We’re backing Balding
Is Clare Balding really the villain in that Guardian story? DIVA editor Carrie Lyell is not so sure
BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd/Stephen Perry
By now you’ll no doubt have read that piece in the Guardian – How BBC star Clare Balding nicked my byline. I read it yesterday morning, and have been mulling it over ever since.
Everyone on Twitter seems to have an opinion about it (no change there then), but the truth is I’m not sure how I feel. On the one hand, I agree with many of the sentiments made by Ginny Dougary – especially about the ethical implications of copy approval – but it struck me as an odd, unprofessional and rather cruel piece that she had penned, and the irony of accusing Clare Balding of “unsisterly” behaviour while trashing her reputation is not lost on me.
A piece about the creeping normalisation of copy approval, I would have understood. The same piece, without naming Balding, fine. But the truth is this should really have been a private conversation between Dougary and Saga’s editor Katy Bravery, and that is perhaps who her anger should be directed at. After all, Clare Balding did not invent the phenomenon of copy approval (and in fact denies asking for it or for changes in the piece) and it seems rather unfair to pile the blame for it on her when many other celebrities and public figures ask for the same – whether directly or through a PR team, who are employed to manage their image.
Maybe we’re moving in very different circles – but I find it strange that in her 35 years in journalism Dougary has never come across this kind of thing before. After all, I’ve been at DIVA just four and we’ve been asked for copy approval on a handful of occasions. We make the decision to give it on a case by case basis but in the few it’s been granted no one has ever asked for major changes. The whole process is not something I feel particularly comfortable with, but I can understand why it happens.
Celebrities and people in the public eye have been burnt by journalists who change their words or by a piece that bears no resemblance to the conversation that was had, and those who are lesbian, gay, bi or trans have had a particularly tough time in the media throughout history.
While we might have moved on from some of the horrendous “journalism” of the 80s and 90s, LGBT people are still wary and for good reason. Just look at former Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. An interview in the Fabian Review that should have been about her career was overshadowed by a line that effectively outed her and took her coming out story from her hands. So it’s really no wonder that some want control over the narratives that are put out there by others.
My real issue with the piece and the thing I find the most problematic is the suggestion by Dougary that Balding was unhappy with there being “too much about her being gay in the interview”. I’ve only met Balding once but it was at the British LGBT Awards and she couldn’t have been more happy to be gay that evening.
This is a woman who, as Sophie Ward says, has “stood when others cowered” and does so much good for the LGBT community, supporting organisations like Stonewall, Diversity Role Models and others. This is a woman who went to Sochi as an openly gay presenter for the BBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics because she wouldn’t be “cowed into submission”. This is a woman who has appeared on the cover of DIVA several times when so many other gay celebrities won’t because they’re afraid of the implications. So if she’d rather the focus of this one interview was on her book and not her sexuality, is that really such a crime?
We might never know exactly what happened here – Balding disputes Dougary’s version of events – but it seems to me to be ugly, embarrassing and unnecessary. Yes, there is definitely a conversation to be had about the future of journalism and how much control celebrities exert, but attacking Clare Balding’s character surely isn’t the way to go about it.
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