Broadcasting House is the headquarters of the BBC in London. Visitors are welcomed by a statue and a sentence from Orwell: ‘If liberty has any meaning, it means the right not to tell people what you don’t want to hear.

The Orwell statue only appeared in 2017, towards the end of my time there – I was a BBC foreign correspondent for 25 years – but I’ve always felt that particular line stands for something important about the way journalism should be done.

It occurred to me again last week when a senior figure mentioned a “climate of fear” at the Corporation. This was centered around stories on race, and transgender topics. He said that a small but significant portion of BBC staff had been appointed would-be censors.

He added, “We’re fighting the Corporation’s culture war.” “You have to accept the fact that if I do something wrong, the mob will descend.”

Some BBC staff are concerned that it will follow the New York Times’ lead. You might remember that the opinion page editor at America’s journal of record was forced out after publishing a piece by a senator saying the army should be sent in to deal with unrest over the death of George Floyd – a controversial view but one that certainly ought to have been within the bounds of public debate.

Then the paper’s senior science writer had to resign for using the N-word in a private discussion… about whether it was ever acceptable to use the N-word.

Friends of the newspaper messaged me to inform me about ‘Maoist struggle session’ with managers or other journalists. Confession, repentance, or purge. Certain subjects are too sensitive to be discussed without personal or professional ruin.

With the BBC, we have not yet reached that point. Not quite.

PAUL WOOD: A senior figure told me about 'a climate of fear' at the Corporation, particularly surrounding stories on race and on transgender issues

PAUL WOOD: I was told by a senior figure about the ‘climate of fear’ at Corporation, especially around stories on race and transgender issues

But here at our national broadcaster I’ve been told about unacceptable demands to change or drop stories – demands made by members of two ‘internal staff networks’ which serve as support and discussion groups.

These include BBC Embrace for Black, Asian, and other minorities staff and BBC Pride for LGBTQ staff. These delegates are accused of spreading ‘racism and ‘transphobia charges’. There are allegations of bullying, piling up and [using]Threats of being cancelled’

Those who spoke to me included a former senior BBC manager – acting as a conduit for the concerns of those inside – and current staff, including the senior figure who spoke of a ‘mob’.

As you might expect he doesn’t want to be identified. He stated that there was a lot of fear within the organisation. People are afraid they’ll be the next to be terrorized. This is a disaster and will end very, very badly. Literally, there are people who think that we should ban words they don’t like and ban viewpoints they don’t like.

‘There are many things that we hear in journalism we don’t like. But that’s the whole point, right?

I was told by many people at the Corporation that this was a problem of generational age. Some younger, newer members of staff appear to think that on issues of identity politics – especially when stories touch their own ‘lived experience’ – the old rules of impartiality no longer apply.

The BBC, as all UK broadcasters has a legal obligation of impartiality. This means that news reporting must include the main points and views on a given topic. This doesn’t mean that reporting should be free from values. For example, the BBC should treat racism as the evil that it is.

PAUL WOOD (pictured): Those who spoke to me included a former senior BBC manager ¿ acting as a conduit for the concerns of those inside ¿ and current staff, including the senior figure who spoke of a 'mob'

PAUL WOOD (pictured): Those who spoke to me included a former senior BBC manager – acting as a conduit for the concerns of those inside – and current staff, including the senior figure who spoke of a ‘mob’

But it seems that some of its journalists – and their supporters outside – think the cause of anti-racism is more important than the job of being a journalist. Using the fashionable American ideology of Critical Race Theory – which explains liberal democracy as the product of ‘white supremacy’ – you can label anything you don’t like as racist.

Self-appointed guardians of truth can argue for censorship of almost any information.

There’s also the transphobic charge, which although not quite as powerful, can be just the same.

Last week, BBC Online ran a brave and important story about lesbians feeling coerced into accepting trans women as sexual partners – feeling, in other words, that they had to have sex with someone who is biologically a man but identifies as a woman. Interview with Jeannie, a lesbian, was part of the coverage. She stated that she was only attracted to biological females. As a result, she had been labelled transphobic, a genital fetishist, a pervert and a ‘terf’ – a trans exclusionary radical feminist – for expressing this preference.

The article repeated the claim that lesbians are being forced to accept the idea that a penis could be a female sexual organ.

Many people reached out to the BBC to express their gratitude for reading about this difficult topic.

But I was told that the journalists who wrote the story had to fight like hell to get it published. It was held up for several weeks due to internal opposition. The campaign to censor it reached the BBC director-general.

This story was eventually published thanks to the BBC.

Another investigation about the influence of Stonewall, a protrans lobby group on publicly-funded institutions was also broadcast. Stephen Nolan, the journalist, said that Stonewall had been ‘untouchable’.

To be fair, I should also add that there are many opinions on this matter at the BBC.

Another senior manager I spoke with said that he was happy with the coverage and that he had never been lobbyed by staff. An editor said that he only remembered ‘a few issues’ from the past two years when there was ideological pressure to make editorial changes.

It is true, Tim Davie (the new director-general) seems to be fully aware of the dangers.

After Martin Bashir’s scandalous interview with Princess Diana, the BBC has published a review of its culture and practices. This was commissioned by the BBC.

Sir Nicholas Serota (chairman of The Arts Council), authored the review. He stated that although staff may hold strong opinions, they should not discourage content creators from reflecting the full range public opinion on a topic. Editors have a responsibility for encouraging open debate and diversity of opinion.

Serota’s recommendations have been accepted by the director-general, which includes the need to ensure impartiality. We should be concerned when the BBC, our primary source of news and most important cultural institution, is being ruled by a’mob’.

Newsrooms around the world are showing that freedom of thought is at risk from this ‘cancelculture’. The very idea that journalists exist is being threatened. That is why I am talking to others in the media about setting up our own organisation to support the idea of impartiality – at the BBC and elsewhere.

BBC News staff consider themselves journalists and not campaigners. I know this because I have worked with them. It is becoming more difficult.

More than ever, we require accurate, honest, and fearless reporting on the complex world around.

This means, to paraphrase Orwell’s words: having the freedom of offense at least some people some of the times.

It is difficult to do journalism when you are looking over your shoulder.