BBC rule it's OK for Victoria Coren Mitchell to say she doesn't believe in evolution | ...but wasn't the Only Connect comment just a joke? © BBC

BBC rule it's OK for Victoria Coren Mitchell to say she doesn't believe in evolution

...but wasn't the Only Connect comment just a joke?

The BBC has rejected a viewer’s complaint about Victoria Coren Mitchell saying she did not believe in evolution.

Her comment, made on an episode of Only Connect in August, was possibly intended as a joke – although her dry, deadpan delivery made her intention unclear.

It came after a sequence was revealed to be the evolutionary stages of humans, but with their Latin names translated into English – handy man, upright man, man of Heidelberg and thinking man, homo sapiens.

Coren Mitchell then told the teams: ‘There's reasonable consensus but there are some differences of opinion about about evolution. I myself don't believe in it at all, I don't mind telling you. Those who do mostly say this is the sequence.’ 

A viewer complained that she ‘inappropriately expressed a personal view’ in breach of the BBC’s standards of impartiality.

However, the broadcaster’s editorial complaints unit (ECU) said that Coren Mitchell would be allowed to express an opinion on controversial matters as she is not a  journalist nor a  news presenter.  

And they added: ‘It was at least debatable whether the theory of evolution should be regarded as a controversial matter in the sense intended by the guidelines.’

Rejecting the complaint in a ruling published yesterday, they said: ‘In any event, it seemed to the ECU that viewers would have taken the presenter’s remark as typical of her sardonic and humorously-intended asides rather than as a serious expression of opinion.’

Some viewers picked up on the comment at the time, with one directly asking Coren Mitchell on Twitter: ‘Do you really not believe in evolution?’ 

Another said: ‘I was really surprised she’d make this inflammatory statement, especially on such a high brow programme, I can only hope that it was a joke, I’m surprised the press haven’t picked up on it.’

To which Coren Mitchell replied: ‘If the press picked up on everything in Only Connect that viewers hoped was a joke, they’d never print anything else.’

But she commented no further on the line, and her representatives have not yet replied to Chortle’s request for comment.

She has previously written about believing in God, but made no pronouncements about evolution.

Last week, Coren Mitchell revealed she had given birth to her second child at the age of 51, with her and husband David welcoming a daughter named June Violet. 

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Published: 10 Nov 2023

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