BBC Journalist Breached Editorial Guidelines: The Zelensky Hug

On the 28th of February 2023, in what the Huffington Post called “a heart-warming moment” and the New York Post labelled as “a touching moment” a journalist from BBC Ukraine (@bbc_ua) told the Ukrainian leader during a press conference with the UK leader Rishi Sunak that she’d like to give him a hug. The actor-turned-leader, knowing the importance of wowing journalists in his efforts to control the propaganda sphere, happily obliged. But that journalist broke the terms of her employment. She broke the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on Impartiality and we were shocked to learn that only our team at CJs realised this.

The journalist in question is Natalia Skofenko of the BBC’s World Service who is a “Former Senior producer at BBC World Service” according to her Facebook profile, so there can be no excuses made for her behaviour or any claims of ignorance made in her defence. She knew she was breaching the BBC’s Guidelines and she did it anyway.

Most people are aware that the BBC Editorial line on Ukraine is that of the UK government and therefore they are not partial to the conflict. This editorial policy has given way to an enabling of partial views and opinions from many of their journalists on the conflict. The problem with BBC journalists holding partial views, however, is that it is against the BBC’s own Guidelines:

Section 4: Impartiality: The BBC is committed to achieving due impartiality in all its output. This commitment is fundamental to our reputation, our values and the trust of audiences.

So whilst their Editorial line is one of partiality towards Ukraine, this line breaks their Impartiality Guidelines. Contradictory? Of course. And given that nobody seems to be seeking to hold the BBC and their employees to account for these breaches of their own Guidelines, we decided we’d step up and do just that.

The Complaint

On the 9th of February 2023, the day after ‘the hug’ we would lodge a complaint to the BBC.

Breach of Impartiality Guidelines  

A BBC Colleague breached the “Section 4: Impartiality” clause of the BBC Editorial Guidelines. 

Yesterday, 8/3/23, during a press conference with Rishi Sunak and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, a BBC Ukraine journalist asked for a hug from the Ukrainian president. 

I would ask the BBC to explain how one of their employees asking for a hug from the leader of a country involved in a conflict with another country adheres to their policy on “impartiality” specifically the following section: 

“Where our content highlights issues on which others campaign, we must take care not to endorse those campaigns, or allow ourselves to be used to campaign to change public policy.”

Links to the exchange: ( & (

This complaint was acknowledged on the 9th of February. It was chased up on the following dates unsuccessfully:

  1. 17 February
  2. 17 March
  3. 19th April
  4. 8th May
  5. 15th May
  6. 28th May

The BBC had decided to ignore us so we upped the anti and on the 15th of May advised them we were taking the matter to the Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU), which we did that same day. The ECU ignored us too. We emailed them unsuccessfully on the following dates:

  1. 15th May
  2. 28th May

We then decided to try another approach to be sure we could get the attention of someone with ‘an open mind’ at the ECU. So after receiving some advice from outside sources close to CJs we tried this ‘different approach’ and a few days later we received a response and an apology.

The Response

“We accept that the ‘hug’, at a joint press conference of the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and president Zelensky held in Dorset on 08/02/23, was a breach of the BBC Editorial Guidelines – particularly in respect of impartiality.”

BBC World Service Complaints Team to CJs

The BBC continued,

The reporter in question, as mentioned, from the BBC Ukrainian Service, was spoken to, reminded of her obligations stemming from the guidelines, and provided with additional training in that context.

We apologise for this breach of our Guidelines, from which we have tried to learn so as to prevent similar errors in the future in our continuing commitment to impartial, accurate, independent and fair reporting.

But why had the BBC been ignoring us and why did it take a senior advisor at the ECU to force them to respond to us?

Well, they offered no reason, just a sincere apology.

To the above, I must add my deepest personal apology for the delay(s) in responding to your correspondence for which I am solely at fault and for which I take full responsibility. There is no excuse and/or an explanation that I could offer that would be meaningful in any way whatsoever. I can only hope that you will be able to understand and accept my apology for this (to me) inexplicable human error.

The truth is that we were being ignored intentionally hence why no reasoning was offered for the delay in responding. This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered this type of response from the BBC. They ignored us for 9 months in relation to our complaint with BBCNI on their coverage of lies from a NI doctor. So we knew the script and knew how to deal with them.

We were also shocked to learn that we were in fact the ONLY ones to complain to the BBC about this display of affection between the corporation and the Ukrainian leader.

But to add, and that may help with context, yours is the only complaint that we have received re the ’hug’.

This goes some way to explaining why BBC journalists feel emboldened to display their personal affection for divisive characters even when it is against their terms of employment. They know it’s OK to show partiality towards the Ukrainian leader, they know their employer doesn’t mind, they know few if anyone will complain and that if anyone does complain they will be ignored. Then along comes CJs and upsets their whole apple cart.

The above screenshot is taken from the BBC’s website as is the one below. So rather than trying to hide this display of support and affection for the Ukrainian leader they were actually advertising and flaunting it.

When media and State merge then what follows will be State propaganda and that is what we have been seeing from the corporate media when it comes to the Ukraine/Russia conflict. This shocking display should serve as proof of that statement and had we not decided to seek accountability and to help guide the BBC away from their role as State propagandists then it seems that nobody else is prepared to.

We will be watching with great interest to see how the new BBC “Verify” unit deals with such instances of BBC propaganda, though we don’t hold much faith given that the person heading this unit, Marianna Spring, has been caught out by CJs spreading lies and disinformation several times already, for example here and here.

In the meantime, be aware that the level of pro-war pro-Ukraine propaganda is like nothing many of us have ever witnessed in our lifetimes and it is being enabled by the merging of State and corporate media.

We have gone back to the BBC with another set of questions and will report on the answers when received.