Race watchdog investigates recruitment at 'Blue Peter'

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The Independent Online

The Commission for Racial Equality is investigating a complaint over the way in which the BBC recruited its latest Blue Peter presenter.

The Commission for Racial Equality is investigating a complaint over the way in which the BBC recruited its latest Blue Peter presenter.

It has been claimed that the corporation targeted people from Scotland and Northern Ireland for the coveted post, at the expense of English applicants, because of "positive discrimination" towards Celts.

A former beauty queen, Zoe Salmon, from Bangor, Northern Ireland, became the 30th presenter of the children's programme in December last year. She has since caused controversy with on-screen gaffes surrounding Northern Ireland and sectarian politics.

Dorian Wood, a retired schoolteacher, has complained to the CRE after learning only local papers in Scotland and Northern Ireland were used to advertise the job. He accused the BBC of pursuing a "covert ethnic and cultural agenda" and "crackpot political correctness" in their recruitment policy.

Mr Wood, from Somerset, wrote to the editor of Blue Peter after hearing 24-year-old Ms Salmon give a radio interview in which she mentioned that she had responded to a job advert in a local paper.

When Mr Wood asked which papers the BBC had advertised in, he was told "several other local papers across the UK" as well as the actors' weekly, The Stage, and the magazine Disability Now. It later emerged that the local newspapers were The Belfast Telegraph, the Belfast edition of the newspaper Sunday Life, The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday.

Mr Wood, 55, said: "For a public broadcaster, funded by what is essentially a form of taxation, there is a lack of transparency and fairness in what the BBC has done.

"They specifically set out to recruit from Ulster and Scotland to find people of a Celtic origin and in my view that amounts to racial discrimination. Somebody clearly said they wanted someone with an Irish or Scottish accent - what about the other people with regional and rural accents?"

He added: "I am irritated by the hypocrisy of the BBC because they overtly state their equal opportunities credentials, yet they clearly have a covert ethnic and cultural agenda for the programme.

"It is clearly part of a crackpot political correctness whereby the BBC feel that they must positively discriminate towards certain groups and create a nice inclusive feel to the programme."

A BBC spokeswoman denied that the Blue Peter recruitment process was discriminatory and said the search for a new presenter had been the widest ever undertaken by Children's BBC. "There is no suggestion that anyone was restricted," she said. "In addition to the adverts placed in The Stage and Disability Now, we approached agents and BBC talent scouts across the whole of the UK and we had hundreds of tapes from people of all backgrounds."

Ms Salmon, a law graduate, is only the second Northern Irish presenter to front Blue Peter since the programme began in 1958. In January, just a month after she joined the show, Blue Peter bosses were forced to apologise following a programme in which she suggested that the Red Hand of Ulster should be used as an aircraft design because she was from "Ulster" and the image was "our proud symbol."

Several people wrote in to complain about the symbol and her use of the word Ulster. The Red Hand symbol has been used by loyalist paramilitaries, although Ms Salmon pointed out that it dated back to ancient Irish legend and had been used by both loyalists and republicans.

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