BBC has ‘turned its back on disability’

The BBC has been accused of turning its back on reporting the crucial issues affecting disabled people, after admitting it will not be replacing its specialist disability news correspondent.

Geoff Adams-Spink, the BBC’s age and disability correspondent and one of the country’s leading disabled journalists, left the BBC in April to set up his own company.

But the BBC admitted this week that it will not be appointing another specialist to take over the role, even though it employs a string of specialist correspondents covering everything from transport and rural affairs to education, religious affairs, science and technology.

Adams-Spink, who declined to comment, had reported on disability issues for BBC News Online, radio and television.

The BBC’s admission comes only weeks after the broadcaster sparked anger by deciding to shut down internet messageboards that allowed disabled people to start their own online discussions and seek advice on topics such as benefits cuts, discrimination and healthcare.

The messageboards were run by Ouch!, the BBC’s own disability website, which has now become part of the BBC News department.

Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network and joint chair of the National Union of Journalists’ disabled members council, said he believed the BBC had a duty as a public body to cover disability issues properly, and that it was breaching that duty.

He said: “I am not just concerned, I am deeply angered that he is not being replaced. They are saying that disability and equality is not an important matter and that is a dire statement for the BBC as a key news provider to make. I think that is a disgrace.”

A BBC spokeswoman confirmed that Adams-Spink would not be replaced.

She said disability issues for BBC News were “covered fully by the UK affairs team, in particular BBC’s social affairs correspondent Alison Holt”.

She said the Ouch! team would be “working across the news website” and would “bring diverse disability stories and context to all audiences whilst also maintaining a conversation with the disability community”, while the BBC had also “given special focus to disability issues when editorially appropriate”.

But despite repeated attempts to clarify what reporting role the Ouch! team would fulfil, and whether the decision not to replace Adams-Spink was taken to cut costs, she declined to comment further.

The BBC has also faced anger from disabled activists over its coverage of the assisted suicide debate, after broadcasting five pro-legalisation documentaries and drama-documentaries in less than three years, while failing to produce a single documentary or drama-documentary from the viewpoint of those opposed to a weakening of the law.