18, 2008 at 0:59 | Unregistered CommenterMary

My reading of Walmsley's comments is that they represent no apology at all. He did not compare alcoholics to smokers. He compared smokers to alcoholics. There is a difference between those two statements.

Though as someone who is now a non-smoker but no doubt by government and BBC lights an alcoholic, I resent his comments forwards, backwards and sideways. Just as I resent the BBC's unquestioning support for all 'good causes'.

November 18, 2008 at 3:45 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Saunders

'I quite frequently say inappropriate things on the show'
I agree that you couldn't make it up.

November 18, 2008 at 12:49 | Unregistered Commenterchas

I've said my piece on my blog

I tried to find an e-mail for the Guardian last night to complain about Greenslade, but there isn't one.

Saying that a parent is unfit because they smoke, in the aftermath of the Baby P case, is quite disgusting.

Thanks for highlighting this Simon.

November 18, 2008 at 18:07 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

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