BBC presenter forced to quit charity role

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The Independent Online

A leading charity said today it was "sad" to lose BBC newsreader George Alagiah as patron after he was ordered to step down over corporation impartiality rules.

Mr Alagiah, who presents the Six O'Clock News, wrote to supporters of the Fairtrade Foundation to tell them he was leaving his role after seven years.

The BBC asked him to step down as the charity's patron to avoid a potential conflict of interest with his role as a news presenter.

He said he was "taken aback" by the BBC's decision, as there had not been a single complaint to the corporation about the matter during his seven years as patron.

In his letter to supporters, Mr Alagiah wrote: "Let me assure you that I have done my best to persuade managers at the corporation that it ought to be possible to be both a committed supporter of Fairtrade and uphold the BBC's hard-earned record for unbiased reporting."

The 53-year-old is soon to host a new series on food, and this is understood to have been a factor in the BBC's decision.

The Fairtrade Foundation works to improve the lives of farmers and workers in developing countries through trade and buying produce at fair prices.

The organisation licenses the use of the "fairtrade" mark on products in the UK.

As patron, Mr Alagiah would chair major events such as the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight and travel around the UK supporting local events such as business breakfasts and conferences.

The Fairtrade Foundation said it would begin looking for a new patron.

"We are of course very sad that George has had to step down from this position, as he has been an exceptionally committed patron who brought a wealth of international development knowledge and exceptional communication skills to the role," a spokeswoman for the charity said.

A spokeswoman for the BBC said the decision to ask Mr Alagiah to stand down should not be seen as a judgment on fair trade but a move to ensure the corporation's impartiality.

"George is a news journalist and this is a charity which takes a position on food and trade and promotes those views to the public," the spokeswoman said.

"We fully understand that the decision is a very disappointing one for the Fairtrade Foundation and for George, but the BBC has a duty to protect its reputation for impartiality."

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